While the sheer outpouring of truth and support elicited by the #MeToo, #NowAustralia and #TimesUP movements is a positive step towards healing – it can also be highly triggering and distressing for survivors. If you are feeling triggered, it is especially important to look after yourself during this time.
Here are 14 ways to self-care:
Recognise that it is the memory of the traumatic event that has been triggered. Acknowledge that you are reacting to something that occurred in the past and remind yourself that you are safe in the present moment. If you have concerns about your current safety, seek immediate support.
Look after yourself. Get plenty of rest, even if you can't sleep. Try eating regular, well-balanced meals and drink plenty of water in order to maximise your physical and mental health.
Structure your day to include time for some exercise. Regular exercise, like walking, cycling or jogging increases the production of stress-relieving hormones such as serotonin and will aid you in your recovery. Try to do a little bit of exercise every day.
Engage in mindful activities that assist you to stay present-moment focused. These might include accessing mindfulness or meditation apps on your smart phone, doing trauma sensitive yoga, listening to music or engaging in breathing exercises if comfortable for you.
Acknowledge your distress and give yourself permission to experience some reaction to it. Exercise self-compassion and treat yourself as you would a good friend who has their own history of sexual assault or sexual abuse.
Remind yourself that you are not 'going crazy'. That your post-traumatic reactions are normal, and that you can and are coping. The recovery process may actually help you develop insights, strengths and abilities that you might not have previously recognized.
Try to maintain a normal routine where possible. It is not uncommon for survivors to become fearful of people and feel vulnerable when going about their usual daily routine. You may feel that you have lost your sense of safety in your own environment and are experiencing a desire to withdraw.
Do not avoid certain activities or places unnecessarily. While avoidance is a natural response following trauma it may contribute to the maintenance of post-traumatic reactions. Seek professional support if your trauma symptoms are impacting your daily functioning or you find yourself withdrawing socially.
Avoid a reliance on drugs or alcohol as a way to numb uncomfortable feelings, memories and emotional pain. Using drugs or alcohol as a coping strategy can lead to more problems in the long-term. If you find yourself relying on drugs or alcohol speak to a counsellor to obtain some alternative coping strategies.
Express your thoughts or feelings as they arise. Discuss them with someone you trust, draw them or write them down in a journal. Expressing your thoughts and feelings often helps with the healing process.
Get enough sleep. Sleep is often difficult for survivors of sexual assault or abuse who often have difficulty falling asleep or experience frequent waking during the night. While there is no magic cure for sleep difficulties you can maximise your chance of sleep by ensuring that your environment is comfortable in terms of temperature, air flow and appropriate lighting and by maintaining regular sleep and waking times. Try not to sleep during the day as this may contribute to the formation of nocturnal sleep habits.
Communicate your needs to family and friends. Identify people you trust to validate your feelings and affirm your strengths. Help them to help you by letting them know when you are tired, need time out, need to talk or if you just need to be with someone.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Eventually it may be necessary to deal with your fears and feelings in order to regain control over your life. Talking to someone who can listen in understanding and affirming ways – whether it’s a friend, family member or a specialist counsellor may be helpful during the recovery process.
Take time-out from media & social media if you are feeling flooded or overwhelmed by news reports or the sharing of stories by other survivors. Be aware that you can support the cause without having to participate.