Staying Safe + Mental Health Tips

May 5, 2020

“Having courage does not mean that we are unafraid. Having courage and showing courage means we face our fears.”   – Maya Angelou

Staying Safe During Quarantine While Living with Perpetrator/Abuser

  • Create or update your current safety plan. Given that most businesses are shut down, and those who continue to work have had their hours cut back dramatically, you may find yourself spending more hours at home with an abuser. The current quarantine measures may leave you feeling that you have nowhere to go. It’s important to have a plan in place that identifies escape/exit routes, details important contact information and resources (should you be left without a phone), and includes safety words that your friends, children, and other family members, understand. If you do not currently have a safety plan in place, you may call and request to complete one with one of our advocates (if it is safe to do so).
    • Remember that going outside is still allowed. Walks are permitted under social distancing. If you find that this is your only option, use it! Going for a walk can give you a break from a tense situation and may serve to deescalate a confrontation. You can also use this time to reach out to a friend, practice grounding exercises, or reach out to a hotline.
    • Create a code word or sentence that you can text, e-mail, or send via social networks with people in your support system that indicates that you need an immediate interruption, or require immediate assistance. It would be helpful to assign a code word specifying what is needed, i.e., de-escalation (interruption), a call placed to a specific individual, or a call placed to 911.
    • Locate places (perhaps even outside near your home) where you can hide resource information, or a go-bag of essential items, such as money, a phone charger, non-perishabale snacks, and needed medication.
  • Try to maintain a routine and/or structure your day. Consistency often promotes calmness, so consider developing a routine if you don’t have one. Eating your meals at about the same time every day, and sticking to a bed time supports a sense of calm in your environment that permeates, and extends, to those around you. In addition, having a routine in place could potentially facilitate a moment to seek help without arousing too much suspicion from a perpetrator because it is expected, such as going to the laundry room or laundromat on a specific day and time, checking your mail, or walking the dog, for example. Focusing on those things we can control and having a good sense of them is also highly beneficial to our mental health.
  • Stay as socially connected as you can online and over the phone. Keeping your support system informed on the status of your safety and/or of escalating situations could make all the difference, and is just good for your mental health. We are social beings and it is essential to our overall sense of wellness that we continue to feel connected to others.

Additional Tips to Help Improve Your Mental Health and Sense of Well Being during COVID-19

  • Regulate your media diet. It is important to limit our news intake. Keep in mind that the media is not exactly focused on disseminating positive and adaptive material during this time (or at any time, really). Ultimately, their goal is to obtain as many viewers as possible, and they understand that this is best accomplished by propagating shocking and alarming news stories, which only exacerbate the negative mental, emotional, and physical symptoms you may already be experiencing. Moderate how much time you spend going through the news online as well. The media has to catastrophize to gain viewers/followers and this can be overwhelming and detrimental to your mental health. Consider being intentional about blocking off time in your day to disconnect from the media and from social networks. If you must use the television or internet to cope, that’s ok, too, but search for subject matter that’s uplifting, or that can provide you some comedic relief.
  • Take care of your mind by exercising! Staying active not only reduces levels of the body’s stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol, it also stimulates the production of endorphins, which are the body’s natural mood elevators. Fortunately, a strenuous work out is not needed to produce these effects, so go on a walk, ride your bike, or stream an online yoga class! AND, because the benefits of these activities are understood by those who practice them, a lot of these classes are being offered for free right now to ease the negative effects of social distancing and the overall stress of the pandemic.
    • Black Swan Yoga streams online classes for free through its Instagram
    • Black Wolf Crossfit outlines daily work outs on its page
  • While it may seem counterintuitive, don’t push your anxiety away and try to keep in mind that you’ve faced varying degrees of uncertainty and fear in the past. Name an experience where you also felt insecure and fearful, reflect on it, and consider the outcome and how you got past it. Fear and anxiety are a part of the human experience and repressing or rejecting them can increase feelings of guilt, anger, and sadness, because we are, in a sense, judging or looking down on ourselves for having them. We shouldn’t. They are a natural part of the human experience. Therefore, learning how to sit with these feelings and how to talk to them (yes, talk to them), is more beneficial to our mental health than to consider we are weak for having them, and try to make them disappear altogether. Listen to your body and to these anxiety symptoms and practice breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, and grounding exercises, instead.
    • Apps like:
      • Headspace
      • Insight Timer
      • Shine
    • Online:
      • Search YouTube
    • Practice Self Compassion and Self Care. This goes hand in hand with sitting and talking to your anxiety because it is important to recognize that COVID19 is unlike anything most of us have ever experienced. It is indeed scary and confusing, and so it’s important that we show ourselves the love, empathy, and understanding that we would our loved ones, friends, and family members. When a friend comes to you for help, how do you respond? It is crucial that we show ourselves the same kindness and understanding we would to those we care about. Moreover, a hostile inner voice will not serve you in addressing the needs of those who depend on you, such as your children. Practice self-care and tend to your needs first, so that you are better equipped to tend to the needs of those who need you the most.
    • Finally, be kind to others, lend an ear or a helping hand.

And men are often faced with the impossibility of doing anything, imprisoned in some kind of horrible, horrible, very horrible cage.

There is also, I know deliverance, eventual deliverance, a reputation ruined rightly or wrongly, embarrassment, circumstance, misfortune, all these make people prisoners. You can’t always say what it is that shuts you up, what walls you in, what seems to bury you alive, but you still feel some kind of bars some kind of cage. Some kind of walls. Is all this imagination, fantasy? I don’t think so; and then I ask myself:  My God, is it forever, is it for eternity?

Do you know what makes that prison disappear? It is every deep, genuine affection. To be friends, brothers, to love, that opens the prison by its sovereign power, its powerful charm. Someone who does not have that remains bereft of life. But where sympathy is reborn, life is reborn.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   – Vincent van Gogh

Mayra Mendez, MS, LPC-1, is AVDA’s full-time trauma counselor.