Self-Care

Self-care is a very important part of the healing process, and it can be a challenge for many people. Self-care includes any actions that you take to care for your physical, mental, and emotional self. 

Physical self-care is an area that people often overlook.

  • Food
    • Food is a type of self-care that people often overlook. People are often so busy that they don’t have time to eat regularly or that they substitute fast food for regular meals.
    • It’s not always reasonable to expect people to get 3 square meals a day (plus snacks!) but everyone should make sure they get adequate nutrition.
  • Exercise
    • Exercise is one of the most overlooked types of self-care. The CDC recommends at least 30 minutes of exercise 5 times a week.
    • Exercise, even if it’s just a quick walk at lunchtime, can help combat feelings of sadness or depression and prevent chronic health problems.
  • Sleep
    • Although everyone has different needs, a reasonable guideline is that most people need between 7-10 hours of sleep per night.
  • Medical care
    • Getting medical attention when you need it is an important form of physical self-care.
    • Some survivors put off getting medical care until problems that might have been relatively easy to take care of have become more complicated.

Emotional self-care will mean different things for different people. It might mean…

  • Counseling
    • This could mean seeing a psychologist, a clinical social worker, or therapist.
    • The ESU Counseling Center provides free counseling to enrolled ESU students.
    • The ESU Counseling Center can also help refer you to another counselor.
  • Keeping a journal.
    • Some survivors find that recording their thoughts and feelings in a journal or diary helps them manage their emotions after an assault.
  • Meditation or relaxation exercises
    • Relaxation techniques or meditation help many survivors with their emotional self-care. For example:
      • Sit or stand comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Place one hand over your belly button. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and let your stomach expand as you inhale. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth, sighing as you breathe out. Concentrate on relaxing your stomach muscles as you breathe in. When you are doing this exercise correctly, you will feel your stomach rise and fall about an inch as you breathe in and out. Try to keep the rest of your body relaxed—your shoulders should not rise and fall as you breathe! Slowly count to 4 as you inhale and to 4 again as you exhale. At the end of the exhalation, take another deep breath. After 3-4 cycles of breathing you should begin to feel the calming effects.
  • Emotional self-care can also involve the people around you. It’s important to make sure that the people in your life are supportive.
    • Nurture relationships with people that make you feel good about yourself!
      • Make spending time with friends and family a priority
    • If you have trouble finding people who can support your experience as a survivor, consider joining a support group for survivors.
  • Be wary of…
    • Friends or family who only call when they need something
    • People who always leave you feeling tired or depressed when you see them
    • Friends who never have the time to listen to you
    • Anyone who dismisses or belittles your experience as a survivor
  • You can deal with these people by setting limits.
    • You don’t have to cut them out of your life (especially with family, that may not even be an option!) but choose the time you will spend with them carefully.
    • Make sure that your time with these people has a clear end.
    • Cut back on the time you spend with people who don’t make you feel good, or spend time with them in a group rather than one-on-one.
    • Screen your calls!! There’s no rule that says you have to answer your phone every time it rings. If you don’t feel like talking on the phone, call people back at a time that’s more convenient for you.
  • You can deal with these people by letting some go.
    • If there are people in your life who consistently make you feel bad about yourself, consider letting those friendships or relationships go.
      • This can be a difficult decision. Remember that you deserve to have people around you who genuinely care about you and who support you.

Another challenge can be in finding time for fun leisure activities. Many survivors have full time jobs, go to school, volunteer and have families. Finding time to do activities that you enjoy is an important aspect of self-care.

  • Get involved in a sport or hobby that you love!! Find other people who are doing the same thing!
    • Knowing that people are counting on you to show up can help motivate you.
  • If you have a spouse or partner, make a date night and stick with it.
    • Turn off your cell phones (within reason. If the babysitter needs to be able to find you, consider leaving him/her the number of the restaurant so that you can turn off your ringer!)
  • Treat leisure appointments as seriously as business appointments. If you have plans to do something for fun, mark it on your calendar!

Make your self-care a priority, not something that happens (or doesn’t happen!) by accident.

Self-Care for Friends and Family Members

When someone that you care about tells you that they have been a victim of sexual assault or sexual abuse, it can be difficult. You may have a range of reactions that could include…

Shock
  • You may be very surprised to hear what has happened.
  • You might have difficulty figuring out how to respond.
Anger
  • You might feel angry at the perpetrator for hurting your loved one.
  • You might also feel angry at your loved one for not telling you sooner or for telling you something that is hard for you to hear.
    • This can be especially true if the assault was committed by someone that you know. An example of this would be sexual assault that is committed by a family member (incest).
Sadness
  • You might feel sad for your loved one, for his or her family, or for what this assault may change about both of your lives.
Anxiety
  • You might feel anxiety about responding the “right” way to your loved one.
  • You might feel anxiety about how this will impact your relationship.
Fear
  • Depending on the circumstances of your loved one’s assault, you might be concerned that something similar could happen to you.

… almost anything is normal.

  • Everyone has a different reaction when they find out that someone they care for has been sexually assaulted.
  • There is no “wrong” way to feel. What is important is that you show the victim that you care and that you can help support them.

It’s also very important for you to take care of yourself! Even though you were not the victim of the assault, hearing your loved one’s story and helping to support them can impact you as well.

Helping someone who has experienced a sexual assault can change the way that you see the world.

  • Your belief in your personal safety might be shaken, especially if your loved on was assaulted somewhere that you have to visit.
  • Some family and friends of survivors may experience more conflict in their relationships, whether those are intimate partner relationships, friendships or family relationships.
    • This can be especially true if the person who committed the assault is a mutual acquaintance or a relative.
  • You might find that you’re more easily irritated or have difficulty tolerating frustration.
  • You could even experience nightmares about their experience.
  • You might begin to feel distant and begin avoiding people and activities that you usually find pleasurable, especially if your loved one was assaulted in one of these places.

Here are some ways to cope with these feelings.

  • Make sure that you are involved in activities that don’t revolve around your loved one’s experience. It can be easy to get caught up in what is happening to them.
    • Get involved in a sport or hobby that you love!! Find other people who are doing the same thing!
      • Knowing that people are counting on you to show up can help motivate you.
    • If you have a spouse or partner, make a date night and stick with it.
      • Turn off your cell phones (within reason. If the babysitter needs to be able to find you, consider leaving him/her the number of the restaurant so that you can turn off your ringer!)
    • Treat leisure appointments as seriously as business appointments. If you have plans to do something for fun, mark it on your calendar!
  • If you find that you are getting too involved with what is happening to your loved one, set limits!
    • Set aside time to do what they need you to do and when that time is up, move on to other activities
    • It’s very important for you to maintain your emotional health! You cannot help your loved one if you are in crisis yourself.
  • Work to manage your feelings
  • Keep a journal. It may be helpful to write down some of the feelings that you are experiencing.
  • Practice meditation or relaxation exercises. This may help maintain your emotional balance. For example:
    • Sit or stand comfortably, with your feet flat on the floor and your back straight. Place one hand over your belly button. Breathe in slowly and deeply through your nose and let your stomach expand as you inhale. Hold your breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly through your mouth, sighing as you breathe out. Concentrate on relaxing your stomach muscles as you breathe in. When you are doing this exercise correctly, you will feel your stomach rise and fall about an inch as you breathe in and out. Try to keep the rest of your body relaxed—your shoulders should not rise and fall as you breathe! Slowly count to 4 as you inhale and to 4 again as you exhale. At the end of the exhalation, take another deep breath. After 3-4 cycles of breathing you should begin to feel the calming effects.
  • You might also consider talking to a counselor at the ESU Student Wellness Center or another counselor in your community.

As you work to support your loved one, make sure that you take care of yourself as well. It can be easy to get caught up in their needs and to forget about your own. Remember that you cannot help them unless you are taking care of yourself!

 

Adapted from RAINN.org