The recent news cycle filled with stories of sexual abuse and other forms of hate and violence have left many feeling overwhelmed. For some survivors, the experience of relentless news coverage can be re-traumatizing while others may experience a newfound freedom to express their voice and share their own story.
First and foremost it is important to acknowledge that everyone’s experience is different and they are all valid. It is okay to need support and help during this time it is equally okay to feel empowered and oriented towards action. It is normal to feel rage, fear, frustration, sadness, or disgust. It’s equally normal to feel strong, sure, and confident.
I would like to focus here on what we can do to support our clients or loved ones who may be experiencing the overwhelm. It was widely reported that during the Brett Kavanaugh hearings, calls to survivor hotlines skyrocketed. People needed and continue to need support. Folks may not understand, even as the news is shifting, why they are feeling confused, exhausted, short tempered, irritable, full of rage, or sad.
So where do we begin in supporting those who are suffering? The place to begin is to encourage and support strong boundaries. It may be important during this time to shift how one is ingesting media coverage, social media posts, and ongoing conversations within work, friend, and family circles. Support those in your circle to make their own decisions about when, where, and how often they discuss both external events and personal experiences. Help them be curious about what it would be like to modulate media time, at least temporarily, so that their nervous system can regulate.
Another place to offer support is to help folks understand when they are triggered or feeling overwhelmed. Provide psycho education around how the flight, fight, freeze response may be showing in up in big and small ways. It is important to help people understand that these nervous system responses look different for everyone. That irritability, short temper, or frustration could be the fight response. If one is experiencing a sense of feeling trapped in everyday activities or an urgency to escape that could be the flight response. The freeze response could be showing up as a sense of feeling spaced out, forgetful, or they may be daydreaming more than normal.
Understanding that one is overwhelmed is just the beginning. Continue your support by teaching basic grounding techniques that help bring one back to the present moment like deep breathing or the use of the five senses. For deep breathing I like to teach the simple three-breath technique. First, notice the overwhelm, and then take three deep breaths while trying to stay with the sensation of breathing in the body. For the five senses technique you are teaching how to use the senses to land in the present moment. You can have a client name colors or sounds. You can encourage them to feel textures or temperatures. I like both of these because they can be used in almost any situation without drawing attention to oneself.
Finally, encourage folks to come up with a self-care plan that they can put into action when they recognize that they are struggling. This, of course, is unique to everyone so it’s helpful to get curious and allow your client, friend or loved one to come up with their own list of what feels both accessible and good to them during this time.
More support may be needed and help is available. The following resources are available in our area:
For CU students, faculty, and staff:
National hotline and website for survivors:
Finally, I think it’s important to recognize that as we support others in our lives, we may also be feeling the intensity and the overwhelm. This is a simple reminder that all of the techniques above are helpful for both survivors and those in a helping role. Take care of yourselves and thank you for all that you do.