Since 1949, May has been recognized as Mental Health Awareness Month. It is a time when advocates and activists educate the nation and their communities about mental health issues. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 adults in America experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Mental illness can affect many people of different backgrounds, not only through a single or ongoing traumatic event in their life, but also through historical and inter-generational trauma.
At this moment, everyone is experiencing a traumatic event due to the COVID-19 crisis. Many people are being asked to stay at home and not to leave unless they are an essential worker or need essential items such as groceries, medicine and other necessities. Many of us are afraid to do grocery shopping and are relying on delivery services. Many people across the nation are unemployed with fears about how they can provide for their families and how they will be able to pay their bills. During these tough times, it is good to learn about ways to cope with all that is going on in the world.
For victims of crime, it may be hard to receive counseling services in person. Many advocates, therapists, and counselors have moved to doing virtual therapy sessions. Even though the services are still there virtually, it may not be as beneficial as an in-person session. Advocates may have a hard time connecting with victims virtually. Victims also may not have a safe space in their home to confidentially talk with their therapists, causing them to feel more afraid and alone.
Since May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and given my previous hotline advocacy experience assisting victims of sexual assault, human trafficking and other victims of crime - I want to share some techniques that have worked for me when assisting victims of crime during these very stressful situations.
Plant your feet firmly to the ground, close your eyes, and take deep breaths by counting to three during each inhalation and exhalation. This can bring your mind to the current moment.
Here is a great video of grounding techniques that can be helpful.
Five-Finger breathing technique
Many people have different breathing techniques that work for them. One that I have used that can work for children and adolescents is very easy. You extend one of your hands out in front of you, then start at the bottom of your thumb, touching it with the index finger of your other hand. As you move your index finger up each finger, you breathe in. When you move your index finger down each finger, you breathe out, Continue this with the rest of your fingers. You can then restart and go pack from you pinky to your thumb.
Here is a video of this technique to help you better understand.
Paying attention to your 5 senses
Our 5 senses are sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch. A technique I learned and was able to share with a victim is trying to talk about each of their five senses. As an advocate I would ask a victim to put one of their hands out palm facing up. Then I asked them to pinch their fingers together with their other hand and place it above the palm facing up. I then asked them to close their eyes and think of a favorite memory they have. An example could be a vacation to the beach. Then follow up with questions like, “What do you see in that memory? What do you hear? What does it smell like? What did you eat that you enjoyed? How did the sand feel?” This can help calm the victim and bring them back to the present moment.
Take a sip of water
We know that when people have panic attacks or are triggered by something like a smell or word, their breathing can accelerate and cause them to lose control of their breathing. Taking a sip of water can help control breathing.
Create a playlist of songs that you like and that make you happy. When you feel down, you have that playlist that is ready and can replay it as many times as you’d like to make you feel happier in the moment.
Do you have an instrument you have not played in a while? Taking it out and playing on it can be relaxing. Play a couple of tunes that you can remember, or something new! Listening to classical music is also soothing to the mind.
Binge watch TV Shows
Put on your favorite TV show that may make you laugh, but watch it in portions. It is fun to binge watch a great series but also not healthy to sit the whole time. While watching, sit on a yoga ball and do some exercises. You may also want to get up every 45 minutes and walk around the house for about 5 minutes then sit back to enjoy your show! My Apple watch is a great reminder as it tells me to stand up every 50th minute of the hour.
Do some indoor yoga or exercise on your balcony or in your backyard. Do virtual exercises with friends as well.. It is beneficial for your mental health to get up and be active!
Clean up your house
Sometimes we can have anxiety from seeing clutter in our house. Sometimes clutter is created when we are not feeling well and do not feel like cleaning. Making sure things are clean every day or other day may be helpful in reducing both clutter and anxiety.
Have a pet?
Go outside for a walk with your best friend! Or stay inside and cuddle up with your amazing pet! Playing and interacting with your pet can build a sense of happiness and trust . Pets may also need attention at this time as well!
These are just simple techniques I was able to use when assisting victims of crime on the hotline. They may not all work for everyone, as victims and survivors cope differently, but these can be a start. You can try these out and see which ones work best for you and change it up to make you comfortable. There are many techniques out there! What works for you? Feel free to comment on this post and share with everyone else! We are all in this together!