There is not one right way to cope with the impact of sexual violence. Often, people rely on a wide variety of tools to help them cope with overwhelming feelings. Some tools can help individuals further explore distressing and intense emotions, and some tools help people take a break from them. Here is a list of helpful coping strategies.
One important aspect of soothing ourselves is becoming aware of emotions and physical/body sensations. It’s important not to judge how our body feels but to accept the sensations as they are. Emotions and body sensations tell us something about our environment. So, if you feel panicked or triggered, try to understand what your body is alerting you to. Once you do this, you are better equipped to know how to respond and make meaning from the sensation.
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Dealing with dissociation, flashbacks, and triggers:
Flashbacks, dissociation, and feeling triggered are normal responses to trauma, but they can be uncomfortable and scary, too. Using the 5 senses (sight, touch, taste, smell, sound) can help ground you to the present and calm your body. Here are some example questions you might ask yourself:
What colors do you see? Do you notice the detail in a painting or piece of fabric?
What do you smell? Are you outside – can you smell the summer air or fall breeze?
How does the chair feel on your body? Do you notice any sensations in your body?
What can you taste? Do you notice the texture of your food?
What noises do you hear? Can you hear the cars drive by or other people talking?
Here are some on-line resources that might also help you cope with distressing emotions:
Guided Imagery helps people move to a more relaxed and focused state. These exercises are from a Kaiser Permanente self-help website. People also find this Guided Meditation (and many others) from the QuietMindCafe helpful.
Breathing Exercises can help the body out of its fight/flight response.
Mandalas help people relax and improve concentration.
Can’t sleep? Sleep is an important part of overall well being, but trauma can interfere with our ability to fall asleep or stay asleep. This site provides some helpful tips for improved sleep, and this handout on sleep hygiene offers some simple solutions for better sleep habits. There are tons (and tons) of sleep meditation videos on YouTube, including this one.
This free self-help tool can help you bring your life into balance.
Phone Apps – There’s an App for that!
- Breathe2Relax is a portable stress management tool which provides detailed information on the effects of stress on the body and instructions and practice exercises to help users learn the stress management skill called diaphragmatic breathing.
- BellyBio Interactive (iPhone only) is a biofeedback device that monitors breathing and plays relaxing music.
Be creative in how you cope with overwhelming feelings. Try new things. Maybe watching Bob Ross videos is your thing or funny animal videos! Some techniques will work in some situations but not others. For example, sometimes talking to friends helps and other times it might be the hardest thing to do. Or listening to music might be relaxing in some situations but triggering in others. The more tools you have, the more you can do to survive the moment. Above all else, be gentle and loving with yourself.
Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping
People cope with trauma in different ways. Sometimes, trauma survivors can identify overwhelming emotions and cope with them in healthy ways. However, sometimes a person might be so overwhelmed or distraught that they have a difficult time accessing healthy coping strategies. All coping, healthy and unhealthy, is an attempt to find relief from emotional and physical pain. Self-injury, including cutting, and substance use are common for many trauma survivors. If you or someone you know is coping with trauma in potentially unhealthy ways, avoid judgment and criticism and instead try to focus on underlying feelings of pain and helplessness.
For more information about self-injury, please visit this site.
For more information about alcohol and substance abuse, please visit this site.
People who are sexually abused might connect with a range of experiences – as a victim who sometimes feels violated and powerless or as a survivor who sometimes feels empowered and connected. It’s important to honor all experiences and to recognize the wisdom of our body’s authentic response to trauma. This handout on the Hallmarks of Healings offers some insights into the journey of victim, survivor, and thriver.
The MSU Center for Survivors has FREE self-care items available for survivors.