How to maintain self-care during Sexual Assault Awareness Month
April is Sexual Assault Awareness Month (SAAM). Nationwide, activists and advocates are taking action to counteract and raise awareness for sexual violence. This month, while amazingly informative and impactful, can be challenging for advocates, survivors and allies. As a person who works on these issues, I know the month can be emotionally and physically taxing. Wellness is necessary for our sustainable activism.
Here are some tips for self-care during SAAM:
Know there is no right way to be a survivor. If you are not a survivor, it is not your role to tell anyone to attend an event. If you are a survivor, know that your experience is your own. You do not have to label, report or tell anyone unless you want to. You do not owe it to the world to become an advocate. If you are engaged in work, you do not owe anyone your story or your time. Going to Take Back the Night, while healing for some, may be traumatizing for others. It is up to the survivor which choice is best for them.
Limit the number of events you attend. While I would love everyone to attend every event, I know this is unsustainable. Choose one to two events per week you would like to support in person, then share and tell your friends or professors about the other events. A good plan is to bring a friend or classmate with you. This way, you can process the event together after if you want.
Take a vacation from electronics one day every week. During SAAM, social media campaigns, articles and videos are very popular. It is overwhelming to open your feed, especially if you are a survivor, and be inundated by a sea of posts. Remember, it is okay to take time away from the news and social media. Put your phone on airplane mode, send a notice to close friends and do something else fun!
Take time to do something relaxing. Take a walk, cook dinner, watch a movie, color pictures of RBG, workout, talk to a friend or some other thing that helps you self-soothe. Make sure that you take at least 30 minutes to unwind from any events on campus.
Maintain your physical health habits. Make sure that you set a bedtime which allows you to sleep. Drink water throughout the day. Exercise or spend time moving -- spend five minutes having a dance party. Take any medication that you typically take. Make sure you eat enough food and budget enough to buy food.
Get help from a mental health professional. SAAM may bring up old experiences, or lead to a lot of stress in supporting friends or community members. Some confidential resources on campus are OASIS or the American University Counseling Center. They can help refer you to other resources, possibly talk through your own experience or give you some tips for stress reduction. Here are some off campus resources for survivors.
Support healthy habits for your friends. If you see a member of your immediate communities who seems to be going through a challenging time, reach out. When you reach out, ensure that you have a plan and goal before hand. However, know that you cannot change anyone else and that you can only try your best.
Make time for self-reflection. Make time to talk to a friend, therapist, family member or other support system. If you feel more comfortable writing down your emotions, spend some time journaling or making art. Check in on how you feel and why you feel that way.
Take a minute to participate in social action. Several organizations have websites which allow you to participate in quick and easy political action. During SAAM it is easy to feel swamped by all the information and feel we can do nothing to impact this reality. One easy thing to do is check out End Rape on Campus’ Dear Betsy Campaign, which serves to show the importance of Title IX on campuses nationwide. Also, check out the Wellness Center’s “action tables” at every SAAM event on campus -- where you can sign petitions and call your senator.
Believe the survivors in your communities, support your friends and support community action to end sexual violence -- and remember you are not alone. I hope that some of the tactics above provide you with some guidance on how to make it through April. This SAAM make sure you ensure sustainability of your actions by taking care of you. You cannot help anyone until you help yourself. We as a community are here for you and we as a community endorse your self-care.
Please feel free to reach out to the Students Against Sexual Violence via Facebook, Twitter or email, and swing by our self-care tables at every SAAM event on campus!
Liliana Betancourt Ascencio is a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences and the co-president of Students Against Sexual Violence.