Self-Care for Survivors
Student Survivor Toolkit: Download the PDF
Getting through your Title IX case isn’t just about knowing how to participate in the Title IX process itself. Taking care of yourself is just as important — if not more so — than knowing your rights or what questions to ask during hearings. The stress of an investigation can pile on top of existing trauma, leaving you feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed, or not in control.
If any of this sounds familiar to you, you’re not alone. Self-care probably can’t totally stop these feelings, but it can help you feel more grounded during a challenging time. Here is some advice, compiled by survivors with personal and professional experience who have used these tools, to help you get through your Title IX case.
Meet yourself where you are.
Please know that there is no right or wrong way to feel during your Title IX process. Everyone reacts differently, and you may experience a wide range of feelings throughout the process. Be patient and gentle with yourself. Whatever you’re feeling or experiencing is okay. Try to give yourself grace and the space to just be where you are instead of pressuring yourself to feel differently. Sometimes the words or actions of others–including Title IX office staff, friends, family, or other students–can feed negative thoughts in our minds and contribute to feelings of guilt, shame, confusion, anger, or frustration. Try to remember that external pressures from others are just that: they are external to you. Focus on yourself, your feelings, and honoring where you are.
Practice the basics.
The foundations of self-care can be some of the first things we let go of when things get hard, but they’re also some of the most important ways to sustain ourselves. Getting enough sleep, drinking water, eating nourishing foods we enjoy, and moving our bodies in ways that are accessible and feel good are all things that support our well-being and emotional regulation. If you’re struggling to do or remember these things, try scheduling reminders, setting alarms, reaching out to a friend or loved one for encouragement or material support (bringing meals, refilling water bottles, etc). No need to seek perfection; doing a little bit at a time is just as important.
It can be easy to get lost in grief or pain when we’re going through a tough time. The idea of having fun can feel distant, insignificant, or even wrong, but doing things we enjoy can actually support our resilience. Whether that’s enjoying your favorite hobby, dancing around your room, or scheduling a movie night with a friend, light moments can help us keep us going. If you’re really struggling to do or feel anything positive, ask yourself this question: can I remember a time when I was having fun? When I was filled with joy? Knowing there was a time you felt that way can help you believe you’ll get back there.
For Title IX Meetings and Other Challenging Moments
Bookend the event.
Do something kind and relaxing for yourself before any Title IX hearing, meeting, or task, whether it is having your favorite cup of tea or listening to a relaxing song. Be sure to schedule something self-affirming afterwards, too, so you’re not alone or left in a triggered or traumatized state without support. Perhaps plan to take a walk, hangout with a friend, watch a favorite show or movie, or schedule a therapy session for soon after so that you can process whatever happened with a professional.
Ask for a break.
Although it’s easy to feel like you need to push through Title IX proceedings without pause, it’s actually totally okay (and encouraged!) to take breaks if and when you need them. If you’re in a Title IX meeting or hearing and feel yourself getting triggered or overwhelmed, try asking for a break before you feel like you absolutely have to stop; it’s a lot easier to re-center yourself when those feelings are starting to build instead of at their peak. Some examples of when you might ask for a short break are:
- During a hearing
- In a meeting with your lawyer/care advocate/therapist
- In a meeting with school officials (as part of the formal adjudication process).
If you’re working on a Title IX task by yourself, try setting a timer to remind you to put it down and walk away for a few minutes to stretch, drink water and clear your head. If you need a break from the entire process, you could also try asking your Title IX office for a brief (1-2 week) pause on the investigation or your role in it. You might not always be granted a break, but it is still your right to ask. The bottom line is that all these times and spaces are yours, and you are allowed to ask for a break. In the other less formal spaces, such as with your lawyer or therapist, you should always be granted the time and space you need.
Some of us, especially those of us who feel very connected to our energy or spirituality, may benefit from building a protective barrier around ourselves before something difficult or scary. Take a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and imagine a white light surrounding you. As you inhale, imagine the white light entering you as positive/good energy. As you exhale, imagine the white light emanating from you and forming a protective seal around you. Carry it with you through whatever you have to do. If you feel harmful people or ideas affecting you, imagine your light as pushing them away–across the room, across the horizon, or far enough away that they can’t reach you anymore.
Connect to your body.
Many of us dissociate–or feel like we have disconnected from our body or reality–when revisiting some of the traumatic events. To stay grounded, there are a variety of simple things you can do. Try going to the bathroom and splashing water on your face or running your hands under water. Do some stretches, especially of the places in your body you feel most disconnected from. If you’re in a situation where you’d like to make this less obvious to others, push down into the ground with the soles of your feet or other places where your body meets a surface, like the back and seat of your chair. You can also trace the lines on the inside of your hands with a finger or play with an acupressure ring.
Use your senses.
If you’re feeling anxious, stop what you’re doing (ask for a break if you’re in a meeting) and bring yourself back to the present moment by engaging your 5 senses. Anxiety is often based in the past or the future, so returning to the present can help us reduce anxious feelings. One exercise is to name five things you see, name four things you hear, name three things you feel, name two things you smell, and name one thing you taste. This exercise can also be helpful if you’re dissociating from yourself, particularly from your body.
Go to your glimmers.
A glimmer is the opposite of a trigger, a mental cue to our bodies that we are okay. A glimmer can be a person, a place, a smell, a sensation, or a feeling that leads you back toward the feeling of safety and connection. Practice identifying glimmers when they happen and turning toward them in calmer moments. This practice will make it easier to return to them when you’re struggling. One way to go to a glimmer is to carry a physical manifestation of it. An essential oil necklace with a soothing scent, a photo of your pet, a playlist of music you love, or a leaf from your favorite nature trail can all guide you and your mind back toward safety. Another idea is to create a mental version of your own (real or imagined) safe place. What image(s) represent that space? What emotions and sensations do you experience there? Concentrate on the details, and imagine your safe space as vividly as possible. It may help to choose a representative word to say that helps you conjure it. Go to your safe space when you feel anxious until you feel calmer.
After It’s Over
Pack it away.
It might take time before you’re ready to process your Title IX experiences. In this case you may need to compartmentalize, or put the feelings away, until you feel safe enough to unpack them. If you need help, try this guided visualization strategy: imagine yourself in a cozy, familiar home. In the home is a large room with a large walk in closet. You walk into the closet, and there are many shelves with many boxes. Select a box, and bring it down. Open the box, and place in it anything and everything related to the Title IX process: emails, meetings, memories, feelings, sensorial memories, people, whatever. Close the box, and lock it. Place the box in the corner of the closest, up on the top shelf where you can barely notice it. Walk out of the closet, and close the door behind you. When you’re ready to revisit the Title IX process and everything surrounding you, the box will be there waiting for you. Until then, you can walk away from it.
Remember healing isn’t linear.
Some of us expect healing to happen in a straight line, to feel better every day as more time passes after a traumatic event. It’s more like a roadmap with twists and turns. While time can help, healing actually happens at different times and at different rates: you might feel fine immediately after an incident but struggle more much later, or you could feel good one day and awful the next. Remind yourself that it’s part of the process and that it’s okay. Give yourself credit for small victories: are you better at remembering to drink water when you’re having a hard day than you used to be? Does your anxiety not stay as long as it used to when it pops up? These gradual shifts through the ups and downs are how healing unfolds.
Separate your healing from your Title IX process.
Some of us believe that a fair Title IX process is what will validate our experiences and make us feel better. However, too many of us have seen that the Title IX process isn’t always fair and doesn’t always lead to the outcome(s) we’re hoping for. If this happens, tying your well-being to the result of your Title IX case will only make it harder to heal. Instead, consider what healing looks like outside the Title IX process. What things do you need that are entirely under your control? It may help to think about what you would like to feel and work backwards from there. If you need to feel safe, maybe it’s time to build stronger boundaries or join a connected, respectful community. If you need to feel heard, sharing with friends and family or using your voice to tell your story might be right for you. Some survivors find healing by becoming an advocate for others, but remember that doing so should always be your choice. Many of us are in this fight and you are always welcome, but never obligated, to join us.
Not all of the strategies above will work for everyone, so find your own best tools for your trauma self-care toolbox. It might take some experimentation, and different strategies might be right for different situations. We hope this list at least gives you a place to start in developing a self care plan that works for you.