By: Brittany Piper
The saturated news coverage of the allegations against Supreme Court Nominee Brett Kavanaugh can cause old wounds, flashbacks, negative emotions, and physical pain to resurface for survivors or sexual assault. As a survivor and holistic healing coach for survivors of trauma, I know this all-too-well.
But for those who might not understand, let me explain. Research has shown that people who have been exposed to trauma have measurable differences in the amygdala, the brains’ fear response center—causing survivors to constantly be in alert or fight-or-flight mode. With a heightened sense of fear, survivors are more prone to facing triggers which include: re-experincing (flashbacks), avoidance and hyper-arrousal.
In addition, the neuroscience behind retraumatization and triggers, especially in relation to assault, show that a large majority of survivors disassociate from their mind, body and emotions during an assault. Unfortunately, due to how our brain reacts to trauma, this detachment carries on far after the assault—making it difficult for survivors to be in control of their mind, body and emotions, and even more difficult to find a sense of safety and calm in their own lives.
To cope with these triggers and the overwhelming sense of fear and powerlessness, it’s important for survivors to focus on themselves when they feel retraumatization coming on. Self-loving practices which grant space for introspection, rest, and support are vital.
Here are some quick tips:
Turn off the news: Hearing other survivors’ stories can be a direct trigger, causing you to relive any shared experience between you and the survivor story you’re hearing about. It’s best to shut off the news during this heightened time.
Mind-Body Connection: Techniques such as trauma sensitive yoga, meditation and breath work are holistic methods for survivors to rediscover body awareness, embodiment and empowerment. These modalities allow survivors access to and release trauma from the places in their bodies where trauma is trapped. Practices such as breath work (or pranayama) can be crucial to combatting triggers. By learning to connect with and lead the breath, survivors can control their vagus nerve which sends signals to the parasympathetic or sympathetic nervous systems. For instance, by simply breathing in for four seconds, holding for one second, then exhaling for five seconds—and repeating that process as needed, survivors can bring themselves back to a grounded sense of calm and presence.
Journal: Journaling strengthens immune cells and helps survivors process and reflect on the overwhelming thoughts that flood through them during retraumatization. Start with prompted questions which help you to navigate and welcome your thoughts in a loving and safe way, such as:
Today I am grateful for…
Today I want to feel (list something positive)…
I will allow myself to feel this way by…
Affirmations: Our language creates our intentions and ultimately our reality, therefore loving thoughts create loving actions. Either write or speak loving affirmations to yourself, such as:
I let go of all negativity that rests in my mind and body…
Every experience I have is perfect for my growth…
I open myself to receiving love from the universe…
I am worthy and deserving of every good thing that comes my way…
Avoid engaging in discussions, and debates about the current news: Getting in a heated argument on social media, or even worse in person, heightens the extreme emotions you’re already experiencing. Try your best to find calming and supportive environments and activities.
Seek Support: Don’t isolate. Whether it’s a friend, family member, therapist, whoever that support system is for you—call them and ask for support. Talk as much or as little as you’d like about what you’re experiencing, but knowing you’re not alone in this is crucial to finding safety in your body and mind.
Get outside: Nature and sunshine increases your serotonin levels, helping to alleviate those dark waves of emotion you’re feeling. Go for a walk, eat a meal outdoors.
Write yourself a love letter: You’re strong, you’re resilient, you are so loved. Write yourself a love letter that reminds YOU that you are special and such a precious part of this world.
Be kind to your body: Get adequate sleep, eat nourishing foods that give you energy and help you sustain. Exercise, stretch, take a bath.
Listen to uplifting messages: Too often when we’re down we encourage that state of sadness by listening to sad music or wallowing in our sorrows. Do the opposite, listen to uplifting music or podcast. Watch a movie or show, or read a book that makes you smile.
Put yourself first: Whatever you need during this time, do it. Allow space, permission, time. Allow yourself to say no to things that you feel will trigger you further. And don’t apologize. Lead with the mentality #MeFirst.
Learn more about Brittany Piper and her program “After the Assault: Healing Through Self-Care for Survivors and Their Peers” at https://campuspeak.com/speaker/brittany-piper/