With the Summative Assessment period upon us you may be interested to know that your brain needs some TLC in order to help get you through the next few weeks.
This may come as a shock to many but your brain plays a very important role in how productive and successful you are when studying and working on assignments. The internal environment of your brain plays a vital role in learning; meaning that you can study all day and all night but if you don’t look after your brain, it will all be for nothing.
A healthy brain can lead to improved:
- memory and retention
- mental performance
What your brain needs to survive and thrive are often the exact same things you tend to neglect when preparing for exams or working flat out on a deadline.
The brain is made up of:
- neurons – they process and transmit information
To fuel the learning functions of your neurons, you need to feed your brain:
- good fats
- complex carbohydrates
By nourishing your brain with the correct food and adequate water, you are providing your neurons with a healthy environment in which to function. However, by feeding your brain the incorrect foods and dehydrating it you are in fact starving your neurons of the energy they need to function, grow and regenerate. The next time you feel foggy, tired or unable to concentrate take a moment to think about what you have (or haven’t) eaten in the past few hours…
Your brain is largely made up of fatty membranes, making up approximately 60% of solid brain matter. As such, fats provide your brain with energy, but we’re talking good fats here namely, Omega 3 and 6 oils which can be derived from:
- Fatty fish, such as: sardines, tuna, pilchards and salmon
- Nuts, such as: walnuts, brazil nuts, macadamia
- Seeds, such as: sunflower seeds, flax seeds
- Dark leafy greens, such as: spinach, kale, broccoli
Bad fats are literally like sludge in the brain’s circulatory system; they effect the flow of oxygen to the brain, as well as the flow of toxins and waste out of the brain.
Bad fats include:
- Processed foods, such as: cakes, biscuits, crisps, processed meats (e.g. polony) and processed cheese (e.g. cheese slices)
- Deep fried foods, such as: chicken (e.g. KFC), chips etc.
Protein provides your brain with amino acids, the building block for neurons. Good proteins include:
- Lean meat – baked not fried (e.g. pork and ostrich)
- Fish – baked not fried (e.g. salmon, tuna, pilchards)
- Yoghurt – plain, unsweetened and not flavoured
- Nuts – raw not roasted or flavoured
- Eggs – poached or boiled not fried
Carbohydrates (including sugar) are an energy source for your brain. However, excessive consumption of sugar results in bursts of energy, followed by slumps including fidgeting, headaches, lack of concentration and drowsiness. The key is to provide your brain with the right type of carbohydrates i.e. good / complex carbohydrates, such as:
- Brown rice
- Wholewheat bread
- Wholewheat pasta
You should avoid consuming bad / simple carbohydrates, such as:
- Refined sugar (white sugar)
- White bread
- White pasta
- White rice
Micro-nutrients are required in small amounts but are essential to a healthy brain; they include:
- Vitamin B – for focus and concentration
- Zinc – for the formation of memories
- Calcium – to help cleanse the brain of toxins and waste
Micro-nutrients can be found in:
- Fresh fruit and vegetables
- Plain milk
- Plain yoghurt
You should avoid consuming anything that includes artificial flavourants or colouring.
Dehydration results in:
- Reduced cognitive abilities
- Poor concentration
- and may even damage your brain
We spend a 1/3 of our lives sleeping, it is crucial to our health and mental well being. During sleep your brain is nearly as active as it is when you are awake – from the day you are born to the day you die, your brain is active and working. So what is it so busy doing?
During sleep the brain processes complex stimuli and information is has received during the waking hours; it uses this information to make decisions when you are awake.
While you are sleeping your brain forms and saves new memories and incorporates them with old memories, this is why sleep is so important for learning. By sleeping before you study, you are helping the brain prepare for the intake of new information. By sleeping after you have studied, you are helping the brain save the new information. If you deprive your brain of sleep, your ability to learn new information drops by 40%.
Sleep is also known to boost creativity – the mind in its unconscious, “resting” state makes new connections that it may not be able to make during its waking state.
Sleep gives the brain a chance to do housekeeping – while you are asleep the brain flushes out toxins that build up when you are awake. It also allows the brain to convert short-term memories into long term memories .
Until you reach your early to mid-20s you need approximately 9 hours of sleep per night in order to function optimally the next day. A tired person’s brain works harder and accomplishes less thus adding to the argument that “pulling an all-nighter” is in fact a waste of time and sleep.
Physical activity boosts blood and oxygen flow through the brain resulting in your neurons being stimulated and thus able to connect with one another better. Exercise is like fertilizer for the brain, in that improved blood and oxygen flow results in improved:
In addition to this, exercise improves your mood and quality of sleep; it also reduces stress and anxiety – all problems that cause or contribute to learning and concentration problems.
Aim for approximately one hour of moderate intensity exercise twice per week, for example: brisk walking or swimming
So, what’s the moral of the story?
Eat right. Get enough sleep. Get some exercise.
Look after your brain.
Mastin, L. (2013). Why do we sleep? Memory Processing and Learning. Retrieved from: http://www.howsleepworks.com/why_memory.html . [Accessed: 22 September 2015].
Norman, P. (2014). Feeding the Brain for Academic Success: How Nutrition and Hydration Boost Learning. Retrieved from: http://teacherweb.com/NY/NorthRose-WolcottMiddleSchool/HealthEducation/Academics-and-Nutrition-Article-Assignment.doc . [Accessed: 22 September 2015].
Concentration is not an instinctive ability, rather it is a skill that can be learned and, with practice, improved on.
Improving and maintaining a healthy concentration level is dependent on a combination of four inter-related elements – if any of these four elements is missing or ignored, concentration will be effected:
- mental challenges
- emotional involvement
- physical exercise
- healthy eating
Below are two exercises you can practice to help improve your concentration:
1. Sustained concentration on a simple task
- Start with a simple relaxation exercise – breathe in for a count of four and exhale for a count of four, whilst doing this relax your body starting with your feet and slowly working your way up to your jaw muscles and eyes.
- With your eyes closed, picture a flower (or any simple object you can concentrate on) – examine the flower in detail, look at it up close and then from far away – continue this focused concentration on your chosen object for 2 – 3 minutes. When the time is up, open your eyes and reflect on how you concentrated: what did it feel like? Was it easy or did you struggle to stay focused on your object? Why?
- The aim is for you to include a sustained concentration exercise in your daily schedule. Just 5 minutes of practice a day will make a difference in your ability to concentrate at will and sustain your focus over increasingly longer periods of time.
For more sustained concentration exercises, visit the Mindfulness Exercises post available on this blog.
2. Challenging your current intellectual level
- If you get bored when studying it is possible that the material you are studying is too easy and you need to start incorporating challenges by learning and reading beyond what has been prescribed to you for a particular subject. Go to the library or surf the web for books, articles and sites on the subject that will provide you with broader, more challenging information.
- If you get stressed when studying it is possible that the material may be too difficult, and this makes you shut down. Draw up a set of specific study goals for your study sessions, they could include: reading one chapter of a prescribed textbook, or answering a set number of questions, or brainstorming ideas for an upcoming assignment.
You cannot concentrate on your studies unless you have personal commitment or interest in the subject. External motivators, such as the money you hope to make in the future or graduating with distinction, are not viable forms of commitment and motivation. Rather focus on learning about and enjoying the subject. Find out how a particular topic is personally relevant to you and what it is that you aim to do with your studies once you are done.
Negative emotions, especially stress, detract from concentration. Stress management strategies will help with this and may include things such as: mental relaxation exercises, physical exercise and hobbies.
The environment you study in greatly effects your ability to concentrate. You need to find a study time and place that allows you to fully concentrate on the topic at hand, rather than the distraction of what is going on around you.
A fundamental way of enhancing concentration is to get enough exercise every day. Find physical activities that fit with your lifestyle: walking instead of driving to the shops, jogging with a friend, taking the dog for a walk. Exercise brings variety into your life and enhances your mind’s ability to sustain focus.
Active learning is also a great concentration enhancer. Rather than just sitting passively at a desk, walk around the room whilst testing yourself, talk out loud about a section you’ve just covered, write something about the topic you’ve just read, place a cushion or stuffed toy in the corner of the room and teach it what you’ve just covered in a particular chapter.
A healthy diet is linked to improved concentration, academic ability, better sleep and general health and well-being.
- artificial colourants
- artificial flavourants
- antioxidant preservatives
These are all found in processed foods, such as: pies, fish fingers, packet soup, 2 minute noodle flavour packets, processed meats (e.g. polony), potato crisps and fizzy drinks.
A single protein (e.g. a boiled egg or a slice of cheese the size of your index finger) and complex carbohydrates (e.g. an apple, a pear, a serving of oats, a serving of low fat yoghurt) breakfast will boost your concentration for up to three hours.
Regular, healthy snacks every two to three hours e.g. sugar free peanut butter, a tuna sandwich, home made unsalted popcorn, plain biltong, cheese or unsalted nuts help to maintain concentration.
- Omega 3 and 6 – fatty fish oil found in unflavoured cod liver oil, cold pressed salmon oil capsules and flaxseed oil, contain Omega 3 and 6.
- Multivitamin and mineral supplements – assist with the metabolism of the fatty acids but must be free of synthetic colourants and flavourants. Some multivitamins include EFAs but usually not enough and so must be supplemented. Supplements and vitamins can be expensive, however an increasing number of supermarkets and pharmacy chains are producing and selling their own brand of quality supplements and multivitamins at affordable prices.
Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].
Patterson, B. (n.d.). How Tutors Can Help Tutees Improve their Concentration. Retrieved from: https://hawaii.hawaii.edu/node/487. [Accessed on: 20 March 2017].
We’ve all experienced difficulty concentrating at some point or another, but when it becomes a daily struggle, it’s time to start looking at things a little closer.
Misconceptions About Concentration
There are two main misconceptions about concentration:
1. “Good” students can concentrate for hours at a time.
Not true. The average concentration span for a student reading a textbook is around 20 minutes. This means that as a student you should be aiming for a 20 – 30 minute study / work session before taking a 5 minute break in order to refresh and refocus.
There is the misconception that long hours of sustained concentration result in high productivity. Instead studies have shown that extended time at a desk or with a textbook reduces productivity, and regular short breaks are needed to re-energize and regain focus.
2. Some people naturally concentrate better than others.
Again, not true. Concentration is not an instinctive ability, but rather it is a skill that can be learned and with practice student can get better at it.
Attention vs. Distractions
Attention (or concentration) and distraction are opposite ends of the same continuum. Studies show that it can take between 15 to 20 minutes for a person to regain their full attention on a task after having been distracted.
Anthony Funnell, in his article on distraction in an “attention economy” (2016), writes that there are five ways for dealing with distractions:
- Getting distracted isn’t the issue. You can’t avoid distraction. Rather, what matters is how you respond to the distraction. Do you get caught up in it and neglect what you were originally focused on; or do you acknowledge the distraction with the intention of addressing it only once you are done with what you are currently doing?
- Avoid multi-tasking. By working on a variety of tasks simultaneously, you are in fact doing each poorly than if you were focused on one at a time. Even if you are focused on a single task but you stop to check your phone every few minutes, your concentration and focus are poor, making productivity low.
- Don’t think of paying attention as a battle or a negative task. A negative attitude about concentration will not help in improving it. As soon as something is viewed in a negative light, it is difficult to change one’s opinion of it. The same with distractions, by asking yourself “what is important at this moment?” and bringing your attention back to the primary focus, a different type of effort is engaged compared to pushing and fighting with one’s attention and distractions.
- Analyse your personal online behaviour. Be aware of the instinctive need for gratification. Cell phones and social media provide us with instant gratification and so easily distract us. The reward of reading a message, swiping left or right boarders on addictive and wins over other tasks almost every time.
How to Improve Concentration
How often have you found yourself reading and re-reading the same section of a textbook, simply because your mind keeps wandering off? Below you’ll find a variety of strategies to help improve your concentration and reduce distractions.
Nutrition & Exercise
- Drink water – It may sound odd but what many people don’t realize is dehydration causes you to feel tired, sluggish and irritable – all things that impact on your ability to concentrate. Staying hydrated is a simple way of improving your concentration.
- Move around – Sitting at a desk for hours on end is counter-productive especially for one’s concentration. Take regular, short breaks, getting up and moving around to help refresh your mind and focus. Why not go to the kitchen to get a glass of water?
- Eat – It’s difficult to concentrate when you’re hungry. Eating regular meals, with healthy snacks in between, can boost your ability to concentrate.
The environment in which you work or study plays a role in your ability to focus and concentrate. By creating a comfortable environment the more likely you are to remain in it and stay focused.
- Desk and chair – Your bed and couch are associated with relaxation and leisure, they are not conducive to a focused, work orientated state of mind. Find yourself a desk (or table) and comfortable chair in a quiet, low traffic area.
- Distractions – Shut out noise and distractions as much as possible. This may mean putting your phone on silent, switching off all apps, or even leaving it in another room. Listening to instrumental music may also be helpful – avoid listening to your favourite band and being distracted by singing along to the songs.
- Traffic – Try not to set up your study area in a high traffic environment – somewhere where people are always walking past, stopping to talk, or where others gather to socialize, like the lounge.
- Don’t multi-task – Focus on one task at a time. By changing your focus every few minutes to check your phone, send a message etc. you are lowering both your focus and productivity.
- Prioritize – Having too much to do results in distraction which in turn causes procrastination. If you find you have a number of tasks due but you aren’t sure where to start or what to focus on, take a few minutes to draw up a To-Do List and then prioritize the tasks on that list in order of importance. You can find more information on Time Management and To-Do Lists here.
- Switch between high and low attention tasks – After an extended period of concentration, such as working on a particularly intricate design, give your brain a break by doing something less intense for a good 10 – 15 minutes, such as filing your lecture notes, or revising your To-Do List. This allows you to recharge your energy and refresh your focus.
- Distracting thoughts and worry – You may find that your concentration is disrupted by constant worrying or distracting thoughts – an approaching submission date, for example. One way of dealing with this is to keep a pen and notepad handy, write down what it is that is worrying or distracting you and then schedule in time to address it. This way you are no longer holding the thought in your mind, instead it is sitting on the notepad waiting to be attended to when you are ready.
- Reward yourself – If you’ve been working steadily for 50 minutes on a single task, reward yourself with a 5 minute break, a cup of coffee, something that motivates you but won’t distract you.
- Take short breaks – You need to refocus and re-energise at least every hour. Try dividing your work / study sessions up into hour long periods, with a 5 – 10 minute break between tasks. You should take a longer break, 20 – 30 minutes, every 2 – 3 hours.
Funnell, A. (2016). How to Deal with Distraction in an “Attention Economy”. Retrieved from: http://www.abc.net.au/radionational/programs/futuretense/how-to-deal-with-distraction-in-an-attention-economy/7497196. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].
Improve Your Concentration. (n.d.). Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/newHTE_78.htm. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].
Murray, B. (2016). Distractions: Are They an Addiction? Retrieved from: https://www.mindtools.com/blog/distractions-addiction/. [Accessed on: 14 March 2017].
We all know that physical activity is good for us. Regular physical activity may help prevent or delay a variety of health problems from developing. Being active helps you look and feel better, now and in the future.
Why do you need regular physical activity?
There are a variety of physical and mental health benefits that stem from regular physical activity:
- Improves concentration, creativity & performance.
- Reduces stress, anxiety & frustration levels.
- Strengthens bones & improves muscle strength & endurance
- Reduces the risk of developing heart disease.
- Improves blood circulation throughout the body.
- Is a natural way of lowering blood pressure & preventing high blood pressure from developing.
- Helps control appetite.
- Improves digestion.
- Helps maintain a healthy body weight.
- Improves self-image and sense of well-being.
- Improves mood.
- Improves your immune system.
- Helps you sleep better.
How Much Exercise Do You Need?
For healthy adults at least 30 minutes of aerobic exercise is recommended, per day. Examples of aerobic exercise include: fast walking, jogging, cycling, dancing, sports (soccer, hockey, netball etc.), swimming – any activity that gets your heart rate up and causes you to breathe harder, but without making it impossible to speak several words in a row.
Strengthening activities are also recommended, at least twice a week – this includes activities that require you to push or pull against something (e.g. lifting weights, doing push ups and sit ups).
If you suffer from health issues, such as heart disease, high or low blood pressure, diabetes etc. it is best to consult with your doctor about the amount and types physical activity that are right for you and your condition.
How Can You Start Increasing Your Activity?
Perhaps the best place to start is by picking an activity you enjoy. It’s difficult to stay motivated if you are doing an activity you don’t like. Make a list of activities you enjoy or would like to try and alternate between them, thus staving off boredom and keeping motivated.
Next, remember to start off slowly and gradually build up time. If you are currently inactive, the thought of doing 30 minutes of exercises can be daunting. Start off with 10 minutes of sustained activity, five days a week. After a few weeks, add 5 – 10 minutes until you are able to comfortably sustain 30 minutes of activity.
Finally, set yourself some goals. Start with short-term goals, such as: walking 30 minutes a day, three times a week. With time and increased endurance you can set new goals, such as taking part in 5 km or 10 km walks and fun runs.
Below are some tips for overcoming obstacles and blocks to your new exercise programme:
- If you find it difficult to do 30 minutes of sustained exercise in one go, break it up into 10 minute bursts spread through the day.
- Add a 10 or 15 minute walk to your daily routine – take a walk around the block during your lunch break, take a walk with your family after dinner.
- Get a friend or family member to join you. Getting someone to exercise with you makes it more fun, you get to spend quality time together and you can motivate each other to stay on track.
- You don’t need to join an expensive gym to get active. Use YouTube exercise videos or choose an activity you don’t need special or expensive gear for – walking, you need a good pair of shoes; dancing, you need some music.
Tips to Help You Get Active. (2009). Retrieved from: https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/health-topics/weight-control/tips-help-get-active/Documents/tipsactive.pdf. [Accessed on: 28 February 2017].
Why Move More? (n.d.). Retrieved from: http://www.eatsmartmovemorenc.com/MotivationalPosters/Texts/MM_Poster6.pdf. [Accessed on: 01 March 2017].
The following excerpt has been taken from “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” – created and distributed by the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. You can download the complete booklet in English, Afrikaans or isiXhosa, from their website: rapecrisis.org.za
It’s important to realise that the feelings you experience after being raped are a completely natural response to a terrible event. You aren’t going mad, nor are you over-reacting – no matter who tells you so. There’s a good reason why you’re not able to function in your normal way. There may be good reasons why your reactions are quite extreme. Some rape survivors may need professional help but even so, finding your own coping skills and your strengths and inner resources will still be stages you go through along the road to recovery. Although your road may have been steeper and covered by rocks, it is still the same road and it leads to your recovery.
You are also not alone. Many women and men have been raped and know how you feel. Your feelings won’t last forever. If, however, you feel they are lasting far too long, or that you are not able to cope, you should contact a rape counsellor, a social worker or a psychologist to help you by keeping you company, pointing out some of the landmarks and helping you carry some of your burdens.
You may, on the other hand, not experience any of these feelings at all. This does not make you abnormal either. For some people, rape is something they can integrate and understand, and the experience passes quite quickly. They should not be judged for that either. As well as having serious legal and medical consequences, rape impacts the body, the emotions and the mind. You therefore need to pay attention to all three of these levels when working through what has happened to you.
Below we outline some ideas that many rape survivors have found useful. Please note that none of these suggestions are intended to replace the treatment or care suggested to you by a doctor or counsellor. However, these ideas can easily be used together with a doctor’s or counsellor’s recommendations to help with your recovery. All of them are things that you can do for yourself if there’s no one around to help you.
Taking Care of Your Body
Take care of your body by:
- eating healthy food
- doing some exercise every day
- trying to get enough sleep or rest
- taking care of your personal hygiene
- attending to the medical risks associated with rape
If you’ve lost your appetite and don’t feel like eating, try to eat small amounts at a time. Then try to eat more often. Eat foods that are good for you and easy to eat and digest, such as soup, toast or yoghurt, and that help the body cope with stress. As women we get bombarded with advice about our diets, and we are not suggesting you go on any kind of diet. There are comfort foods – such as chocolate and fish and chips – that come highly recommended. These foods may comfort you for a time. However, you may find yourself overeating, gaining weight and feeling miserable about that. You might also incur other health problems such as high blood pressure or high blood sugar that could be very damaging in the long term. In time, it is possible to find the balance between eating healthy food and comforting food.
Rest and Sleep
Rest as much as you can, especially if you are not sleeping well at night. Lie down for 20 minutes in the afternoon, just sit quietly in a chair or put your head down on your desk for a few moments just to be quiet and do nothing for a short while and stop expending energy. However, it is best if you can lie down, as this helps the cortisol (the stress hormone) in your system to recede. One survivor told her counsellor that she used to close the door of her office and lie down on the floor for ten minutes in the afternoon. Do not underestimate the power of a small lie-down or a brief nap.
To help with sleeping problems, try to take a half-hour walk each day if you can – or better still a run. A good, strong sprint can help like nothing else to get your body to process adrenalin. It is also very effective in calming anxiety, a major cause of sleeplessness. You don’t need to run far, for long or even frequently – just enough to tire you out and get your heart to pump strongly for a short burst. Don’t eat, drink or smoke shortly before going to bed, as these are all stimulants, including both tea and coffee. Rooibos tea, hot chocolate or warm milk and honey are more soothing drinks before bedtime. Don’t panic if you can’t sleep – get up and do something for a while such as reading or watching TV, and then try and sleep again later. Wake someone up to talk to if need be, or phone a 24 hour service such as LifeLine or Rape Crisis.
If lack of sleep is making you feel very agitated or exhausted, consider getting a prescription from a doctor for sleeping pills. These pills only start to be addictive if you are taking 10mg a day for longer than two weeks. Some prescribed drugs can be taken for even longer periods quite safely, so don’t worry if you’re taking them for shorter periods. They can be very useful in restoring a regular sleeping pattern, but they can be dangerous if misused. Your doctor should monitor these drugs and their effect on you to help you use them correctly.
Be kind to your body and do things that make you feel cared for and good. For example, if you have a bath, add a generous handful of rock salt, table salt or Epsom salts to the water and soak for at least 20 minutes. A sprig of fresh rosemary or lavender in a bath is also helpful. If you wash in a basin or shower, use coarse salt as a body scrub. All of these things are cleansing and soothing in an emotional as well as physical way, which many survivors feel they need.
Soaking your feet in a basin of warm water or taking a hot water bottle to bed on a cold day can be very comforting. Try and find other things that will comfort your body and that will soothe the rest of you too.
There are also certain forms of exercise such as running, yoga t’ai chi, swimming and dancing that can really help your body cope with stress.
If you are experiencing one or more of the medical consequences of rape and you are taking PEP (post-exposure prophylaxis) medicines, if you are worried about sexually transmitted infections or if you are recovering from injuries, then you need to take care of your health and keep all the appointments you have at the clinic or with your doctor, taking all you medications.
Caring for Your Emotions
One of the hardest things to do after being raped is to endure the emotional pain and suffering you feel as a consequence. These feelings are very important. They can be the key to your healing, even though they hurt so much that all you want is for them to stop.
Give yourself space and time to feel. Pay attention to your feelings. Trying to push them away could make your healing take longer. Try to express your feelings and share them in some way. Talk about them to your family or friends or write them down somewhere. Many rape survivors add to their pain by trying not to be angry, scared or vulnerable, and by worrying about how they’ll appear to others. The fact is, we all have a right to these emotions and freely expressing them.
Some feelings, such as pain, anger and rage, can be very frightening for us and those around us. Here are a few clear rules that you can follow in order to make it safer to feel them:
- Do not harm yourself
- Do not harm anything valuable to you
- Do not harm other people
- Do not harm anything valuable to someone else.
The last thing you want is to regret something you have done. If you are worried that you might not be able to stick to these rules and that you could lose control of your emotions, contact a counselor or a doctor. You can even go to your local hospital emergency unit for help. There’s nothing to be ashamed of in experiencing a strong reaction to an extreme situation.
Don’t be afraid of anti-depressant medicines. They are tools to help you – no more and no less. As with everything, gain as much information as possible in order to help you make the best decision.
If you have laid charges, get people who know about the criminal justice system to help you with your legal case, especially the trial and testifying in court. Also stay in touch with your investigating officer and follow up on the progress of your case month by month. The more you know about these processes and procedures, the better you will manage the role you are required to play. Try to tell people what you’re going through. People like to feel needed, even just as listeners. If you don’t want any advice, be sure to let them know that. Cry if you have to. And, most of all, if there is something to laugh at, laugh. There is nothing better than laughter for healing. You can recover, you can even become stronger than you were before, now that you have survived being raped – and recovered.
Looking After Your Mind
Many rape survivors have found that positive thinking helped their healing process. It may require deliberate effort on your part to stop self-criticism and negative or frightening thoughts. In order to transform your thoughts, it can be helpful to list negative thoughts you are having and then to try to rephrase them positively (for example: “no matter what I do, I’ll never be able to overcome this.” Reframe it to: “Although this is difficult, I can find peace and be restored to my former self.”). This exercise does take some time, as it is difficult to reframe thoughts when you are feeling bad. Just keep trying until you find a way.
This may seem like a pointless exercise but the fact is that writing something down and deliberately trying to change the tone of your thoughts can have a lasting effect over time, even if it doesn’t have an immediate effect. The goal is not to cheer you up. The goal is rather to shift your pattern of thinking, creating a small foothold for a greater healing process. You won’t be able to do this until you are ready, so if you cannot do it yet, just move on and try again a few weeks later. It is a way of helping to shut down your feeling brain and boosting the power of your thinking brain, so that they begin talking to one another again.
Educate yourself. Recovery from rape is about making your own decisions, and the best way to do so is to learn as much as you can and be as well informed as possible about the medical, legal and emotional aspects of rape.
Remember your faith in life. This can be a religious faith, your own spiritual beliefs about life or your personal philosophy. Your experience of being raped could challenge this faith, or your faith could be a powerful source of support to you. Go to those who have helped you keep faith in life before, read the things that previously helped you and go to the places that help you keep your faith. Prayer and meditation, spending time in nature, listening to hymns and sacred music, or reading the Bible or other religious books can all be very helpful. Remember that you are not alone. Join or form a support group and meet other survivors. You’ll be able to help them and in turn get help from them. In this country, with its high rape statistics, it is very possible that someone you know has been raped and will understand a part or all of what you are going through.
Growth Through Recovery
There are certain tasks you can perform to increase your recovery. A trained counsellor could certainly be of great help to you in doing so.
A word of caution: it is important not to see this as some kind of a standard. If you don’t feel like helping yourself, then you are not ready to and it would be pointless to try. If you want to, this would be a good time to see a rape counsellor who could help you, but even that is something that takes courage and you should try it only when and if you feel ready to do so. Remember: there is no one way to recover; you will find a way that is uniquely yours.
Phases of Growth and Recovery
There are three phases to recovery from trauma (Harney & Harvey, 1997), namely:
- Restoring safety
- Remembering and mourning
- Reconnecting with others
In the first phase your main tasks are to make sure you feel safe again. You need to do whatever you can to ensure your bodily and physical safety and then you need to do whatever you can to make sure your environment is safe. So, for example, if you are struggling with alcohol abuse and you live with people who behave violently, that will be the most important thing you have to deal with before you can recover from rape. Drinking less when you feel like drinking more and finding a safer place to live become the priority tasks of your recovery. You need to take care of yourself and your body, mind and emotions. If you make yourself the priority and think carefully about what safety means to you and what you can do to feel even safer, you will go a long way towards your own recovery.
Once you feel safe enough to stop and take a look at what happened to you, the tasks in the second phase are to go back and remember and talk about the rape. Once you can do that, you will also go back to the way it made you feel. Sharing that with someone you trust can help you make sense of it. If you have no one to talk to in that way, you can write about it in a diary or notebook. Telling the story and finding new ways of seeing the rape encounter are very important. Each time you tell the story you will see something about it that you did not see before. You will even begin to notice a change in how you are reacting, compared with a few weeks ago. As the pain becomes more and more bearable, you will see how your priorities change and you can begin to focus on other things. One thing you may begin to see now is that while you may never go back to being the same as you were before the rape that is not really the goal. The goal is to be different, to have been affected by the change – perhaps you will now begin to see that you can be more than you were before. Take your time and go at your own pace here.
The task of the third phase is to seek out and connect with the world beyond your own thoughts and feelings. You need to find new meaning in a world that is both safe and unsafe, that contains both people who wish to help you and people who mean you harm, a world that both influences you and is influenced by you. This last point is important, because the trauma of rape makes you and those close to you feel very helpless. And yet you have by this stage done so much to restore your sense of control over your life. You can learn to be hopeful about the future, strange as that might seem, and you can learn to value the changes in your life even though they have come about through suffering.
For information on healing and recovering from rape please visit the Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust website at: http://rapecrisis.org.za/ – alternatively download “The Road to Recovery: You & Rape” booklet from http://rapecrisis.org.za/rape-in-south-africa/you-rape-booklet/
Rape Crisis Cape Town Trust. (2011). Healing. In The Road to Recovery: You and Rape (pp. 53 – 59). [Online available from: http://rapecrisis.org.za/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/you-and-rape-booklet-english.pdf [Accessed: 21 July 2015].
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Anger issues and how we deal with anger can often be traced back to what we experienced and learned as children. If you grew up in a family that screams at each other, throws things or hits each other, you might believe that this is an acceptable and normal way of expressing anger.
Ways of Dealing with Anger
There are three main ways of dealing with anger:
- Expression – this involves conveying your anger to the other person. Expression can range from a rational and reasonable conversation to a violent, ranting outburst.
- Suppression – this involves holding your anger in and either not outwardly expressing it at all or trying to convert it into a more constructive and acceptable emotion or behaviour. Suppression can be destructive though and can result in turning your anger inwards on yourself. Nothing, especially anger, can be suppressed forever, it will eventually come out in one form or another.
- Remaining calm – this involves controlling your outward expression of anger (i.e. your behaviour) as well as your internal responses by calming yourself and letting the emotion subside.
The most helpful and healthy form of dealing with anger is through constructive expression, this refers to expressing your concerns, feelings and needs clearly and directly, without hurting yourself or others or trying to manipulate or control them.
Tips for Taming your Temper
1. Examine what’s behind your anger
Often (not always) anger is a cover up for other feelings. When struggling with anger, which may be inappropriate to the situation, stop and ask yourself: “Am I really angry? Or is this something else?” Anger can present itself in place of other feelings such as hurt, shame, insecurity, vulnerability, or embarrassment.
Anger can often be triggered by what we “think” has happened – a person being inconsiderate or finding yourself in a frustrating situation. The anger you are experiencing however has little to do with what has actually happened to you than how you have interpreted the situation. Negative thinking patterns can trigger and fuel anger.
Common negative thinking patterns:
- overgeneralising – examples: “You never listen to me.”, “You always take his side.”, “Everyone thinks I’m always wrong.”
- mind reading / jumping to conclusions – assuming that you know what another person is thinking or feeling i.e. that a person deliberately did something, knowing that it would upset you.
- collecting straws – looking for and focusing on things that upset you, ignoring or minimising any positives. Allowing small irritations to build until you reach your limit (“the final straw”) and you explode.
- shoulds and musts – having a rigid idea of how things should or must be and then getting upset when reality does not match up to this vision.
- blaming – nothing is ever your fault, you blame others for things that happen to you, never taking responsibility for your life.
2. Take note of your anger triggers & warning signs
It may feel as if you have no control over your anger, that it just explodes from within you without any warning; but this is not true, your body gives you signals which you need to become aware of.
Anger is an innate (natural, intuitive) response to a perceived threat, it triggers the “fight or flight” response in us. Thus, the angrier you get, the more your body responds and gets ready to fight or run. By becoming familiar with your own warning signs when your temper starts getting the better of you, you are allowing yourself the time and space in which to take the necessary steps to keep you anger in check.
Physical signs to pay attention to:
- stomach turns into knots / butterflies
- pounding heart
- clenching of your fists and / or jaw
- tension in your shoulders
- feeling clammy (sweaty) or flushed
- breathing faster
- pacing, needing to walk around, agitated fidgeting
- trouble concentrating
Something else to consider is avoiding places, situations and people who may trigger your irritability or anger. Stress inducing people, events and situations are no excuse for poor anger management. Get to know and understand the types of environments and people who trip your anger switch e.g. 5 o’clock bumper-to-bumper traffic; the friend who knows it all, has seen it all and done it all. Brainstorm ideas around how to either avoid these triggers or deal with them differently so that it doesn’t turn into a stressful, irritating situation for you.
3. Learn to calm down
Once you’ve identified your triggers and warning signs, the next step is to deal with your rising anger before it boils over. There are a variety of strategies that can help you keep your cool and anger in place.
Cooling down strategies:
- slowly count to 10 – this sounds ridiculous but it does work. Focus on the counting and allow your rational mind to catch up with your running wild emotions. If you’re still feeling like your about to explode by the time you’ve reached ten, start counting again. Repeat as many times as it takes for you to calm down.
- take a deep breath – deep, slow breathing is a form of relaxation and counteracts increasing tension in the body. When you are angry your breathing rate increases and becomes shallow – part of the “fight or flight” response. By slowing down your breathing and breathing deeply you are telling your body to “stand down” and relax.
- exercise – a brisk walk or jog helps to release pent up energy and tension, it may also remove you from the situation which is causing the stress and anger thus giving you time to clear your head and cool off.
- focus on the physical signs of anger – by turning your attention to how your body is reacting and feeling, the tension may dissipate and the intensity of your anger may pass.
It may also help to stop for a moment and put things into perspective – ask yourself the following questions:
- how important is this in the greater scheme of things?
- is it really worth getting this upset about?
- is my response appropriate to the situation?
- is there anything I can do about it?
- is this a good use of my time and energy?
4. Find healthy ways of expressing yourself
If you feel that the situation is worth getting upset about and that you are able to make a difference because of it, you need to know how to express your feelings in a healthy, positive way.
Know what you are angry about
Often big arguments happen over small things – the problem here is that there is usually a bigger issue, that has been brewing for some time and the “small”, unrelated thing has triggered your anger. If you find yourself in this situation or where you can feel your anger snowballing into something bigger, stop and ask yourself “What am I really angry about?” By identifying the real source of your anger, you will be able to communicate what your frustration is about and hopefully in a more constructive expressive manner.
Take a time-out
If you feel your anger is spiralling out of control, it’s best to remove yourself from the situation until you’ve calmed down enough to continue the discussion calmly and constructively. This may mean leaving the room or house, going for a walk, doing some chores or running an errand.
Use “I” statements
Don’t get caught in a blaming contest – always use “I” statements to describe the problem and remember to be respectful and specific e.g. “I am upset that you left the majority of the assignment for me to answer and type up” instead of “You always let me down, you never pull your weight or do your share of the work.“
Keep it clean
There are going to be times when an argument cannot be avoided, it is then that you need to remember to fight fair. By keeping an argument “clean” and fair you will be more likely to get your point across in a clear and respectful manner.
- focus on the present – don’t bringing up past grievances and transgressions, keep the focus of the argument on the current problem rather than confusing things and assigning blame.
- winning is not everything – maintaining and working on the relationship should be your main priority when arguing, not “winning” or “being right”. Be respectful of the other persons opinion and standpoint.
- pick your battles – conflict and arguing can be soul destroying and draining, you need to decide whether the issue is really important enough for you to invest your time and energy arguing over it.
- know when to let it go – it takes two people to have an argument, if there is no end in sight or an agreement is not possible, agree to disagree, disengage and walk away.
- learn to forgive – conflict resolution is impossible without forgiveness. To reach a resolution means to stop seeking to punish the other party. If you cannot let go and forgive there is no resolution and the argument will continue be it in a day, a month or a years time.
American Psychological Association. (2015). Controlling Anger Before it Controls You. Retrieved from: http://www.apa.org/topics/anger/control.aspx [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].
Mayo Clinic. (2014). Anger Management: 10 Tips to Tame your Temper. Retrieved from: http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-living/adult-health/in-depth/anger-management/art-20045434 [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].
Segal, R. & Smith, M. (2014). Anger Management: Tips & Techniques for Getting Anger Under Control. Retrieved from: http://www.helpguide.org/articles/emotional-health/anger-management.htm [Accessed on: 19 April 2015].