A Self-Care Plan for Survivors

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A Self-Care Plan for Survivors

April 23, 2021

Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM) 2021

Trigger Warning: These conversations can stir up difficult and complicated feelings, memories, and experiences. Reach out to the National Sexual Assault Hotline if you are in need of immediate support at 800-656-4673.

 A plan for self-care is an important piece of practicing wellness for everyone, but for survivors of sexual assault, identifying and setting in place a self-care plan is particularly important to help process, heal, and find an outlet for the complex emotions and body reactions that may occur. Self-Care plans tool us with the skills to move through life after trauma, learn what we need, build emotional resilience, and have a backup plan ready to go when you are overwhelmed or in need of support.

Deciding what activities, techniques, or which people are a part of your self-care plan is something that takes self-reflection, intuition, and even trial-and-error. If you are struggling with ideas for self care, or have a hard time finding the time or space, a therapist can help you create a plan to start with.

1. Don’t Judge Your Feelings

Healing is not linear. There is no timeline. Your feelings moment-by-moment are ok. In the aftermath of an assault, there is no “right” way to feel, resist the “should” self-talk. (“I should be over this by now…”) Feeling that we “should” be feeling any certain emotion is a shame-inducing cycle set by unfair expectations that you or someone else has set upon you.

All feelings are temporary. You have power. This is how you feel right now – accept that and then remember that you are capable of choosing to do something in order to feel different. (“I accept that I feel anxious right now. I enjoy being in my backyard. I am going to do some yard work and see how I feel afterward.”)

2. Absorb the benefits of physical self-care

Lay the foundation for the emotional work. After trauma, we can become overwhelmed by the content of what happened or current emotional state. By starting with physical self-care first, you are giving yourself resilience to work through the other forms of self-care that may be required (processing feelings, therapy, sorting through facts and details of the trauma).

Give your body love. Focus on the fundamentals: sleep, movement, and nutrition. Allow yourself to physically rest. Engage in movement that you enjoy – whether it’s a walk around the block or going to the gym. Feed yourself meals that make you feel healthy and strong, being generous with flavors you enjoy.

3. Practice routine and consistency

Find relief in predictability. After trauma, we tend to feel as though we have lost control over our experience of the world. Constant changes fuel anxiety and vigilance as we are training ourselves to be “on guard”, never knowing what to expect next. Creating simple predictable patterns in your day helps bring back a sense of control.

Ideas: wake up at the same time every day, walk the dog after morning coffee, practice a midday meditation, nightly snack and television show.

4. Surround yourself with opportunities for joy

Socialize with people who make you feel safe and supported. Take time away from relationships that feel emotionally draining.

Participate in leisure activities that are fun, relaxing, or that you look forward to.

Find a place just for you, a space where you feel comfortable and content

Ideas: support groups, re-watching favorite TV shows, re-read favorite books, spend time at your favorite coffee shop, comfort foods

5. Consider a creative outlet

Creative outlets serve different purposes. Some are for artistic or narrative expression, some are mood improvers – elevating self-esteem, the feeling of accomplishment, or channeling emotions.

Ideas: journaling, crafting, DIY projects, baking, gardening, art, gratitude

6. Acknowledge your needs

Emotionally.  Learn to recognize when you need to create feelings of safety, calm, love, belonging, acceptance, independence, and higher or lower levels of activation or stimulation.

Physical or sexual boundaries. After trauma, physical touch and sexual intimacy can be challenging or intimidating. Establish your boundaries: consider what feels comfortable, and communicate that to your partner.

Support system. What do you expect from your support system? A phone call, reassuring text, or scheduled in-person quality time?

You are in control of your narrative. You can choose to only share what you want to share with whoever you want to share it with.

7. Have an emergency safety plan

Layers of support. Set up an order of events for what will happen things get to be too much. Step by step actions based on the intensity of your needs and what those needs are. Write it down.

Match the emotion + intensity + coping skill

“I’m feeling overwhelmed” + moderate + 10 deep breaths and a glass of cold water.

Include support people. Bring trusted friends and family into your plan as you are able. Share with them your plan and let them know ahead of time what you may need from them.

Edit and update. Find what works and what doesn’t. If your first plan has some holes, that’s ok! Don’t be deterred, modify the plan and try again!

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