A lot of the news surrounding sexual misconduct the past few weeks hasn’t been easy to digest for anyone. But it can be particularly painful for victims of sexual assault or abuse.
These stories ― from Harvey Weinstein to Matt Lauer ― are creating a crucial, national conversation. And while that is ultimately a good thing, it doesn’t come without mental health consequences, experts say.
“[Sexual trauma] can stop you in your tracks and change the way you live your life,” Gina Scaramella, executive director of the Boston Area Rape Crisis Center, told HuffPost in an email. “It is not a trivial thing, it takes enormous energy and time to cope. It can be embarrassing, frightening, sad and infuriating.”
Because media reports are everywhere, those mental health effects may be almost impossible to avoid. And since many people still want to be advocates, they feel like they still have to be plugged in despite the importance of self care.
HuffPost chatted with specialists on how to deal with the triggering, hellish news cycle surrounding sexual misconduct. Below are a few ways you can take care of yourself while still helping the fight:
1. Ditch the news for a little while
Taking a day-long break from social media every so often can help you focus on your own well-being, according to Kathryn Stamoulis, a licensed mental health counselor who specializes in women’s issues. Making an effort to not check your phone before bed or first thing in the morning can also help, she added.
“We have never experienced a time like this in human history, a time where there is no respite from distressing stories and terrifying world events,” Stamoulis told HuffPost via email. “We must self-protect, and the only way to do so is to disconnect from time-to-time.”
2. Only reveal what you feel comfortable telling
Refraining from publicly sharing your own story doesn’t make it any less real or important.
“Lending your voice to the fight does not mean you have to share your personal experiences,” Stamoulis said. “If exposing yourself on social media (and thus to colleagues, family, acquaintances) doesn’t feel like the best thing for you to do, don’t do it.”
3. Support other people’s voices
“You can be an advocate by supporting others who share by liking their posts, retweeting, sending a private message of support,” Stamoulis said.
Scaramella said this could especially help people who are volunteering for sexual assault organizations.
“The stress on the staff and volunteers of these organizations has been intense and knowing the community cares, such as sending an email, posting on social media or sending a note of encouragement, matters more than you can know,” she said.
4. Know this conversation will continue for a while
There will always be time to speak up for this cause, so don’t feel pressure to do so right in this moment if you’re not ready.
“It’s exciting that victims are finally being believed and there is starting to be fallout for public perpetrators, but sexual harassment and sexualized violence will still be an issue that will need fighting against for a very long time,” Stamoulis said. “So take a break, the cause will still be there when you are ready.”
5. Consider other causes where you can be an advocate
“There is great attention on this area right now, so if it feels good for you to put your attention on another cause (walking shelter dogs, the environment, feeding the elderly) it will likely be very needed and appreciated,” Stamoulis said.
Research shows volunteering can improve your mood, which also means it can be form of self care.
6. Remind yourself that there’s no wrong way to feel
Anger, sadness, happiness and relief are all perfectly normal reactions to these news stories.
“I have heard from some victims that they are feeling envy or bitterness that people are being believed now when that wasn’t their experience ... No matter what you are feeling, it is okay,” Stamoulis said. “There is no shame in any of it. There is no weakness in any of it.”
7. Go on a walk or get a little exercise
A little movement goes a long way. Research shows light physical activity, like walking, can help improve mood and ease mental health symptoms. Try heading outdoors for an added boost.
8. Learn to recognize signs of PTSD or trauma that may pop up
A news story about assault ― even if it’s not similar to your own ― can provoke a strong psychological response if you’re experiencing post-traumatic stress disorder, Stamoulis said. That can come with some pretty excruciating symptoms.
“This response can include extreme fear, anxiety, nightmares, sweating and heart palpitations,” she said. “Hearing a story one day might not trigger this response, but the next one, for whatever reason, might.”
9. And talk to someone you trust when they do
Reach out to friends, family members or coworkers you know you can lean on when you’re feeling run down.
“Whether your assault happened five minutes or 50 years ago, you are deserving of support,” Scaramella said.
10. Don’t push away your emotions
You may find it easier to avoid any feelings on the matter, but it’s important to deal with them.
“It can be helpful to accept that this is a negative part of your past, rather than pushing away the feelings and memories or feeling bad that you aren’t completely over it,” Stamoulis said.
11. Reach out to a mental health professional
If you’re experiencing prolonged feelings of anxiety, stress or symptoms of depression like tearfulness and social withdrawal, check in with a licensed physician. They can help you sort through complex emotions and help you feel better.
Ultimately, looking after your own well-being is critical to helping with the fight.
“I know it may sound like a cop-out but honestly, taking care of yourself is being an advocate. An advocate for yourself, and it all really starts there,” Scaramella said.
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 HELLO 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.