A couple weeks ago, I received a message on my IG account from a follower asking how to start on a trauma healing path without health insurance and with limited finances. This article is my answer to that message.
A few notes before beginning: First, this list is by no means exhaustive. It's not meant to be. I've chosen what to include here based on general accessibility, ease and effectiveness of use, and my own experiences in working with a myriad of healing modalities. Second, I want to stress that healing takes time and occurs incrementally. It's okay to try one or two of the listed interventions, abandon one and try another. Different things will speak to you at different points along your journey. Third, I am talking here about healing from trauma. This list is not intended to speak to broad spectrum issues involving mental health or mental illness. Last, if you need immediate help, please utilize one of the following resources:
National Suicide Prevention Hotline (1-800-273-8255) call to reach a counselor.
Crisis Text Hotline Text HOME to 741741 to reach a volunteer Crisis Counselor.
Child-Help USA (1-800-422-4453) crisis hotline for both child and adult survivors of abu
Free and Reduced Price Therapy
I am a huge fan of therapy. While it's possible to begin a trauma recovery program without the aid of a certified professional, it's definitely easier with one. Sadly, I know the prices of healthcare and access to health insurance makes this step challenging for some. Here's a few top-rated online programs––some completely free, most offered at a reduced rate––available online now:
7 Cups (for teens)
Bliss (specifically for depression-related symptoms)
DRK Beauty Healing (for women of color and non-binary people of color)
BetterHelp (offers individual, couples, and teen counseling)
In addition to these online resources, search your local mental health resources. Many cities and state-sponsored programs offer a variety of free or reduced price programs. The first therapy I received was through one such program in South Carolina (that I found through a simple Google search).
Many religious establishments offer free or sliding-scale based therapy to members of their congregation. Some offer those services to the public as well, often at a reduced rate.
Your family physician may be aware of more resources available in your area, as might your local urgent care center. It's worth a call to ask.
Your local university may have training programs for students and interns if they offer any kind of mental health certification programs. They are often have reduced price individual or group sessions as part of their training programs.
Meditation, Movement, and Exercise
Because trauma disrupts how the brain communicates with the rest of the body, healing modalities that work to focus the brain and ground the body in the present moment go a long way towards reestablishing a more healthful nervous system. Meditation and movement may seem to be on opposite ends of the spectrum, but they actually both work in the same way: they (re)unite the mind with the body in the present moment. For some trauma survivors, meditation is challenging. Sitting in the body may be challenging. Movement like walking or stretching may work better for those individuals. Others may need an even more intense or focused activity, something exercise-based, like weight-lifting or yoga or Pilates. By grounding the mind/body connection in a focused activity that requires a level of presence and conscious awareness, the nervous system learns to regulate over time. Of course, these activities are best utilized in concert with therapy (that goes for everything that follows).
It is important to stress the significance of intention with these activities. Certainly exercise can be abused, and mediation can become a means of escape. Being mindful of the reason for doing the activity, as well as reflecting consistently on how you feel before, during, and after the activity, is important for using mediation and exercise in trauma healing.
Your Local Library
There is no shortage of self-help books in the world, and that goes for trauma recovery books as well. Books, workbooks, coloring books, journals, etc. can all be useful resources on your journey, but they can also add up financially. Your local library is your best friend here. If you are looking for a book or workbook and your library doesn't carry it, ask the librarian to order it for you. Most libraries have an intra-library loan program and can order books from other libraries for you at no charge, though you will need a library card to access these resources in most instances. Some libraries also host book or reading club groups, so you might even find a community of readers on a similar journey if you ask (you never know).
Two of my favorite books on trauma healing are The Body Keeps Score by Bessel van der Kolk and Widen the Window by Elizabeth Stanley.
Some of the most affective tools in my trauma recovery kit are the lifestyle changes I've implemented. Here's a list of some things you might try:
Sunshine and nature. These are probably the two greatest healers for me to this day. Getting early morning sunlight first thing and spending as much time as possible outdoors. Toes in the grass, or the water or the sand, whatever. There is a plethora of medical research that has been completed and replicated on the benefits of grounding in nature (standing with your bare feet in the grass or on the ground for ten to twenty minutes a day) on the immune and nervous systems. Make time to take a daily walk in the sun. Take your dog to the park. Go for a hike on the weekends. Have a picnic with yourself. Start a garden. Get your hands in the soil.
Deep, regulated breathing. Yep, that's right, your own breath is one of the most powerful healing tools you have. Set a timer for one to ten minutes, put your left hand on your heart and your right hand on your abdomen, and breathe slowly. Again, this may be challenging for some survivors. Start slow. Ten seconds. One breath, and build up. Slow, intentional breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system. Over time, you will be able to increase the amount of time you spend with your breath (I use to only be able to sit for under a minute).
Non-dominant handwriting. This one might sound silly, but when you force your brain to use your non-dominant hand, you turn down established neural pathways and you create new ones. Over time, activities like this can help to calm the brain. I don't use this one as often anymore, but it was a staple for me for years. I would choose one affirmation like "I am getting stronger everyday," and I would write it out ten times using my non-dominant hand. I did this every day, changing to a new affirmation once a month. I was surprised by how quickly this became a calming activity I looked forward to everyday.
Engage in positive social activities––even if you're doing them alone. Find things, preferably new things, you enjoy doing and do them often. Walk different paths, go to different parks, seek out all the free touristy stuff in your area. Drive home a different route from work. This isn't about forcing positivism; this is about creating new positive experiences and new healthy neural connections. I kept a journal for a while that was dedicated to writing about the one new activity I did each day. And some days that new activity looked like going to a new museum, and some days it was drinking my tea out of a different mug. Traumatized brains are stuck brains, so a significant part of my healing path has been about creating new experiences to ground my brain in the present and create new neural pathways.
Take such good care of your body. Really. Clean up your diet, stay hydrated, get plenty of rest. Tap a 15-minute midday nap if possible. Limit your screen time. Be mindful of all types of media you're consuming. Music, books, films, new media, everything you take in is either contributing to the excitatory state of your brain or helping to calm it. I am so aware now of the media I consume, because I know what an impact is has on my mood and my reactivity over time. Collectively, all these small changes work to reset your relationship with your body, calm the nervous system, and decrease any baseline levels of inflammation (a known affect of trauma). Inflammation drives cortisol and cortisol causes a release of excitatory stress hormones. You see the cycle?
Okay, I think this is a good start. There's so many more resources I could list here, but these are some of the basics. Again, I do encourage you to seek professional help at some point on your journey, and please reach out immediately to one of the crisis resources above if you need help more urgently.