“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat any time and be yourself.” – Hermann Hesse
With the latest news cycles churning out politically heated and disturbing information on a daily basis ad nauseum, many trauma survivors are finding they are particularly triggered. Specifically with the recent two-week-long-Kavanaugh-confirmation-to-the-Supreme-Court-drama, sexual abuse survivors (both male and female), are reminded of feelings of hopelessness, powerlessness, and lack of safety. Regardless of what side of the political spectrum you fall on, if you have a trauma history, you are likely quite triggered when you see news which portrays themes of assault survivors being ridiculed and chastised, blamed and shamed, and devalued and discounted. Many feel that politics has taken on an entirely new level of impacting mental health for many people who feel disenfranchised, stigmatized, and shunned. Below are some suggestions for riding this wave of political trauma:
1) Unplug. Turn off your social media, TV, radio, etc., and take a news diet. At minimum, narrow your filter on your news feed to just essential information so that you are not ruminating or getting lost in depressing articles which only feed a sense of overwhelm and helplessness.
2) Get involved. Many feel politically activated like no other time in the history of the U.S. Be sure to vote, help register voters, participate in political events that resonate with your beliefs (marches, supporting campaigns, signing petitions). Taking action enables feelings of helplessness to dissipate.
3) Get support. See a trauma-informed and strengths-focused therapist to address any trauma that may be surfacing. Trauma therapies can include EMDR, somatic experiencing, expressive arts therapies, narrative modalities, cognitive-behavioral therapies, among others. Be sure your clinician has appropriate training in this area and is a good fit for your needs.
4) Get moving. Studies show that trauma is “held” in the body; So when we get moving in ways that are therapeutic (trauma-informed yoga, hiking, exercise in nature, meditation, mindfulness based deep breathing exercises), we release the physiological components of trauma in such a way that other parts of the brain (emotional/cognitive) can be accessed to process the trauma(s) (van der Kolk, Bessel, 2015).
5) Express. A release of “held” emotion can be had with the use of expressive arts such as painting, writing, collage, knitting, sewing, creating music or poetry, singing, dancing, sculpting clay. Working with a trauma-informed and expressive arts therapist can assist in releasing emotions connected with trauma.
6) Back to Basics. Strive for at least 5 consecutive hours of sleep in a 24 hour sleep cycle to restore serontonin levels. Focus on good nutrition that is essential for brain health (including healthy amounts of omega-3 fish oil) (Kendall-Tackett, 2018). Exercise (as mentioned above in number 4).
7) Connect with safe community. Surround yourself with unconditionally positive and affirming people who can provide emotional or tangible support ( a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear, dropping off a meal, etc). Safe community creates an environment from which to reconnect with hope for a secure future, also lowers cognitive dissonance and generates validation.
8) Engage in sensory self-soothing actions. Take a warm bath or shower, enjoy a hot tub, play with finger paints, obtain lavender or vanilla aromatherapy essential oils for linen spray or a diffuser. Bake delicious-scented holiday treats. Infuse yourself in nature by running barefoot at the beach and sinking you feet in the sand/in the waves. Walk in nature and do a walking meditation, taking in the soothing sights and sounds of birds, trees, earth, leaves, blooms. Take a nap in a soothing flannel linen blanket in front of a cozy fire in the fireplace.
9) Know emotion is transitory. No matter happy or sad, the feeling passes. Life moves forward. Remind yourself that no one is stuck in any heavy emotion. Distract yourself, get busy and engage in activities that tap into logic brain (like crossword puzzles, Words with Friends App, planning a to-do list and executing it, etc). Accept what you can’t change. Change what you can. (That Serenity Prayer is helpful here).
10) Connect with spirituality. For some that means church, synagogue, temple, a Weirwood Tree (a la Game of Thrones). For others that’s nature or a meditation room. Whatever spirituality looks like for you, tap into it. It can be solitary or communal. Prayer and meditation can help during trying times.
Retrieved from: http://www.uppitysciencechick.com/ (Kendall-Tackett, K. 2018).
van der Kolk, Bessel (2015). The body keeps the score: Brain, mind and body in the healing of trauma, Penguin Books.