INTRO: I came across this pamphlet at the emergency room on one of my
visits for suicidal thoughts. It helped me gain control where I felt that
I had none. I carried the pamphlet with me for quite some time...and I
still have it and know where to get it if I ever need a reminder. I wanted
to provide it to you with hopes that you too can find the control that I
Stress is a normal and inevitable part of our lives, whether it is due to
work, family, relationships, or our surroundings. For many of us, stress
is such a common part of our existence that we may not even consciously
notice how it affects us.
Sometimes, stress appears in our lives due to a specific experience, such
as sexual assault. When this happens it is common to feel sudden and
intense physical or behavioral changes. Some survivors might wonder if
they are going crazy. It can be reassuring to know that these changes are
normal reactions to a very stressful experience.
Recognizing the signs of stress, whether they are related to sexual
assault or not, is the first step toward successfully managing stress. The
following are some common physical, behavioral and emotional symptoms or
stress. Remember that not everybody will experience all of these symptoms.
Body tension in specific parts of the body, or overall stiffness
Anxiety/ fear/ apprehension
Irritability/ uncontrolled anger
Changes in sleeping patterns
Increased/ decreased appetite
Inability to concentrate
(For women) Changes in menstrual cycle
Diarrhea/ constipation/ cramps
Nausea/ shakes/ sweating
Drug/ alcohol use
For survivors, these signs of stress can appear immediately after a sexual
assault, or weeks, months, or years later.
Often stress resurfaces with "triggers" such as the anniversary of the
assault, or a physical environment that reminds the survivor of the
assault (location, smells, etc.). Other triggers can be seemingly
unrelated life changes such as marriage or the birth of a child.
Family and Friends of a survivor can also experience stress due to the
assault of a loved one. It is important not to overlook or minimize the
impact stress can have on individuals other than the survivor her or
himself. Family and friends need to care for themselves as well as provide
support to the survivor.
Regardless of the situation, there are ways to reduce the impact of
stress. What techniques work best will be different for different people,
and may even change for each individual as time passes. However,
consistent use of relaxation techniques will not only reduce stress in
specific situations, but will also help each of us decrease the overall
amount of stress in our lives.
Relaxation techniques can be used to reduce feelings of tension and
anxiety related to stress. They can also become an enjoyable part of a
daily schedule and help build a more calm and healthy lifestyle.
The following list contains suggested relaxation techniques. In time you
will discover what works best for you. You may want to experiment with
these suggestions and develop your own techniques.
Remember to breathe in times of stress. Pay attention to your breathing
pattern and keep it slow, deep, calm, and rhythmic.
Create a soothingatmosphere: dim lights, light candles, listen to
music, remember special places, times and people; Imagine a relaxing
Do something you enjoy: read a good book, watch a light TV, take a hot
bath, garden, cook, have a cup of tea- whatever relaxes you.
Do something physical, like walking, stretching, dancing, sports, etc.
Physical exercise releases stress and tension.
Reassure yourself that you are safe.
Remind yourself that you are capable.
Reassure yourself of your value.
Have others remind you that you are safe, capable, and important.
Remind yourself that there are things you can do to feel less tense,
that you do have some control.
Take time out to be alone or with others, depending on your needs.
Build a strong and positive support network. Talk to others. Call a
Call your local rape crisis center.
* This information was provided through the King County Sexual Assault
Resource Center, PO Box 300, Renton, WA 98057