Brett Kavanaugh is likely being confirmed to the Supreme Court. And for many, that news feels devastating.
Several women have publicly accused Kavanaugh of sexually harassing or assaulting them when he was in high school and college in the 1980s. The discussion surrounding those accusations has been particularly difficult for sexual assault victims, who have heard politicians dismiss survivors’ pain amid a barrage of news coverage and heated conversations about Kavanaugh. The judge’s controversial Supreme Court bid has also triggered memories that many survivors have worked extremely hard to move past.
The Kavanaugh hearing “may cause individuals to re-remember the abuse, have memories and flashbacks. People may also experience guilt and shame if they reported or did not report. Anger and helplessness are also common,” said Elizabeth L. Jeglic, a licensed clinical psychologist, psychology professor at John Jay College and a sexual violence prevention researcher.
If you’ve been struggling with Kavanaugh’s nomination and recent news that the Senate is likely voting him onto the Supreme Court, here are some expert tips for self-care right now:
1. Practice deep breathing.
“Our breath is one of the simplest and most effective tools we have to calm our nervous system,” said Liz Arch, a certified domestic violence counselor advocate and creator of Primal Yoga.
She noted that when someone is stuck in a trauma response, events from the past can replay in their nervous system as if they are happening in the present.
“Conscious breathing can help pull us out of the past by giving us a direct anchor to the present moment,” Arch said, adding that it’s important to take deep breaths from your abdomen.
“When we’re anxious, stressed, or panicky, our breath becomes shallow and rapid and shifts into our upper chest. Learning to breathe into our belly ― known as diaphragmatic breathing ― in particular taps into our parasympathetic nervous system and stimulates the vagus nerve, which has a calming effect on body and mind.”
2. Recognize your emotions and allow yourself to feel them.
“Naming feelings is the only way I have found to keep from drowning in them,” said Alle C. Hall, a writer from Seattle who experienced sexual assault trauma and described the journey of accepting what happened as being “a process.”
“I keep my feeling list very simple: Joy, shame, pain, anger, sad and lonely,” Hall said.
Whenever she finds herself stewing over the Kavanagh vote, she puts her survival practice into action, she says. “Just now, I went to my Facebook page and posted, ‘I feel sad.’ And I feel a surge of energy and personal power. Never fails.”
3. Take a social media breather.
“The group-think will be strong and can add to self-righteousness or toxic indignation in the immediate aftermath,” said Nancy Irwin, a trauma specialist and primary therapist at Seasons in Malibu. A Facebook and Twitter hiatus “can allow us to be in acceptance, which is more easily done in calm, quiet and solitude,” she said.
Try turning off all social media notifications from your devices, temporarily deleting apps from your mobile devices and tablets, and putting your phone in airplane mode whenever you’re not using it.
4. Limit your news consumption.
“I have been encouraging my clients to not watch the news for a while, as they are being triggered by the constant coverage and this contributes greatly to the feelings of despair and sadness,” said Ginger Poag, a licensed clinical social worker and trauma specialist who has been helping women to cope with the Kavanaugh media coverage over the past few weeks.
“I am getting many phone calls where women have been triggered by the news, and trauma that occurred 30 years ago is coming up for them once again. Many of the women have never told anyone of the abuse,” Poag said, noting that staying away from the headlines can help you stop fueling the fire.
5. Empower yourself through action.
“Watching the news as a bystander can feel radically disempowering and can shut us down into freeze or collapse,” Arch said. “If scrolling through your news feed for hours makes you feel helpless or hopeless, take action instead.”
Taking action can include signing petitions, attending rallies and donating to causes and organizations that feel supportive and empowering.
“Find ways to mobilize, even if it’s simply getting together with a group of trusted friends to laugh, cry, hug or shout,” Arch added.
6. Recognize the potential for positive change.
The country is extremely divided now, but that also means that people are talking about these polarizing issues and are becoming inspired to take action in the face of political despair. If you’re feeling down, take a moment to recognize the good that could potentially come from the news of Kavanaugh’s likely confirmation.
Michael Brustein, a clinical psychologist in New York City, noted that it’s important to stop and realize that many people are very upset and that you are not alone.
“The political regression may spur social progress, as it may elicit more civil engagement from the underserved,” he said.
7. Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
“Sexual assault victims everywhere can find themselves triggered by news reports about current events and be reminded of their own abuse histories,” said Nikole Benders-Hadi, a board-certified adult psychiatrist at Doctor On Demand. “The confirmation process of Brett Kavanaugh and how it has evolved to include sexual assault allegations is one such example, and I do worry about the mental health impact on my patients.”
Benders-Hadi recommended that anyone feeling particularly triggered by current events reach out to friends and family for support “to help you process new emotions that are surfacing.”
She also has one tip for those who find themselves in a support system role: “The most important thing we can do for all victims of assault is to support and validate their feelings,” she said.
8. Find a healthy distraction.
“I encourage my clients to try to fill their time with something positive, such as getting coffee with a friend or taking a walk in nature, which is very healing and therapeutic,” Poag said.
This can help you keep your mind off a traumatic or upsetting event and shift your focus. Irwin suggested going to a movie, preferably a comedy.
“Our heart muscles have been tensed and strained heavily over the past few days and weeks. Comedy and laughter can relax and restore,” she added.
9. Limit alcohol consumption.
Oftentimes we turn to alcohol if we are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, but experts say that in times like these, self-medicating is not the answer.
“It is important to not drink during this period of time, because our emotions become more intensified with alcohol, and in turn, can cause us to feel worse and out of control,” Poag said.
10. Call a sexual assault prevention hotline.
“Sexual assault prevention lines are there for support even if the abuse happened a long time ago,” Jeglic said.
The National Sexual Assault hotline offers free, confidential help by trained staff members who can provide support, information and referrals.
“These resources can be an important step in addressing any feelings of re-traumatization that can take place in response to current events,” added Jhumka Gupta, a public health researcher and assistant professor at George Mason University’s Department of Global and Community Health who studies the public health impacts of violence and sexual assault on women.
11. Make an appointment with a mental health professional.
“My grave concern is that trauma survivors are being triggered by current events to the point that they are having difficulty functioning or finding themselves experiencing persistent or intolerable suffering. It is necessary to have professionally managed trauma therapy if you are in this category,” said Drew Pinsky, a trauma expert and host of KABC Dr. Drew Midday Live.
Pinsky added that if you have had previous treatment and are now having trouble functioning, it would be a good idea to revisit the care of a mental health professional.
“Trauma-informed treatment works, and without treatment, your nervous system is literally stuck in the traumatic experience, often experiencing the event biologically, again and again,” he said.
Trauma survivors may resist treatment because they have an incorrect sense than an incident is behind them or that talking to a professional will mean that the trauma will have to be relived or revivified to resolve, Pinsky said.
“That is not the case,” he said. “Well-trained professional will make sure you are only exposed to tolerable doses.”
He said that whether it’s your local county services, a local university or another training facility, there are numerous treatment options available. You deserve to feel OK.
Need help? Visit RAINN’s National Sexual Assault Online Hotline or the National Sexual Violence Resource Center’s website.
If you or someone you know needs help, call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. You can also text HOME to 741-741 for free, 24-hour support from the Crisis Text Line. Outside of the U.S., please visit the International Association for Suicide Prevention for a database of resources.
Editor’s note: This story previously included a self-care tip encouraging communication with close family members during vulnerable times. That section has been removed after a Gizmodo investigation raised questions about the credentials of its source.