Over the past few months, as Donald Trump’s abhorrent treatment of women moved into the spotlight, many survivors of assault have found themselves triggered by his words, his voice, even just the sight of his face. Though many of us assumed that Trump, and the stress that comes with him, would disappear after Election Day, this week offered up the nasty surprise that Republican nominee Trump is President-Elect Trump. How can a survivor cope when a stark reminder of some of her most traumatic moments is ensconced in the Oval Office?
I reached out to Kirstin Kelley, a sexual assault and domestic violence advocate at Call to Safety (formerly Portland Women’s Crisis Line), to get some tips on how to manage the anxiety and emotional exhaustion that comes with seeing the personification of sexual assault and abuse get elected to the presidency.
For starters, Kelley notes that self care differs from person to person; there’s no one definitive list that will work for everyone, but she does have a handful of strategies she recommends to survivors who call in to the crisis line when they’re struggling.
“One of the things that often happens to survivors when they feel triggered is that they’ll start to feel really depressed,” Kelley tells me. Basic self care can be a good way to combat that depression; even just getting out of bed and taking a shower can be a huge step towards looking out for your well being.
And if that’s as far as you get, that’s okay. But if you’re motivated to do more, Kelley recommends engaging in calming activities that don’t require a lot of focus: taking a walk, coloring in coloring books, zoning out to one of your favorite movies, eating comfort food— basically, anything that’ll take your mind off your trigger and lead to some positive feelings (“One of the things that I’m doing today is rereading all of my favorite chapter books from childhood,” she tells me.).
Should you venture onto social media? That’s entirely up to you. As with many aspects of self care, social media can be helpful to some—especially if it’s a source of consolation and commiseration for you—and toxic for others (in which case she advises a total social media fast). If you’re leery about engaging on social media but have to be online for work or some other, non-negotiable purpose, then make sure to set limits with yourself. If someone is toxic, it’s okay to unfriend or unfollow them (you can always re-add them later). Kelley advises that you should “really think about [your] emotional safety and don’t be shy about saying enough is enough.”
And what about the news? How do you stay informed about global affairs without setting off an anxiety attack? Kelley recommends consuming the media in small doses. “Don’t feel like you have to overwhelm yourself to be informed, [but] certainly spend time getting news from sources that you feel connected to.” And remember that staying informed isn’t just about reading the paper: Processing current events with friends can be a great way to manage your trauma (and, as an added bonus, help you form a community that can provide additional support).
Setting limits isn’t just about your internet interactions either: Having limits in the rest of your life is important as well. “The biggest thing is setting boundaries with people,” Kelley tells me. “You don’t have to take that abuse.”
Having those boundaries could be even more important in the coming weeks. Difficult as the election has been for many people, some survivors’ trauma will be compounded by the upcoming holidays, which can require interaction with Trump-supporting family members—or potentially even one of your abusers. If your family is more a source of stress than one of comfort, make sure you get a self-care plan in place over the next few weeks. That might involve keeping your visit short—just a day trip rather than a full weekend, perhaps—or making plans to stay at a hotel or with friends rather than spending the night in your parents’ home. Just as important: Look up the info for your local crisis line and be sure to keep them on speed dial. If you find yourself overwhelmed by anything, they’ll be able to offer support and brainstorm even more coping strategies that’ll help you get through the holidays.
The most important thing is to take things one step at a time, and one day at a time. As long as you’re doing something to protect and care for yourself—even if it’s something small—that’s an important step. Though it may not always seem like much, the mere act of surviving, of continuing to be here and refusing to be destroyed by abusive forces, is a display of strength.
And don’t ever be afraid to reach out and ask for help. “As a country there’s a lot of shame around taking care of mental health needs,” says Kelley. There’s major stigma around it. But today is a good day for it. Call your therapist if you’ve got one, find friends if you can.” There are networks of support all around us; don’t be shy about making use of them.
Lastly: Though it may be cold comfort in the wake of a painful election, Kelley urges survivors to “try and remember it was a close a election. It’s not everybody. … Half of this country is still full of people who said no to the toxicity and the abuse. So find them.”