5 Daily Self Care Exercises for Survivors of Abuse

Published on October 30, 2023

Unfortunately, being a survivor of trauma or abuse is exceedingly common. According to the National Sexual Violence Resource Center, one in four girls and one in six boys will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old. Additionally, they also found that one in five women and one in 71 men will be raped at some point in their lives.

Being a survivor of abuse can be challenging, thankfully with some self-care in place you can begin your healing journey to a healthier you.  That journey from feeling scared, afraid, angry and/or alone to a place of peace and acceptance can be an empowering one. Regardless of whether your trauma was recent or happened years ago, a daily self-care regimen will help you cope with the trauma that still affects you today.

1. Quality Sleep

An essential component of maintaining optimum physical, mental, and emotional health is ensuring you get adequate sleep each night. According to The Sleep Foundation,  “while sleep issues after a traumatic experience can be distressing, they may also be an important opportunity for treating and healing from trauma.

Research suggests that being able to sleep after a traumatic event can reduce intrusive trauma-related memories and make them less distressing.” In fact, Eye Movement Desensitization Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy works a lot like REM sleep with assisting the brain to process traumatic events. Additionally, getting adequate sleep helps to improve memory, increase positive mood and decrease stress.

2. Meditate

Meditating for just five to ten minutes can have some really positive benefits including: boosting immune response, regulating stress levels, increasing focus and elevating mood. Headspace (the App) now has a program on Netflix that not only guides you through meditations but also explains why and how a particular exercise can help you.  I’ve also always been a big fan of the App Insight Timer. I find guided meditations are often easier for people to start off with and you can then work your way into solely music, nature sounds or silent meditations. For anxious folks, guided meditation can help to give you a focus point so it is not so overwhelming in the beginning. 

3. Exercise

Exercise is beneficial for just about everyone, but for trauma survivors it can also be a way to release pent-up emotions you have relating to what has happened to you. The type of exercise is not really as important, as engaging in a daily practice of release.

If you like to dance, do some Zumba, if you are more of a yoga lover, go with that. For some, taking kickboxing or jiu-jitsu can help them feel more in control after an assault and better able to defend themselves. No matter what you choose remember that exercise should be an act of self-care, meaning it should be something you enjoy- not a punishment. 

4. Positive Affirmations

For many survivors there is a good-deal of shame and guilt that comes with what has happened to them. For those reasons, it is all the more important to really focus on programing yourself with positive thoughts and beliefs. For example: “I am loved,” “I am worthy,” “I am valued,” “I am strong,” “I am enough.” I often tell client’s to pick an opposite thought to their negative self-talk, so if your inner “Karen” is saying: “I am disposable”, you say to yourself: “I am worthy and deserving of love, respect and affection”.

There is a really amazing App that spams your phone, however often you set it, to give you positive affirmations called “I Am”. If its a struggle for you at first to come up with your own affirmations, I really recommend it.

This process of changing that inner voice takes time and truly is a practice so be gentle with yourself. You will have days where it works great and other days where you cannot seem to get “Karen” to stop talking. It’s okay, just take it one step, one moment at a time. 

5. Support

Support is critical need for healing, surround yourself with people who build you up, cheer you on and pick you up when you are down. If you have a solid support system don’t be afraid to engage them, by calling a friend or family member, attending a support group and/or finding a therapist. If your support system is lacking, use a smartphone app or the Meetup website to find a local, like-minded group and make some new friends.

Often times survivors feel alone and like no one can or will understand how they feel, or that they will be judged for what happened to them. However, as said in the beginning abuse is more common than we would like to believe in this country. Sharing your struggles with people who understand and care about you and your well-being is an important aspect of your healing journey. If you are a sexual abuse survivor and need some words of advise from others who have been through it but are not ready to take that step of opening up just yet, I highly recommend Dear Sister by Lisa Factora-Borchers and Aishah Shahidah Simmons - a book of letters from survivors of sexual abuse to other survivors. 

Are you a survivor of trauma or abuse? A licensed mental health professional can help you so you don’t have to go through this alone. Give our office a call today so we can set up a time to talk.

Keep Shining,

Jamie Vollmoeller, LCSW 

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