Self-Care For Survivors

by Katie Reilly

“Reminder as everyone shares all the accomplishments they’re proud of ahead of 2020: it’s okay if the most significant thing you did this year or even this decade was survive it. That’s worth celebrating, too.”

– Anna Borges, author of The More or Less Definitive Guide to Self-Care

If you’ve ever flown on an airplane before, you’re familiar with the safety demonstration. It includes information like tightening your seatbelt, and that smoking is not allowed in the cabin, but there’s also a less intuitive warning. If you ever need to put your oxygen mask on during the flight, you must put your mask on first before you can help others with theirs. Most people are compelled to help when you see someone struggling, but you can’t help anyone if you’ve fainted from a lack of oxygen yourself.

The same sentiment rings true when it comes to survivors of domestic abuse. During the holiday season and as a new year begins, it may be especially challenging to help others as well as yourself. You may find yourself in stressful situations at holiday gatherings. Self- care is a way to prepare for this type of encounter. 

Self-care is essential to overcome any trauma, and it is a necessary step to take on the journey to becoming an ally to other survivors as well. Many people who have gone through an abusive relationship may have PTSD or other emotional scars. In the aftermath of abuse, survivors need to recognize their trauma and heal from it before they can help anyone else. 

Beginning to Care for Yourself  

Where to begin? Self-care can feel unfamiliar or strange when you first start. The first thing to remember is that the trauma that happened to you was not your fault. Domestic abuse stems from the abuser wanting power and control over another. The abuser is the one to blame, but these traumatic experiences can disrupt your sense of self. You need to ask yourself:

Who am I deep down? 

What do I want? 

What do I need? 

Once you answer those questions, you can begin to self-care. Think of how you care about someone you love, perhaps it’s a family member, friend, or even a pet. We tend to consider the needs of others and make them a high priority, but when it comes to ourselves, we forego this thoughtfulness and consideration. It’s essential to nurture and look after yourself just as you do for others in your life. 

How to Practice Self-Care

There are many different options when it comes to self-care. It should always be a method that feels right for you. In preparation for traveling or any holiday festivities, it is essential to focus on your well-being. There are even small tactics you can do, like taking a few deep breaths, rubbing your temples, or a quick stretch wherever you are and at any time during your day. When it comes to weighing your options, consider choosing from these two groups: The basic needs approach versus the comfort/pleasure approach.

Basic Needs  

The basic needs approach involves any physical aspect of treating your body well so you can function each day. 

  • Getting plenty of sleep ensures you will have the energy needed for any interaction at dinners or parties
  • Eating healthy and nutritious foods can be tricky during the holiday season and new year, but it will help you feel more alert by avoiding sugars and alcohol
  • Exercising just a few times a week goes a long way to maintaining your health, and it is a great way to take a break from the celebrations and get out of the house

In addition to your external needs, your mind and your emotional state are just as important as your body. It’s significant to make time to talk about your feelings and to calm your mind.

  • Seeking professional help (trained medical professional, religious counselor, or social worker) confirms you have someone to talk to that is equipped to offer support before and after the holidays
  • Practicing mindfulness or meditation can soothe a racing mind, so you don’t feel as overwhelmed by any stress that comes with the New Year
  • Journaling or writing your thoughts out can help you process and understand your feelings to make more informed choices about what’s best for you this season

Essential Comforts

The comfort/pleasure approach can be anything that brings you joy or gives you a sense of ease. Sometimes it’s better to opt-out of New Year’s Eve parties to enjoy activities that put you at the center and are still fun. 

You should ask yourself:

What activities make me happy?

What actions make me feel good?

  • Feel cozy by wearing soft and comfortable clothes
  • Relax by taking a break or a quick nap
  • Unwind in a warm bath with scented candles 
  • Listen to music and sing your favorite songs
  • Watch a movie you’ve never seen before or binge the hot new T.V. show
  • Play a game on your phone or do a puzzle with friends

The list goes on, but this approach can be anything you consider to be fun or enjoyable. Click here for more self-care tips. 

For anyone new to self-care, this may seem like a lot. Remember, you don’t have to do these examples all at once. Pick one or two ideas that feel doable to you and start your self-care journey from there. Similar to how we juggle lots of tasks in our lives, it’s only easier to add more “balls” to the mix once you have the first couple in a consistent rhythm. 

Connecting through Self-Care

Through self-care, you will feel better. With practice, it is an emotional exercise that will make you strong enough to help others as well. You will be able to handle other domestic abuse survivors’ situations or listen to their stories because you already take care of your own needs. A lot of survivors feel guilt or shame and thus retreat socially. They become isolated with no one to relate to or confide in about their history. You can rebuild a support system for yourself and encourage others to do the same. One of the best ways to pay it forward after you’re secure in your self-care practices is to reach out and offer your support to others— let them know you are here to listen. There is strength in seeking help for yourself, and this ambition is an invaluable resource to others in need. Once you can self-care without judgment or guilt, you can begin to build a community amongst survivors. 

If you are a survivor of intimate partner violence, there are many organizations you can reach out to for help. We suggest taking a look at our resources page to learn more about organizations in your area. Remember that you can talk to a domestic violence advocate at our toll-free helpline (1.800.214.4150). 

Here are a few Day One resources that you may wish to look into if you are interested in talking with other survivors or sharing your story:

For the most updated information about our current support groups and counseling opportunities, please contact our Case Manager Megan Pedragón at

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