Over the past few weeks, the news has been particularly triggering and re-traumatizing for anyone who has experienced sexual or intimate partner violence. Healing from trauma is not linear and it can feel regressive for survivors when details of violence in the news cycle transport them back to their own difficult experiences with abuse.
Complex post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety, depression, substance use disorders, and eating disorders are just some of the mental health challenges that may result from abuse and sexual assault. A triggering event can bring a sudden onslaught of symptoms, even after a survivor has gone months or years feeling stable and grounded. It’s a difficult and frustrating experience that may call for professional counselling and sometimes even medical attention.
Regular self-care can help survivors manage and maintain their psychological wellness to lessen the effects of triggering events such as difficult world news or witnessing violence. It’s a good idea to take a little bit of time each day to do something for yourself, to maintain a grounded, present state of mind, or to hedge an oncoming bout of anxiety.
Self-care is an important part of mental healthcare. For World Mental Health Day, let’s focus on 5 self-care practices that can easily be incorporated into a daily routine.
1) Gratitude Journal
When life seems full of darkness and you start to lose track of what’s good in the world, a gratitude journal can help you refocus on the positive things in life. Not every day is a good day, but there is good in every day. Take a moment each day to jot down a few things you are grateful for. It can be as simple as how nice it feels to hold a warm cup of coffee in the morning or the way your houseplants bring a pop of colour into your life.
Having a gratitude practice is proven to benefit you both physically and mentally. Focusing on what you’re thankful for can lift your spirits and motivate you. You only need a couple of minutes each day to have a gratitude practice.
2) Gentle Movement
Everyone knows that regular exercise is good for the body and mind. But sometimes, strenuous exercise can exacerbate an anxious state of mind by bringing up your heart rate and tricking your body into thinking there is danger present. If you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks, try introducing a gentle form of exercise such as yoga, tai chi, or leisurely walking into your daily routine. Gentle exercise still does wonders for your body while also keeping your heart rate at a manageable level. It promotes rhythmic breathing that can calm anxiety symptoms.
It’s easier to maintain regular exercise when you have a routine, so try to choose a time each day to exercise. Maybe before or after work is good for you, or during your lunch hour. You might just find it boosts your energy for the rest of the day.
3) Mindfulness/Meditation Practice
The human brain processes more information each day now than ever before. With so much going on in the world and a 24-hour news cycle, the brain seldom gets the rest it needs. You may find yourself constantly thinking about what you heard on the news or what there is to be done and that may be keeping you from living in the moment. What’s also interesting is that silence is actually very important for the brain. It gives the mind a chance to process information and decompress tension.
A meditation and mindfulness practice can help you incorporate more silence into your life and be more present in the moment. You may choose to meditate in a seated position with your eyes closed or to instead do active meditation, like walking mindfully. Find what works best for you. If you’re new to this practice, there are many free apps that can teach you the basics and help you establish a routine. Headspace and Insight Timer are two popular ones you can download to your device and access daily.
When it comes to mindfulness, the more time you take for it, the better. Still, one minute is better than none.
4) Talk to a Friend
Human connection can’t be underestimated. Sometimes in the hustle of daily life, it can feel like you have to do it all on your own. But you’re not alone. Taking a few moments each day to check in with a friend can be a great way to remember that you are connected and supported. Whether you talk on the phone, meet up for coffee or a meal, or just have a conversation over email or text, talking to a friend is a great way to lift your spirits, calm your mind, and keep you rooted.
5) Go Offline
If the news and noise are keeping you up at night, maybe it’s time to disengage for a while. The news will still be there when you want or need it but being constantly informed can be stressful and distracting. You may not have the luxury of disengaging from social media and the news for long stints of time but there are still ways to cut back and give your brain a break. Try limiting your screen time after work hours or not using social media at certain times like on the weekends. There are a number of apps out there that can assist you in going offline. Doing this might also help you find time for other self-care activities, leaving you refreshed and re-calibrated.
These are just a few of the things you may want to try to do daily for your own peace of mind. Find what works for you in the right balance and make a habit of it and before you know it, a daily self-care routine will be second nature for you. In a busy world, it’s so important to remember to put yourself first so that you have the energy and mental capacity to be there for everything and everyone else that demands your attention. When you do what you can to build yourself up, you are so much more resilient in the face of life’s challenges.
If you are having a mental health crisis, please seek professional help.
Interval House Crisis Line: 1-888-293-5516
Assaulted Women’s Helpline: 1-866-863-0511
Distress Centres of Toronto: 416-408-4357