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Self-care

Self-care is important for everyone. But it can be really helpful for people who are experiencing the impacts of rape and other sexual violence or abuse – whether it happened recently or a long time ago.

Find self-care activities

Self-care means doing activities that make you feel physically, emotionally and mentally better. It’s also about being kind to yourself.

Self-care activities can be small things, such as drinking a glass of water, stretching or taking some deep breaths. Or they can be more challenging activities that involve more effort or time – for example, getting fit enough to run a 5K, sorting out a messy room or learning how to do grounding exercises.

By doing these kind of activities, you will hopefully start to feel better in yourself – both immediately and in the longer term.

Walking

Self-care doesn't need to be about setting lots of really challenging goals. It can just be any activity that helps you to feel more safe, comfortable, healthy and looked after.

Why is self-care important for victims and survivors?

Rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse and other sexual violence can impact your physical, emotional and mental wellbeing in lots of different ways. And self-care can help you to deal with some of these impacts.

For example, certain self-care activities can support you if you're experiencing flashbacks, sleep problems, anxiety and panic attacks.

Over time, self-care can also help to heal your body and mind from the impact of the trauma you experienced.

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Why can self-care be hard?

Lots of people find self-care really hard. It can be difficult to remember to make time for it, especially if you have a busy job, work long hours or look after other people.

Changing habits is never easy and can take time.

Self-care is also more difficult if you're feeling stressed, low, upset or anxious. However, it can be even more important during these times.

If you're a victim or survivor of rape, sexual assault, sexual abuse or other sexual violence, you might also find self-care challenging for the following reasons:

  • You might be used to other coping methods that are less safe or healthy – for example, drinking lots of alcohol or self-harming. These coping methods might give you short-term relief or happiness, and so it can be very hard to stop doing them. However, they can cause you more harm in the long term.
  • You might feel shame or blame yourself for what happened and how you feel – which can cause you to feel that you 'don’t deserve' self-care. Try to remember that you are in no way to blame for what happened and it is not your fault. You could also try reading our tips on how to challenge self-blame.
  • If you're feeling low or finding it hard to cope, you might feel like you don’t have the energy for self-care. If that's the case, try breaking bigger tasks or activities down into smaller ones, or finding other things to do that better suit your energy levels. Maybe it's taking a shower, brushing your teeth or making a cup of tea.

Although self-care can be hard, it's important to remember that even steps that seem small will still help. So, make sure to choose activities that work best for you. And if there's anything that makes you feel worse, stop doing it and try something else.

"Caring for myself is not self-indulgence. It is self-preservation and that is an act of political warfare."

Audre Lorde

Self-care activities to try

It's a good idea to not try all of these activities at once. Instead, maybe start by choosing just one or two that sound right for you.

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Please remember: self-care should make you feel safe, comfortable, healthy and looked after – not overwhelmed or stressed out.

Look after your body

Stay hydrated. Try and drink 8 glasses of water or sugar-free drinks every day.

Eat healthy food. By eating healthily, we give our bodies the fuel they need to fight off illness and work well throughout the day. You could try to eat an extra portion of fruit or veg a day, cut down on unhealthy snacks or make sure you eat breakfast in the morning.

Sleep. Sleep is one of the most important things for our physical and mental health. Lots of victims and survivors experience sleep problems. But, we have some tips for things you can do to try and help yourself sleep.

Exercise. Regular exercise can improve your health, help you sleep better and reduce feelings of sadness and anxiety. It can also make you feel stronger and more in touch with your body. It’s important to choose something that you enjoy – if going to the gym isn't your thing, maybe try walking, skipping, gardening or dancing to your favourite music.

Try yoga. Victims and survivors and researchers have found that yoga can be very helpful for people who have experienced trauma. If you can’t make it to a physical class, there are lots of free online sessions available.

Take a shower or bath. Taking a shower or bath can be really relaxing, as well as being an important part of personal hygiene. If it seems like a huge task, think about what you enjoy about it – for example, the warmth or how you feel afterwards.

Pamper your body. Choose whatever works for you – whether it’s applying a nice moisturiser, using a face pack, getting a new haircut, painting your nails or maybe putting on a favourite scent. Whatever makes you feel looked after and relaxed.

Look after your living space

Get some fresh air. If you can, try to go for a walk or spend some time outside every day. You can also open a window to get fresh air into your room or home.

Do some cleaning and tidying. Although housework can feel like a chore for most people, having a clean and tidy living space can help you feel much better. If it seems like too much effort, focus on one small job – maybe wash some dirty dishes, put some clothes away or make your bed.

Smell something nice. This could be a candle, a room spray, essential oils, baking or fresh laundry – anything that smells good to you.

Get cosy. Get snuggled on the sofa or wrapped in your favourite blanket. 

Look after your mind

Do an activity you enjoy. It’s really important that you make time to do things that you find interesting, relaxing or fun. It doesn’t matter what it is – it could be watching a boxset, doing a jigsaw, knitting, cooking, playing a game, scrapbooking, colouring, gardening or DIY.

Breathe. Deep breathing can be an effective way of reducing feelings of anxiety and stress.

A simple breathing exercise is:

  1. Place one or both hands on your belly.
  2. Breathe in slowly through your nose.
  3. Your hand and belly should rise as air fills your lungs.
  4. Breathe out slowly through your mouth.
  5. You hand and belly should fall as you breathe out.
  6. Do this for a couple of minutes. Watch how your hand rises and falls as you breathe.

Lots of people find that this makes them feel calmer. However, if it makes you feel more panicked, stop for now.

Try grounding activities. Grounding activities can help you feel calmer, more in control and more connected to what's happening around you. They can be especially helpful if you have flashbacks, panic attacks or feelings of dissociation. We have more information on grounding.

Remember that it’s okay to not be okay. Sometimes we try to hide, ignore or avoid negative emotions. But, often, it's actually more helpful to recognise these emotions or express them. If you’re feeling low, anxious, sad or angry – let yourself know that it’s okay to feel like that. Sometimes we all need a big cry or a duvet day.

Write it down. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you to feel better. It can help you to express your feelings, explore patterns and reflect. Maybe try keeping a journal, either in a notebook or by using a special app.

Say kind and positive things to yourself. Instead of saying negative or critical things to yourself, try saying positive affirmations (for example, 'I am a survivor', 'I am strong', 'I am a good person'), or soothing statements (for example, 'this will pass', 'I am doing my best', 'I am safe here').

Try to notice the good things. Our brains are hardwired to notice bad or negative things. That means we focus on these things more than the positive. You can try to balance this out by making an effort to notice the good things around you. Even noticing small things, like a nice cup of tea or a good song on the radio, can make a difference. Some people do this regularly in a gratitude journal.

Connect with other people

Send a message. Send a message to a member of your family or a friend. It doesn’t have to be about how you are feeling – it could be a silly joke, a meme or a question for them.

Make plans with family or friends. You could make plans to have a long phone call, go for a walk, go bowling, go for a coffee, play a game online… It doesn’t really matter what the activity is, the aim is to connect and have fun.

Talk about how you feel. If there's someone who you trust, it can help to talk to them about how you feel. You only have to share what you're comfortable with – for example, you could focus on how you feel now rather than past experiences if that feels better for you. You can also talk to us.

Connect online. If you have a particular interest (maybe it's a band, a hobby, a game or an activity), you might be able to meet other people online who share that interest – either on social media or on a forum.