Handling triggers about sexual assault in the news

If you're the victim of a sexual assault or sexual harassment, does it feel totally overwhelming to turn on your computer or pick up your phone and see a ton of headlines about the latest sexual assault allegations against someone famous?

If so, that could be a symptom of post-traumatic stress disorder. All of those news reports on your Facebook feed and in the news are triggers that set in motion the complex emotional responses related to your trauma in your mind.

In other words, you are not being merely "sensitive." Triggers are real, and they cause real pain to people who have suffered enormously in the past, particularly victims of sexual assault.

So, how can you cope with triggers that just won't quit coming? It isn't always possible to avoid your triggers, especially since you can't always tell in advance what might set your feelings of anxiety in motion. Psychologists recommend certain steps for handling triggers when you can't avoid them.

1. Find something to help you ground.

"Grounding" means learning to exist in the moment and to feel present in your reality. That's a great way to stay focused on the fact that your memories of a past assault are truly part of the past. You can ground yourself by focusing on something physical. Touching a rough surface, focusing on the taste of a piece of hard candy, listening carefully to someone's voice and paying close attention to a pleasant smell are all different ways of grounding yourself in the present.

2. Practice mindfulness.

It's important to move your thoughts away from the past and into the present, where you are safe. Meditation, breathing and light exercise, like walking, are all good ways to help you move your mind away from the trauma you experienced.

3. Contact a friend or a crisis line.

There are crisis lines dedicated to helping people who are in the midst of a panic attack or recovering from a sexual assault. You can phone one to talk to someone at any time. If you have a trusted friend who will listen, that's also an option.

If you're the victim of a sexual assault or sexual harassment, consider talking to an attorney about how you can hold the perpetrator accountable.

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