How To Practice Self-Care Amid All The Harvey Weinstein News, Because The News Cycle Can Be Really Overwhelming
People who've survived sexual harassment and assault may be finding the current news cycle, with its litany of harassment allegations against movie mogul Harvey Weinstein, seriously difficult to deal with. The issue seems inescapable, particularly as women are coming forward daily with more stories of Weinstein's misconduct: After initial articles in the New York Times and New Yorker quoted Ashley Judd and a host of other women, more famous women have added their voices to the conversation. If you're finding this news triggering, upsetting, or overwhelming, you aren't alone. There are many ways to use self-care to manage your mental health as the news cycle surrounding Weinstein continues.
Unfortunately, many survivors are learning how to deal with the media's reporting of harassment through repeated experience. Reporting around the 2016 election, particularly the allegations of sexual harassment involving Donald Trump, was deeply difficult for an audience struggling with a history of sexual harassment or assault, and this episode may seem like horrendous deja vu. “If you look at the current news cycle," trauma psychologist Dr. Debra Kaysen told Fast Company during the 2016 campaign, "it’s almost impossible to avoid very graphic reminders of the experiences that women and men survivors have had. Those are pretty intense reminders.” It isn't at all "weak" to respond strongly to events in the news that bear a strong resemblance to your own traumatic experiences. Here are some expert-recommended ways to cope.
Have An Emergency Self-Care Plan In Place
If you do get caught out, what should you do? “The truth is you can't avoid all of it," Teen Vogue's Lena Solow wrote to sexual assault survivors in the wake of the 2016 election. "[It] can be helpful to try to think now about strategies that can help you if you get caught up or caught off guard by these stories." Having an emergency plan for situations of serious distress where you've encountered news that makes you upset is a valuable idea. The survivor support organization RAINN has a selection of possible ideas, many revolving around remembering "a time when you felt balanced and grounded." They suggest asking yourself some questions: What fun or leisure activities did you enjoy? Were there events or outings that you looked forward to? Did you write down your thoughts in a journal or personal notebook? Were meditation or relaxation activities a part of your regular schedule?" Look at what calms you down and helps you feel safe, and incorporate that into your emergency plan.
If you get so distressed you can't do anything else, that's also OK. Solow suggested, "Maybe you need to remember to take deep breaths and take stock of your current surroundings — think about what you can see, hear and feel right now. Remind yourself that you are safe. Drink some water. Maybe you have some friends whom you know get it who you can text.” Take the available options around you to make yourself feel better.
Safeline, the hotline set up for victims of sexual abuse in the UK, has a specific set of steps for people who've been triggered or distressed by media coverage of abuse stories of any kind. One of the most important steps, they say, is to "ground yourself." They say:
"If you are feeling overwhelmed by the feelings or memories that are coming up, then take some time to check in with yourself and ground yourself in the present. This can be done by sitting down and getting comfortable, placing your feet on the ground and feeling the ground beneath your feet. Breathe slowly and deeply in through your nose and out through your mouth. Look around the room and let your eyes settle on an object. Identify that object, ask yourself where you got the item from, who bought it and anything else about it, when you’ve done move on to the next object, repeat the process again and again until the anxiousness or stress levels have dropped, always remembering to keep breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth."
If all else fails in your emergency response, this is one of the best ways to orient yourself. Once you've gained some more feeling of groundedness, you can take other actions to help yourself and deal with your emotions.
Limit Your Consumption Of The News
Do you need to read the news? Unless you're a reporter or professionally involved in the news cycle in some way, it may be a good idea to simply turn away from news networks right now, in any of the ways you consume them (television, notifications, social media, radio, newspapers). And if somebody insists bringing it up in conversation, politely request that you talk about something else.
If you do want to absorb some news about the world in general, but really don't want to deal with reminders of Weinstein or his disgusting behavior, tailor your consumption. Stay away from entertainment sites if you can, block or unfollow accounts on social media that tend to cover the subject, and don't feel guilty about it at all. Instead, read a book, or watch a comfort show on Netflix. You can always readjust your routine once the news cycle starts to focus on something else.
Allow Yourself To Feel What You Feel
Taking steps to take care of yourself in the wake of a Weinstein story that's made you upset doesn't necessarily mean being calm. “Engaging in self-care means letting ourselves feel fury," Mahroh Jahangiri, now an editor at Feministing, told MTV in 2016, again in response to Trump. "Self-care talk often asks us to find ways to bring joy into our lives. And while this is so important, I hope we also carve space to recognize that joy may be hard to find." If you feel anger, misery, depression, disgust, or other complicated feelings that don't feel good in response to Weinstein news, know that your reaction is valid, acceptable, and just one part of your experience.
Don't Feel The Need To Be An Example Or A Model
One of the most distressing things about the Weinstein story, as with many other stories involving abuse by powerful people, has been the treatment of his accusers, who are being unjustly criticized for not telling people sooner or not being "perfect" victims. You may feel that as a survivor this reflects on you, and that you are required not only to be the perfect survivor of your own assault but a perfect representative of everybody who's ever been abused. This is not true — there is no "perfect" survivor of assault, and you do not have to conform to any kind of mold of being a survivor.
Sexual violence activist Liliana Ascencio, writing about how survivors on campus might feel during Sexual Assault Awareness Month, highlights this issue. "If you are not a survivor, it is not your role to tell anyone to attend an event," she writes. "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 ... It is up to the survivor which choice is best for them." If you don't feel up to it, there is no need for you to wade into social media arguments or use your own experience to educate others on the issues raised by the Weinstein scandal. If you feel like going on the national news, channeling your energy and distress into activism for assault survivors with an organization like Pandora's Project, or getting into bed with a cup of tea until the whole thing passes over, each of those your own completely valid choice. You know your own needs best.
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (4673) or visit online.rainn.org.