The past week hasn’t been an easy one, particularly for women. Many of us watched last Thursday as Christine Blasey Ford, Ph.D., testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee that she is “100 percent certain” that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her in high school. It was a testimony that, for many, felt gut-wrenchingly similar to our own experiences. And then came the taunting—from pundits, people you know, and, eventually, the President. The message was clear: Victims of sexual assault will be mocked, bullied, and broken before they’re believed.
But the events of the last week, this anger, it doesn’t even feel new at this point. It’s merely the enraging incident du jour in an unrelenting news cycle that seems to just keep coming—particularly for women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and other marginalized groups. Each breaking news alert, each new development can feel like another wave beating you around just as you were about to find your footing from the last one. Like trying to get your bearings in rough waters, the process can feel futile and frustrating. It’s exhausting.
It can be tempting in times like these to just say “everything is awful,” to withdraw, and to stay angry. And, listen, if that is something that genuinely helps you or keeps you safe in certain circumstances, then don’t let us stop you. But if you’re looking for other ways to take care of yourself or process any trauma or negative emotions that this kind of stress can trigger, we’d like to help. SELF reached out to several experienced and insightful mental health professionals to get their advice and self-care tips. Here’s what they said.
1. First, know that you are not overreacting or being dramatic if you feel some type of way right now.
Let’s make this clear: There are several very real reasons why the current chaos in the news is directly relevant to your life, or the life of someone you love. The government is currently deciding on the next Supreme Court justice, who would have the power to overturn Roe v. Wade, making it even harder to access a safe and legal abortion. On top of that, a nationwide conversation is happening around sexual assault right now, and given that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 6 men have experienced some form of sexual violence, there’s an unfortunate chance that those news pundits and politicians are discussing something that actually happened to you. You’re allowed to be sad, scared, and filled with rage.
In addition to that, actually watching this testimony and hearing the details could have made this personal for a lot of people. “We saw a woman struggling. We saw a woman whose life has been so vastly [impacted] by the assault she experienced,” clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., tells SELF. “We’re seeing the whole dynamic play out, the disempowering of the survivor’s story. We’re seeing a lot of people say ‘Yeah, I think she’s credible, we believe her, but we just don’t necessary care.’ That is much more personal than a typical situation because it feels like it embodies an actual survivor’s experience.”
For victims of sexual assault, the news can be particularly traumatizing right now. “I would urge you to seek out the help of a licensed therapist, a safe friend or family member, or a support group of people with similar experiences,” clinical psychologist Ryan Howes, Ph.D. (and a SELF contributor), tells SELF. “Where you go from there I cannot say, but getting support will be the first step regardless.”
2. Give yourself permission to step away from the news and these conversations without feeling guilty.
You probably already know it’s a good idea to take a break from Twitter, turn off the news, and silence the rage-fueled group chat. So why is it so hard to do that? For me, at least, it can feel like stepping away is ignoring the reality of the situation. This conversation is happening whether I’m engaging or not—shouldn’t I at least know what’s being said? Apparently, this is true for a lot of people.
“I think sometimes people feel guilty about that,” clinical psychologist Stephanie Smith, Psy.D., tells SELF. “It feels kind of disingenuous to turn it off. I actually think that’s not true at all. You can still care, still be passionate, still be an activist if you feel so inclined, and turn it off. It’s OK to recharge away from the news.”
Smith suggests setting a few rules for limiting engagement, rather than ignoring it completely. You can try avoiding the news an hour before bed or putting the group chat on Do Not Disturb so you only join the conversation when you’re feeling up to it.
3. Find something you can control, and do that thing.
A lot of people are feeling helpless and powerless right now, so finding something tangible and productive that you can accomplish might make you feel a little more in control. Even if that’s just finally getting rid of the clutter in your apartment or signing up for a class you’ve been putting off, try to look for little ways to get shit done this week.
“A cycle a lot of us get into is just reading over and over and over-consuming the media but not actually doing anything,” says Smith. “There can be a lot of positive in actually physically doing something.” That might mean signing a form letter to your congressperson or volunteering at a women’s shelter. It could even be thoughtfully listening to a friend who wants to share their story in this moment.
“Take steps to advocate for your cause,” says Howes. “Contribute or raise money for victim advocacy groups, volunteer your time for a fundraiser or hotline, or simply share social media posts that support your cause.”
And, when you can’t think of any other way to help: “Make it your job to call out injustice around you every day,” suggests Howes. “If you have a purpose like this on your list of commitments, you may find that you make a tangible change no matter what you do for living.”
4. Take note of where you’re holding tension and anger in your body. Then, consciously let it go.
When I’m stressed or nervous, I notice that I clench my jaw and tense up my shoulders. This can last for days before I realize I’m even doing it, and by that point everything hurts.
“A lot of people are having very physical reactions. People are walking around with clenched jaws. People are saying, ‘I’m angry like I haven’t been in a long time.’” says Bonior. It’s important to let yourself feel these feelings, she says, but it’s just as important to take the time to calm your body down.
Take a second, right now, and do a quick scan of your body. Are you holding a lot of stress or tension in any particular area? Now try to drop your shoulders, relax your jaw and your forehead. Rest your palms somewhere comfortable. If any of that required some unclenching, you probably weren’t as chill as you could be, and that’s understandable.
Try to notice where you’re holding tension in your body a few times throughout the day. When you do note it, take a deep breath while you validate those feelings, then breathe out as you consciously release that tension. Of course you might still clench your jaw and furrow your brow again soon, but staying mindful of it can help remind you to relax your body periodically so you’re not carrying around that tension all day and all night.
5. Try diaphragmatic breathing, or deep belly breaths.
Calming down by focusing on your breathing—whether you’re getting worked up on your commute home or trying to turn your thoughts off at night—can feel close to impossible sometimes. Diaphragmatic breathing can help with that. This is a form of deep breathing where you expand your diaphragm (the muscle at the base of your lungs) as you inhale.
It’s easiest to do this lying down with one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach, according to the Cleveland Clinic, but as you get more comfortable with it you should be able to do it sitting up. As you inhale slowly through your nose, your stomach should rise with the breath while the hand on your chest stays still. As you exhale, tighten your stomach muscles and let them fall inward as your stomach falls (again, keeping the hand on your chest still).
According to Bonior, the emphasis should be on “slowing down your breath, counting your breath, making sure your full belly is expanding with every inhale.”
6. Try progressive muscle relaxation to get rid of some tension/rage before you go to sleep.
This sounds like a lot of work but it’s really not. Progressive muscle relaxation is simply tensing and relaxing various muscle groups in the body, explains Bonior.
You’ll generally start at your feet and work your way up to your head, tensing each muscle group for a few seconds before relaxing them and moving on to the next. Here’s a guide to get you started, or if you’d rather go the guided meditation route, here’s a video that you can follow along.
7. Move your body in ways that make you feel good, safe, and powerful.
“Use yoga or kickboxing or a good jog to help you deal with the physical manifestations of stress caused by the recent political climate,” says Howes.
Exercise can obviously be a productive way to channel some of the stress and anger that you’re feeling, but this can take a variety of forms. Sure, something literal like boxing or Krav Maga might feel great right now, but so can low-impact meaningful movements like taking a walk outside or doing some stretching. Whatever works for you.
8. Talk to people that make you feel better, and feel free to avoid conversations that you know will only further your rage.
Now is the time to call on your people and share your self-care tips, especially if you’re feeling really overwhelmed these days. “Some people feel like they need to withdraw and isolate when stressful events arise in their life. While this may feel good in the moment, generally speaking it’s best to stay engaged and talk through your thoughts and fears,” says Howes.
One tip though: Try to focus these conversations on something exciting or positive. It can be really easy to slide into a conversation where you’re just ruminating on everything that’s awful right now, and that can sometimes do more harm than good. “There’s certainly a time for that, but it can quickly go off the rails,” says Smith. It’s more than OK to call up your friend and say “So I know we’re both filled with rage right now, but let’s put that aside for an hour because I want to hear about your amazing promotion/that awesome trip we have coming up/the new person you’re dating.”
Along those lines, it’s also totally fine to take a break from certain social interactions right now. “You do have to give yourself permission to not be spending time with people who you know are going to upset you or invalidate you,” says Bonior. “You have the right to draw that line.”
9. If you don’t feel like talking, journal.
This can be really helpful if you’re feeling retraumatized by the news lately or if you need an outlet so that you’re not just bottling up your stress and emotions.
“Writing down your story and the thoughts and feeling that surround it can feel powerful in itself,” says Howes. “Put pen to paper and consolidate your own thoughts on the issue. You can even jot down notes at work and save them for your free time, if you’d like.”
10. Have some go-to joy-makers in your phone for when things get real and you need to distract yourself quickly.
“I’m a big believer in having ready made, go-to topics that are meaningless but fun, that you can go to in times of trouble or anxiety or worry,” says Smith. “My example is I love to think about my yard, my garden, my flowers. It’s meaningless because it’s not a life or death situation, it’s not something I have to fix, it’s just something I like to think about when I find myself spinning about something else.”
Maybe your thing is a particularly awesome dog’s Instagram. Or your favorite SNL skit. Or season 6 episode 2 of Will and Grace. Whatever it is, save it to your phone and have it ready for whenever you start spiraling and need a mental reset. If you can’t think of anything, there are also great apps with guided meditations you can download, like Calm, Headspace, and Shine.
11. If everything gets to be too much, know that there are resources out there that can help. Use them.
Your friends and family are a great place to start, but they may not be able to help you as much as you need. Here are a few more resources that can help:
- If you need to talk to someone, you can reach a trained member from a sexual assault service provider near you by calling RAINN (the Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network) at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
- You can also text with a trained crisis counselor with the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741.
- If you want to set up an appointment with a therapist, you can search for one in your area using the Psychology Today database or ZocDoc. You can also call your insurance company to see if they have a list of covered mental health care providers you can call.
- If you don’t have insurance or aren’t able to access a therapist in person, you can also try online therapy services, like Talkspace.
- For abuse survivors, Howes recommends the books The Courage to Heal and The Body Keeps the Score as tools that can help point your healing in the right direction.
Most of all, remember that your feelings are valid and that you are not alone in feeling them. "Even if it feels like you're alone, even if you are not choosing to share your story yet, you are not alone, and there is power in numbers," says Bonior. "There's power in truth."