10 Morning Tips for Trauma Survivors

Over the past five years, I have developed a morning routine for trauma recovery that sets me up for success. While I used to think I was a night owl and slept late in the morning, now early mornings have become my best friend and my favorite part of the day.

I love how a positive morning routine gives me a cushion of resiliency in the face of C-PTSD and day-to-day life. My morning routine has made it possible for me to do things like enjoy a career, take care of myself before trying to care for my kids, make it to neurofeedback appointments, therapy appointments, homeschool activities and more.

Years ago, a mentor taught me to set an hourly reminder on my phone to say, “I am changing my thinking and I like it!” This caused me to start thinking about how I wanted to get up earlier in the day so that I could really enjoy life instead of rushing through it or getting sidelined with triggers.

Over the last five years, my morning routine has evolved and changed with my needs, but I have gradually implemented these 10 elements into the flow of my mornings. If you want to give this a whirl, I recommend adding one thing every month or two. It takes the brain 21 days to develop a new habit and another week or so for the new habit to feel enjoyable. If we try to implement too many new things at once, it can be disastrous.

Without further ado, I bring you 10 tips designed to help you enjoy your mornings more and set your days up for success:

  1. Start Early: I used to hate getting up early in the morning because I was not getting to bed early enough at night. I have since grown to love early mornings because the rest of the house is quiet and I have time and space to care for myself before caring for the kids or starting my work day. The other elements of my morning routine would be impossible without getting up before the little ones. I began the habit of early mornings by simply setting my alarm and getting out of bed with tired eyes, even though I did not feel like it. This helped my body’s rhythms to reset so that I was naturally able to go to sleep earlier at night after a few days. Within a few weeks, I started looking forward to waking up and my body’s circadian rhythms adjusted to expect it.
  2. Nutrition: It is much more enjoyable to get out of bed early in the morning when I have a delicious and nutritious breakfast to look forward to. I need to eat soon after I get out of bed because I take several natural supplements that must be taken on a full stomach. When I began this routine five years ago, I enjoyed eggs with veggies for breakfast every morning. The last couple of years, I have switched to having a green smoothie instead. I keep produce chopped and ready to go in the freezer and I have a Vitamix (high powered blender), so it only takes about 90 seconds to throw everything together. This healthy breakfast helps to flood my body with energizing nutrients first thing in the morning, as well as revs up my metabolism. I follow it with a large glass of water and I avoid caffeine like the plague because of how it taxes the adrenals. My adrenals are taxed enough from years of trauma responses, so I try to avoid things that add to that now.
  3. Peace and Quiet: As a homeschooling mom, trauma recovery coach, missionary, writer and wife, my days are spent interacting with others. Our home is full of joy but it is anything but quiet. First thing in the morning, I find it helpful to savor the quiet through some heart-centered breathing using a HeartMath emwave2 device. When I do HRV biofeedback at home with this device, I feel overwhelming appreciation that bubbles into the rest of my day. Before I knew about HeartMath, I would simply breathe deeply and enjoy the sunrise, which was also relaxing, refueling and enjoyable.
  4. Awareness: After I enjoy a bit of silence, my head clears so that I can actually hear myself think. I pray and ask God to show me what He wants for my day. Typically, as I listen in the silence a few things end up on my heart that have to do with self care, my professional life, ministry and/or my family. I set a timer for two minutes and write down what feels most pressing, as well as my emotions. I also check in with myself to see where my emotional, mental, physical and spiritual reserves are. When I become aware of what kind of condition I am in as the day begins, it gives me the opportunity to shore up my reserves a bit, or to pare down my day, when needed.
  5. Gratitude: It is healthy for body, mind and spirit to focus on what we are thankful for. I learned from Philippians 4:8 and Romans 12:2 that I could actually become transformed by focusing on what I am thankful and grateful for. When I intentionally write down what I am thankful for first thing in the morning, it teaches and trains my brain to look for those things in the rest of the day. It takes the brain time to develop new neural pathways more prone to gratitude, so it might also take time for gratitude lists to feel authentic. It is okay to start where you are. I also went through neurofeedback that helped this process along greatly.
  6. Inspiration: I like to focus on helpful things and Truth first thing in the morning. I start with a morning meditation through Abide and then move on to my Scriptures for the day. I like to underline passages or phrases that strike me and even make cute word images on my phone. I often jot notes in the margins of my Bible or write in my journal about what hits home. After my Scripture time, I enjoy reading a self improvement, spiritual growth or business development book for a few minutes, as well.
  7. Writing: Typically, by the time I have spent time reading and listening to things that are inspirational, I have some thoughts or emotions that I want to write down and process. I keep a journal with my Bible and will hand write those things, as well as any affirmations I want to focus on for the day. I am also writing a book, so at this point I might even incorporate some of what I learned for the day into a chapter I am writing, or jot it down on my writer’s layout to be included in a future chapter.
  8. Exercise: While C-PTSD and trauma responses in general cause our bodies to enter into a fight/flight/freeze/fawn response that releases adrenaline and cortisol, exercise has the opposite effect. When we get our heart rates up doing enjoyable movement, our bodies release serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin. These incredible feel-good hormones help repair the damage caused by toxic stress and trauma. Plus, there’s nothing like the feeling of accomplishment in being active first thing in the morning. My preferences are hiking and yoga, but you could do anything that feels enjoyable physically and spiritually for you. Remember to consult your physician before starting a new exercise routine.
  9. Routines: For years, I struggled with keeping up with the laundry, making the bed and keeping my bathroom tidy. It sounds so basic, but it truly eluded me. I learned that when I make a routine out of doing those things as soon as I open my eyes in the morning, they get done before I’m even fully awake enough to realize I am doing them. Plus, there is something really enjoyable about the smell of natural bathroom cleaner and the sound of the washing machine first thing in the morning. My routines are ways of automating the things that need to be done so that they don’t require my mental and emotional attention the rest of the day. Routines are self care.
  10. Regulation: All of my morning tips boil down to one thing: nervous system regulation. People with early childhood trauma tend to develop their nervous systems differently than people who experience stability and secure attachment. Our bodies are hardwired to default to a sympathetic nervous system response (fight/flight/freeze/fawn) and it takes time to teach our bodies how to live in a calmer, more parasympathetically balanced state. As you are crafting your own morning routines and rituals, pay attention to how you feel and how your body responds. The right routine will be calming, centering, yet energizing and empowering. You are allowed to change, alter, get rid of, or add to any routine in order for it to best serve your needs.

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