Healthy Coping Strategies for Difficult Times

When we have experienced traumatic events, such as rape and sexual abuse, it is common to have very, very powerful memories, which can be so powerful that it feels as if the terrible events are happening again, in the present moment. This can be frightening, and is always upsetting.

It is very helpful to ‘Ground Yourself’ back in the safety of the present moment. There are techniques you can follow to help you do this.


When we are anxious or upset, our breathing becomes more rapid. We can feel better by deliberately slowing and relaxing our breathing. Anxious breathing is up in our chest, whereas relaxed breathing happens deeper in our abdomen

Relaxed Breathing Instructions

  • Breathe in slowly and steadily through your nose for a count of 4 – and try not to rush this
  • Pause for a count of 1
  • Exhale slowly and steadily for a count of 4 – breathe out gradually – try not to breathe out with a sigh
  • Repeat for a few minutes, until you notice a change in how your body feels
  • If you get distracted, or if your mind wanders, just bring your attention back to how it feels to breathe in and out

Refocusing your Attention

  • Look very closely at something in your immediate field of vision
  • Concentrate really hard on all its qualities (size, shape, colour, feel etc.)
  • Look at it as if you were an alien or Martian, seeing it for the very first time
  • Try it even when you’re not struggling with problem memories

Developing a ‘Grounding’ Image

This is a visual picture you create in your mind, which can soothe and distract you from your upsetting memories. It could be:

  • A public or private space
  • Somewhere you feel safe in, and can find your way around
  • Outdoors or indoors, wherever you feel safe
  • A place you can be very active, or quiet and thoughtful
  • A place where you decide what is happening to you, but, whatever it is, feels good and right for you
  • A place where you decide whether or not you want other people to be involved with you
  • Somewhere you can practise going to, even when you’re feeling okay, so that it’s easy to get to, when you need to
  • You could, maybe, practise and plan a route there, to help you to arrive at the place more easily


Smells are an incredibly powerful way of coming to our senses. If you are deliberately paying attention to a smell, you are truly in the present moment. Try to find a smell that has positive associations for you – maybe one that reminds you of happy times; or a smell which you enjoy. Carry it with you and use it to bring yourself back to the present moment, if you get caught up in an unwanted memory.

Helpful Smells

  • Small bottles of essential oils – e.g. eucalyptus, mint, lavender, lemon
  • Small dried flowers, such as lavender
  • Perfume soaked on a tissue
  • Whole spices from the kitchen

Using a ‘Grounding’ Object

Something small and portable that can distract you when necessary

  • Make sure it’s something that a carries a positive meaning for you
  • It’s even better if it can fit in your pocket or bag
  • You’ll need to use your refocusing skills with this

Developing a ‘Grounding’ Phrase

This is just a few words, or a tune, which are positive and encouraging and remind you that you’re okay. This phrase or piece of music can be left around, if you wish

  • On a piece of paper
  • In the car
  • On the computer screen

Finding a ‘Grounding’ Position

Often we find our body matching our fears and hurts, so experiment with finding a position which makes you feel safe and strong. You need to find what works best for you

Taking Care of Yourself

Because you have undergone experiences that were both traumatic, and made you feel bad about yourself, you may not be used to putting a high value on yourself, and really taking care of yourself. You deserve to be treated well, just like everyone else on the planet. So, please, make a special effort, every day, to do something nice, kind and caring for yourself

  • Try to spend time with people who help you to feel good and secure about yourself
  • Treat yourself to something nice/favourite each day; have a hot bath; read a book; watch a film; play music; eat cake, chocolate; smell scented candles; see a friend; have a massage
  • Find some quiet time/a safe haven every day
  • Listen to the radio. It’s more helpful to listen to speech than to music
  • Write a journal or a diary
  • Drawing can be a powerful and helpful way of expressing yourself
  • Write/draw positive thoughts against negative ones, and compare them. Very often there are more positives than you realise
  • Draw/paint a picture of how you’re feeling; perhaps, it might be an animal
  • Try and stay calm if things don’t go to plan. They won’t always go right and, most often, that’s not your fault, or even, under your control. Try not to assume that the worst will always happen
  • Go for a walk; preferably somewhere in natural, calm surroundings
  • Talk to someone you feel really comfortable, and at ease with; a counsellor or a really close friend you can trust totally
  • Look after what you eat. What you eat affects the way you feel
  • Meditate. Many people find this extremely valuable to ‘ground’ themselves; feel more relaxed in themselves and be ‘in the moment’
  • Listen to a different viewpoint. Reframe a situation so that you can look at it, as if for the first time. Your mind is amazing and your capacity to change and deal with change, is truly remarkable
  • Learn about who you really are, become aware of your needs and learn to satisfy them and look after yourself.
  • There is only one of you in this world, and you are very valuable and worth looking after

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