Since Dr. Christine Blasey Ford came forward with allegations of sexual assault against Judge Brett Kavanaugh, Donald Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, sexual abuse survivors have been coming forward in droves to show their support for Dr. Blasey Ford. The hashtag #WhyIDidntReport dominated Twitter on September 21st, and women across the country wore black and walked out of their workplaces on September 24th to protest Kavanaugh’s nomination.
The solidarity among survivors and allies has been nothing short of extraordinary, but if the descriptions of sexual assault and the president’s vicious dismissal of Kavanaugh’s accusers (there are now two) have you feeling triggered, angry, distraught, and generally out of sorts, know that you’re not alone—and there are some things you can do to take care of yourself during this incredibly difficult time.
HelloGiggles spoke to four experts to find out how survivors of sexual abuse—and anyone else who feels traumatized by the Kavanaugh hearings—can calm, soothe, and heal themselves this week.
1Stop, breathe, and be.
Mindfulness Matters author and practitioner of positive psychology Pax Tandon told HG that “stop, breathe, and be” is a tool she recommends to anyone experiencing anxiety in response to the news cycle.
She explained, “This is a tool used in mindfulness to take a pause from activating events by:
1. Stopping. Literally, remove yourself from the trigger, by turning off the TV, stepping away from the laptop or phone, or disengaging from conversations around the water cooler.
2. Breathing. Take several deep breaths. This is the body’s highly effective built-in stress reliever. Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down.
3. Be still. Through a calmed body, the mind will follow and come back to stillness.”
2Share your feelings and step away from the internet.
“A danger in following the news and interviews too closely is that men and women who have been sexually assaulted will be re-traumatized,” said Dr. Sherry Benton, founder and chief science officer of TAO Connect. “Anxiety symptoms, intrusive thoughts, and difficulty concentrating will interfere with current functioning.”
She noted four self-care strategies for survivors:
“First, talk to people you trust about what happened if you can, and talk about how you are feeling now. Do you feel angry? Afraid? Numb? Shut down? Do your best to verbalize these feelings. Second, distract yourself, turn the television off, and stop reading your news feed for a while. Third, do something that you find soothing. Maybe it’s dinner out with friends, personal hobbies, art, etc. Do whatever small things bring you happiness and relaxation. Fourth, remember, this too will pass.”
3Connect with the present.
If you’re triggered and overwhelmed by painful memories, grounding yourself can help to interrupt your anxiety and shift your thoughts back to the present, rather than dwelling in pain.
Dr. Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, an international psychologist and trauma specialist, offered some specific grounding techniques for overwhelming moments. One is to distract the mind by looking around and noting five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste.
She recommended a couple of other specific strategies: “Grip a piece of ice. If there is a flashback or a dissociative state, hold onto a piece of ice. The extreme temperature forces one to be in the present moment.” Or try inhaling a strong scent, such as peppermint or lemongrass, or listening to some loud, energetic music.
4Don’t try to numb your pain.
Psychiatrist Dr. Sue Varma told HG that the tendency for some people who are experiencing re-traumatization is to self-medicate with alcohol, substances, and even relationships that hurt us. In these difficult times, she said that survivors should instead “[stick] to a routine with sleep, yoga, exercise, any kind of movement, [write] a journal, [and] maintain boundaries.”
Keep your heart safe and your body healthy—you will heal in time.