Each year, the holiday season beckons us to conjure up feelings of joy and nostalgia. For some though, the holidays brings with it depression and loneliness. The holidays can be especially difficult for victims of sexual assault, particularly if the assault occurred in or around the holiday season, possibly by a family member who may be present at family gatherings. Studies show that about thirty percent of child sexual assault cases involve the perpetrator as a family member, and sixty percent of perpetrators are individuals close to the family: i.e. family friends, neighbors, etc. If the survivor does not have the acknowledgement and support of their family, or the family is not aware of the assault, holiday gatherings can retraumatize the individual and put them at greater risk.
To help victims stay empowered during this time of year, RAINN offers some tips on how to do self-care, both for physical and emotional well-being. Physically,survivors should listen to their bodies’ needs. For instance, the amount of sleep someone gets impacts their mental and physical health. During this stressful time of year, survivors may want to make time for a ritual nap to catch up on extra sleep. Exercise is another way to engage in self care. Exercise should energize the individual and help them work through mental barriers and stresses during this time of year. Additionally, a daily routine adds structure to an individual's schedule, which should provide them with a measure of stability to help relieve additional stress. The holidays also frequently give us reason to eat unhealthy foods on a regular basis. Like exercise, eating healthy foods can energize the individual, and give them an edge to overcome holiday stress and anxiety. All to say, emotional well-being is strongly tied with physical health.
Meditation and reflection are other ways to help relieve stress as well. Both meditation and reflection help bring the body into sync with the mind (mind being defined in this context as the individual's thoughts and emotions), which helps pull the individual out of their worries and anxieties-things that have the potential to overwhelm the individual-into a space that empowers and calms the individual. The art of journaling can also be a valuable self care tool. Journaling can help survivors engage their thoughts, feelings, and anxieties directly by having the individual put their thoughts on these things on paper. This can be especially valuable if they are uncomfortable explaining their inner thoughts and emotions to someone else. In this way, the individual engages in a dialogue of a kind, dialogue with oneself, which can help individuals sort through their thoughts, ideas, and emotions. Some individuals who journal might even consider journaling inspirational words or quotes to help keep their mind focused and motivated when their need is greatest.
While individual self care can help survivors of sexual assault take care of themselves, a helpful shoulder to lean is also often appreciated. If you know a survivor of sexual assault, there are many ways to show your support. Often times the simple act of listening can open the space for the survivor to express how they feel and create a space of healing. Friends and family members can also reinforce survivor self care by reminding survivors to take the steps necessary to feel better. Survivors can also access resources such as the National Sexual Assault Hotline. It is also important as a friend or family to be aware of the National Suicide Hotline, and be watchful of potential indications that their friend or loved one might consider suicide.
Hopefully what I have written has provided you with some useful basic self care, awareness, and compassion tips. While the holidays can be challenging for survivors, they can also be a time where the survivor overcomes adversity and gets the support they need to create lasting well being and strength.
Author: Stacey McClellan