Sleep Hygiene: What It Is and Why It Matters

Sleep is one of the most important things you can do for yourself to progress on your healing journey. The benefits of getting good sleep include better decision-making, more focus, emotional resilience, a stronger immune system, and many other benefits. Good sleep begins with good sleep hygiene.

Quote about sleep by Rebecca Scritchfield.

What is sleep hygiene?

Sleep hygiene is important to understand if you’re going to get good sleep. Sleep hygiene is all of the things you do every day that will help you sleep better at night. Believe it or not, good sleep starts first thing in the morning and is an all-day affair. Here’s how to improve your sleep, no matter how you’re sleeping right now.

Wake up at the same time every day. It’s tempting to sleep in on the days when you can, but getting your body into a good rhythm is more important. Don’t throw off your sleep pattern for a few more minutes of sleep.

Eat well and exercise. The better you eat and the more consistently you exercise, the better you’ll sleep at night. You can change up your eating and exercise habits for variety, but keep your sleep habits the same.

Pick a “wind down time” in the evening. Start calming down before you even head to the bedroom to sleep. Start thinking calm, relaxing, positive thoughts. Spend time meditating. Do whatever you need to do to maintain a NO NEGATIVE THOUGHTS zone before going to bed.

Try gratitude and affirmations. Maybe you have a hard time falling asleep once you’re lying down. Instead of panicking over what you need to do the next day (and filling your body with stress hormones like adrenaline and cortisol), try focusing on the things you’re grateful for. You can also try affirmations, saying things like, “I am warm. I am comfortable. I am safe.” Tell yourself soothing and calm things. Any worries can wait until tomorrow.

If you wake up, try again. Don’t focus on how you should be asleep and work yourself into a frenzy about all the sleep you’re NOT getting. Say, “At least I’m resting,” and try winding down again through meditating, thinking positive thoughts, focusing on gratitude, and positive affirmations.

Honor your sleep. You may have trouble falling asleep or difficulty sleeping through the night, but don’t repeat that thought to yourself – change the story. Tell yourself that you are getting better at sleeping, getting better at taking care of yourself, and getting better at allowing your body time to regenerate at night. Don’t give up; good sleep is worth the effort.

Take some time today to think of what you can do to improve your sleep. Pick one thing. Maybe it’s getting a better pillow or thinking through some affirmations. Maybe it’s giving yourself more “lie in bed” time at night before your actual bedtime. Whatever you think will help, try it. And keep trying it. When you get good sleep, your body responds, and you can take better care of yourself. What will you do to sleep better tonight?

5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope After Childhood Sexual Abuse

Learn the tools, 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope, that you need to overcome childhood sexual abuse

One thing that makes The Younique Foundation’s approach to healing from childhood sexual abuse distinctive is our use of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope. We created these tools specifically for survivors to help them on their healing journey. Below is an in-depth look at each strategy and an example of how it can be used.

You should know that the strategies are not in order of importance or sequence. You don’t have to master one before moving onto the next. They can be used individually or together in any combination or order that you like. You can spend time focusing on one, or you can spend time every day trying to tap into each. One of the benefits of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope is that you can make them work for YOU.

1. Awareness

The first strategy is Awareness. We define it as “becoming more fully grounded in the reality that the only time something can actually happen is now, in the present moment.” But what does that mean? Be present. Too often we get caught up in memories of the past or in anxiety about the future. Awareness reminds us that we get to make conscious choices, to choose how we react to the situations we’re in.

One way to effectively use Awareness is by utilizing grounding techniques. These are used to get your limbic system and prefrontal cortex talking to each other. They can be used anytime but are especially useful if you experience a trigger, anxiety attack, or other unpleasant situation.

2. Acknowledgement

The second strategy, Acknowledgement, is defined at The Younique Foundation, is “accepting where you are. You recognize your truth and what you need to do to improve.” Think of Acknowledgement as a three-part process – you recognize your truth, whatever it may be, then you accept where you are right now, and from there you can see what you need to do to improve.

For example, if you are in the beginning stages of your healing journey, you need to recognize that you are a survivor of sexual abuse. That is your truth right now. Once you accept that, you can move onto the next step. In this case, it may be applying to The Haven Retreat, finding a local support group, or simply writing your truth down. Then, to paraphrase Maya Angelou, when you know better, you do better. You repeatedly use Acknowledgement in your life to recognize the truth of where you are on your healing journey, accept the progress you’ve made or the setbacks that have come your way, and then make a plan for your next steps.

3. Power Through Surrender

The third strategy is Power Through Surrender. We define this as “knowing what to fight and, more importantly, what NOT to fight.” You might consider power and surrender opposites, but they aren’t. You gain power by consciously deciding when you will let it be. There are thoughts and feelings that you’re going to have that won’t serve you, but fighting them, yelling at them, or berating yourself for having them will be neither helpful nor productive.

To fully benefit from Power Through Surrender, you have to be willing to recognize when something you’re thinking is coming from your limbic system. For example, when that voice in your head tells you that you’re not enough, you can argue with it or you can say, “That isn’t me thinking; that’s just my limbic system,” and move on with your day. This isn’t always easy, but with practice, you’ll be able to know which thoughts you need to deal with head on and which ones you merely recognize and let be.

4. Mindfulness

The fourth strategy is Mindfulness. Although you’ve probably heard this word before, here we define it as “the ability to focus on empowering thoughts and feelings while choosing to coexist with non-productive thoughts and feelings.” Mindfulness is all about choice. Are you turning toward the sunshine or the shadows?

Mindfulness is something that you can practice daily, and you’ll actually see amazing benefits from it if you do. Every time you are in a situation where you feel overwhelmed or upset, step back for a minute and choose your response. You’ll soon realize that you feel empowered by the simple act of choosing where to aim your focus and how to deal with a situation.

5. Faith

The fifth strategy is Faith. While you may hear this word all the time, at The Younique Foundation we define it as “the act of moving forward on your belief that wholeness and healing are possible, even if you may not see it.” With Faith, you believe that you are capable of healing and that every day you are taking steps on that healing journey.

One easy way to think of faith is as a seed. You plant it, give it the support it needs in the form of water, sunlight, fertilizer, etc., and believe that it will grow. You may not see progress every day. Sometimes it can be weeks before you’re even sure the seed is growing at all – but if you keep taking care of it and giving it what it needs, one day it will bloom.

For more information about the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope and how you can use them in your everyday life, you can read our Reclaim Hope book and workbook on our website at youniquefoundation.org/resources. Which strategy will you use today to help yourself heal?

The Role of Exercise in your Healing Journey

Exercise is a great way to progress further in your healing journey from childhood sexual abuse

It seems anytime you talk about exercise you’re supposed to talk about weight loss. That’s the primary benefit, right? This is actually false. For a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, exercise has myriad benefits (and weight loss isn’t even one of them).

When you take the time to practice self-care, that includes finding a way to exercise regularly. That can be overwhelming – especially with the glut of information out there about the “best” way to do pretty much anything and everything.

Before we give you 5 Easy Tips to Exercise Every Day, let’s start by listing the health benefits of daily exercise (for even more information on this, read the book Body Kindness by Rebecca Scritchfield):

  • Increased happiness
  • More energy
  • A greater connection to your body (especially important for a survivor)
  • Better sleep
  • Improved memory
  • Increased self-confidence
  • Less stress
  • Alleviated anxiety
  • Greater creativity
  • Decreased cognitive decline

With so many benefits, what’s stopping you from exercising every day? It probably has something to do with time, energy, confusion of where to start, or something else along those lines. Here are 5 EASY tips for exercising every day:

1. Make it fun.

When did we stop thinking that exercise could be fun? Find something that you love doing, even if you’re not great at it. Try roller skating, aerial silks, take a tango class, or just play tag with your kids outside. Whatever you decide to do, make it fun!

2. Do it every day, it doesn’t matter how long.

Consistency is key. Even if you only exercise 10 minutes a day, you’ll see the benefits.

3. Be mindful.

Use this time to check in with your body. Don’t just go through the motions; really feel your body moving and flexing and stretching. Listen to your heartbeat and pay attention to your breathing.

4. If at first you don’t succeed…

Don’t give up. If you miss a day, an exercise doesn’t help, or you find yourself being triggered by something, make adjustments. Don’t give up on exercising altogether. Try something different, commit again, just keep trying.

5. Schedule it.

If you don’t make time for something, you’ll never have time for it. When you’re planning your day, formally or informally, decide when and where you’re going to exercise. It can be as simple as, “I’m going to take the stairs back up to the 6th floor after lunch at work today.”

Exercise will be an incredible help on your healing journey. Take the time to make it a priority, along with your other self-care practices. Make the goal feeling better, not looking better, and you might find that your relationship with exercise changes in a positive way. It’s worth a try, right?

two people holding hands

Survivors and Sexual Intimacy

If you’re involved in a relationship with a sexual abuse survivor, there might be moments when you don’t know exactly how you can be most helpful in her recovery. Uncertainty about how to help is especially likely to arise when it comes to the most intimate aspects of your relationship, like sexual activity. You want to have a healthy sexual relationship with your partner, a relationship that leads to well-being and continued healing, but what does this look like?

To help understand the survivor perspective, consider that, for a survivor, her initial sexual experiences happened when she was being threatened, coerced, or manipulated. She wasn’t in a situation where was able to fully understand what was going on and give consent. Due to these negative experiences, sex and trauma can be strongly linked in her brain. This connection isn’t something a survivor can just forget about or disregard. A supportive partner can be a key part of healing. Here are some specific things you can do to foster a healthy sexual relationship:

Focus on intimacy, not just sex

 Intimacy involves deeply knowing and trusting someone. Survivors often have difficulty trusting people, especially if the perpetrator of abuse was a trusted individual like a close friend or family member. Spend time building intimacy with your partner. Focus on both physical and emotional intimacy. Build physical intimacy through activities like holding hands, giving massages, or just sitting together to watch a movie. Emotional intimacy can come from genuine conversations about feelings, hopes, dreams, and worries. Strong physical and emotional intimacy can lead to a healthier and more satisfying sexual relationship for both partners.

Recognize that sex can be a trigger

 A trigger is something that sparks a memory and reminds people of a traumatic event. Triggers can make a survivor experience a flashback where she feels like abuse is happening again. Unfortunately, sex can be a trigger for many survivors. If you notice that your partner is beginning to shut down or experience anxiety during sex, it could mean that she no longer feels safe. Maybe her triggers include certain positions, sexual acts, places, or smells that you should avoid. Recognize that sex is an activity you will need to approach with care and understanding.

Communicate

 One of the keys to the success of your relationship is frequent and open communication. Discuss what is acceptable and what is off-limits when it comes to sex. Your goal here isn’t to explore past trauma in graphic detail. Your goal is to establish what will make her feel safe and comfortable. A survivor might feel like she’s ready for sexual intercourse but then change her mind. If your partner ever says she wants to stop what you’re doing, then stop. Continuing to have sex will only damage your relationship and possibly make it more difficult to be intimate in the future.

Survivors need to build trust with their sexual partners and feel like they are in charge of their sexual experiences. Focus on ways that you can make sex a safe activity that will empower the survivor in your life and strengthen your relationship with each other.

When Healing Plateaus

It is good to have an end to journey toward;
but it is the journey that matters, in the end.
– Ursula K. Le Guin –

Think of the last time you took a long road trip. There were probably moments when everything went smoothly. You were on the freeway with a clear sky and an open road, zooming toward your destination. Chances are, there were moments that were less than ideal, too. Maybe it started to rain and you couldn’t see as far as you wanted to. Maybe you spent some time sitting in traffic totally stopped. You knew you would ultimately make it to your destination, but it didn’t feel like you were making much progress as you sat in the traffic jam.

We often refer to healing as a journey, and your journey might feel like a road trip. There are moments when everything is going well and you feel like you’re making good progress toward your goals. But there might be times when you feel like your progress has come to a stop. You just aren’t moving forward the way you want to. You’re sitting in gridlock rather than driving down the road. What can you do if you feel like your healing isn’t progressing the way you want it to? Below are three things you can try:

1. Acknowledge that it’s normal to have some moments when you stall on your healing journey.

Emotional healing is complicated and takes time. There are bound to be ups, downs, and plateaus along the way. Don’t judge yourself if you feel like you’ve hit a roadblock.

2. Spend some time reflecting on everything you’ve accomplished.

Maybe you’ve achieved the recovery goals you set, and that makes you feel like you’ve reached a plateau. Do you need to figure out a new way to challenge yourself to reach the next level of your recovery? Is there a hurdle you’ve resisted facing head-on and now you’re in a place where you can tackle it?

3. Mix up the strategies you use to address your challenges.

For example, if you always journal to work through emotional issues, try doing a physical activity instead to see if it helps you discover new insight. Incorporating variety is one way to find your way out of a rut.

It can be overwhelming to feel like you’re not progressing. Find comfort in the fact that discomfort is a normal part of the healing journey. Just as you expect some traffic and potholes when you drive, you should expect some moments of frustration on your road to recovery. Use these moments to reflect. Remember that you don’t have to resolve everything right now. Just try to find one specific thing you can do today to help yourself on your healing journey.

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5 Ways to Find Healing for Those Struggling After Attending The Haven Retreat

The Younique Foundation Haven Reatreat

Life is amazing. And then it’s awful. And then it’s amazing again.

And in between the amazing and the awful it’s ordinary and mundane and routine.

Breathe in the amazing, hold on through the awful, and relax and exhale during the ordinary.

That’s just living heartbreaking, soul-healing, amazing, awful, ordinary life.

And it’s breathtakingly beautiful.

-L.R. Knost-

Many may not realize that six months after The Haven Retreat, we reach out to participants to see how they’re doing. We’ve found that while most feel that their life has improved, there’s a small number – about 10% – who don’t.

This blog is for you.

There could be a myriad of reasons why things haven’t improved. It may have been as simple as having a bad day when you filled out the survey, or it could be much more complex than that. Whatever it is, we hope that this blog can help you work through this and find yourself in a happier place.

With that in mind, here are 5 things that we think will help those of you struggling after The Haven Retreat:

1. Professional and personal support.

Find a therapist you trust who can be a support for you. Create a support system of friends and family members who you can turn to when you need help. The women you went to retreat with can be a great source of encouragement when you’re down.

2. Be honest with yourself and others.

Maybe there’s something you aren’t addressing, a roadblock on your healing journey. Perhaps there’s a relationship, a coping mechanism, or a way of thinking that is preventing you from moving forward.

3.  Setbacks can happen.

Healing isn’t always a straight path forward. There are ups and downs, and sometimes the downs can be devastating. Don’t give up. Don’t let the downs derail your progress.

 4. Embrace the Faith Strategy.

One of the 5 Strategies to Reclaim Hope is Faith. It’s all about creating an amazing future for yourself. Sometimes you may not be able to do more than wish for something good to happen, but keep hold of that wish. Visualize the life that you want – even if you can only take one small step toward it today.

 5. Change one small thing today.

Are you overwhelmed? Tired right down to your bones? Exhausted from fighting every day? We understand. So today don’t overwhelm yourself with goals – just pick one. If all you can do today is get out of bed and get dressed, that’s enough. Do what you can do and celebrate yourself for every single step you take.

Although you’re home from The Haven Retreat, we here at The Younique Foundation have not forgotten about you. We want to continue to help you on your healing journey. We want to lend our support. You are not alone – we’re here for you. And we always will be.

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Supporting Survivors on Their Healing Journey

You can recognize survivors of abuse by their courage. When silence is so very inviting, they step forward and share their truth so others know they aren’t alone.

–Jeanne McElvaney–

If someone close to you is a survivor of sexual abuse, it can be hard to know exactly how to lend your support. While it’s true that survivors have to take ownership of their recovery, you can do a lot to help. You can’t do the healing for them, but there are things you can do to make it easier for them to heal themselves.

In addition to the trauma that survivors can suffer when abuse initially happens, survivors also risk suffering new trauma when they disclose their past experiences if loved ones don’t respond in helpful and healthy ways. Gurvinder Kalra and Dinesh Bhugra point out, “Victims of sexual violence face the danger of suffering negative reactions upon disclosing their trauma.”

When a survivor opens up to you about what has happened to them, acknowledge how much courage it takes to talk about past traumatic experiences. Survivors have often kept their abuse to themselves for years. To them, it might seem easier to stay silent. Let the survivor know that you appreciate their bravery in facing memories and issues that might have happened years ago. Here are some specific things you can do to support your loved one.

Do . . .

  • Thank her for telling you.
  • Reassure her you are there are for her.
  • Validate her feelings.
  • Ask what you can to do help and support her.
  • Let her know that the abuse is not her fault.

Don’t . . .

  • Criticize, blame, shame, or judge her.
  • Excuse or minimize the abuse.
  • Demand to know details of the abuse; she’ll tell you when she’s ready.
  • Take control and tell her what she needs to do to heal.
  • Tell her to forget about it or just get over it.
  • Question why she didn’t tell you (or someone else) sooner.

Remember that sexual abuse can create serious problems with trust for survivors because in most situations, perpetrators are people the survivor knew and trusted. The fact that she is willing to open up to you shows that she trusts you. Work to continue to build and maintain that trust.

Your goal is to empower your loved one to make good choices that will lead to healing from past abuse. You can’t heal for her, but you can make the healing process easier.

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Not Living in the Drama: Getting Used to a Life Outside Fight, Flight, or Freeze

If you want something new, you have to stop doing something old.

-Peter Drucker-

When you live with trauma, you often live much of your life in a hyper-aroused state. This means that you are constantly stuck in fight, flight, or freeze. Starting the healing process calms that constant stress, and real life can sometimes feel a little, well, boring.

One survivor was talking about how she felt like a warrior as she was battling her anxiety, her triggers, and her past demons. But once those things had diminished to a manageable state, she sat back and said her life felt strange.

She looked around and thought, “Is this all there is?” Although she had fought so hard for the life she had, in a way she felt a void when the constant battle was gone. This made her feel discouraged. She didn’t WANT to live in a constant state of “drama,” but it was what she’d known for so long.

This is something that many survivors can relate to, unfortunately. It doesn’t make you ungrateful, or a drama queen, or a victim. Change is hard for everyone, and it will take some time to adjust.

Here are three ways to adjust to your new life outside of flight, flight, or freeze impulses:

1. Find a new battle.

Have you always wanted to try something but never had the strength, courage, time, etc.? Now is the perfect time to take on a new challenge that can enhance your everyday life. Read a book about it, watch a video, or take a class.

 2. Help someone else who is struggling.

Sometimes the best thing that you can do is share your healing journey with someone else. Tell them your story and listen to theirs. Offer your support and let them know they are not alone.

 3. Create a positive declaration about change.

When you wake up say out loud, “My life is changing for the better.” Or after you brush your teeth you can say, “I embrace change.” Find a positive declaration that feels right for you and utilize it when you need it.

Your healing journey is not a straight line. There are going to be bumps and turns and difficulties along the way. Not all difficulties can be defeated. Some need to be embraced. Embrace the new, healing, changing you.

Loving Your Body: 5 Tips for Having a Positive Body Image

To love oneself is the beginning of a lifelong romance.

-Oscar Wilde-

Everyone, at one time or another, has struggled with their body image. For survivors of childhood sexual abuse, body image issues can slow down the healing process or derail it completely. Although it’s challenging, loving your body is important.

Here are five ways that having a positive relationship with your body can help you on your healing journey:

1. Focus on what your body can do.

You breathe, move, dance, run, jump, etc. If you’re looking and only seeing faults, focus instead on what your body CAN do. The amazing things that you’re able to do because you have a functioning body.

2. List the positive.

For every negative thing you say or think about yourself, find two positive things. If you think you have a big nose, make yourself notice that you have beautiful eyes and elegant fingers.

3. Drop the downers.

If you are around people who are constantly complaining about their looks (or worse, your looks), it might be time to find a better group of people to hang out with. It’s hard to be confident and self-loving when everyone around you is doing the opposite.

4. Quiet that negative inner voice.

When you look in the mirror you should be able to look at your reflection without a bunch of negative thoughts bumping around in your brain. If you can’t get the negativity to stop, try talking out loud to your reflection. “You’re amazing. You’re beautiful. There’s no one in the world as awesome as you.” Vocalizing positivity may feel a little silly, but it works.

5. Take a look behind the scenes of media.

A lot of women are influenced by the images and messages that are surrounding us every day on every platform of media. Whether you believe it or not, these can have an impact on your body image. If you see someone and feel a tinge of jealousy or self-loathing, take time to really think through that feeling. Is this image real and untouched? Is it possible that this message is intentionally making you feel bad? Would you feel better about yourself if you ignored it?

Positive body image can have an unbelievable influence across your life. Take one small step today to create a happier, healthier, and more hopeful relationship with your body.

Can’t Attend The Haven Retreat? 5 Ways You Can Heal from Home

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.

-Helen Keller-

The Haven Retreat is an amazing opportunity for many childhood sexual abuse survivors to find healing. But what about those who aren’t able to attend? At The Younique Foundation, we want to help ALL survivors. Below are five ways that you can start or continue your healing journey right where you are:

1. Do one thing today for YOU.

Healing starts small, with one step every day. Take one step toward your healing today. It could be something as simple as saying aloud, “I am a survivor.” It could be taking 30 minutes to yourself. Maybe it’s buying yourself a new journal. Whatever you need, pick one thing today and DO IT.

2. Read our blogs.

Since you’re already here and currently reading this, you’re obviously one step ahead. Our blogs are a weekly reminder of the things you can do to heal. Take time to read any of them that interest you – or even the ones that don’t – you never know what might help you until you try it.

3. Read through Reclaim Hope: Empowering Your Life Through Five Strategies.

This book will help you build the groundwork for finding your own way to healing. It is currently available on our Resources page.

4. Utilize our resources.

Speaking of our Resources page, we are constantly adding things that can will help survivors on their healing journey. These include videos, ebooks, and one-page breakdowns of the classes we teach at The Haven Retreat.

5. Find a licensed therapist.

There is only so far that you can go on your own. If you think you’re ready to take your healing to the next level, look for a licensed therapist in your area. Not sure where to start? We have a helpful blog that might shine some light on that for you.

We want all survivors of childhood sexual abuse to find healing, not just those who can find their way to The Haven Retreat. Hopefully, with the five things listed above, you’ll be a little better prepared for your own healing journey.