Signing up for an Empowerment Self-Defense course, particularly an adrenaline-based course like IMPACT, pretty much guarantees that you’ll be hearing or reading something like this before you even set foot in the door:
“I've seen women approach the mat sobbing, trembling, hyperventilating, and looking like quivering antelopes ready to bolt. I've then seen them come off the mat mere moments later looking like lions—regal, radiant, and ready to roar.”
~ Matt O’Brien, IMPACT Safety, Ohio
And the reason is, of course, is that these inspiring, powerful descriptions are absolutely true.
Yes, ESD classes are fun and full of play. There will be plenty of days when you’ll leave class on a cloud of endorphins, ready to take on the world.
But of course, there will very likely be other days when you leave class with a heavy heart or anxiety.
We talk a lot about trauma-informed instruction, but as a student in an ESD class or someone training to be an instructor, it’s important for you to be trauma-informed as well.
Here are some self-care tips that will help you maintain your emotional well-being before, during, and after your ESD course.
Get Your Phone Ready
We are quick to tell you that your phone is not a reliable self-defense tool. But it can make an excellent emotional first-aid kit that you can use whether you’re on the go, in the middle of a break from class, or struggling to sleep in the middle of the night.
1. Download a metronome app.
The number one thing you can do for yourself when you feel yourself start to panic is breathe. But even though it might be obvious, it’s definitely not easy.
Closing your eyes (if you can) and syncing your breathing to a metronome can help you stay present.
Tip: Breathing in through your nose and out through your mouth will help slow your breathing and help get much-needed oxygen into your body.
2. Have a short video or song at the ready.
Choose a video or a song you can play over and over again on a loop. It doesn’t matter what it is. Watching or listening to something over and over is a form of meditation and will help you relax.
3. Find a photo of your “happy place.”
Find a picture of a scene that makes you feel calm and happy, and make sure that it’s easily accessible. Just make sure that there are no strings attached and no emotions connected to it.
Staring at it when you’re relatively relaxed will help your brain associate the image with positive feelings, so when you pull it out in a moment of stress, it’ll help bring you back to earth.
Note: Meditation apps are great too. We recommend this one. But they can take some getting used to, which is why we suggest starting with these simpler techniques first.
Listen to the Messages Your Body is Sending You
Though it can and does happen, and though it may feel like what’s happening, it’s actually very rare for somebody to go from feeling grounded to a state of panic in just a few seconds. It's more common for your body to send you signals that you're stress levels are rising.
Pay attention to those signals, and learn what they mean. Doing so will help you learn to manage your adrenaline and prevent your stress responses from escalating.
Eat, Drink, and Sleep
Don't let your body get depleted. You need physical strength to have emotional strength.
If you haven’t slept, it’s okay to take a morning off from work. If you haven’t eaten, try taking a few slow sips of water and a few bites of an apple or a granola bar.
Think About What You Can Say YES To
Yelling "NO!!!" is extremely empowering and therapeutic. But after an intense ESD workshop, it helps to think about all the things you can say "YES" to.
A safer world? Inner peace? True love?
Make a list. And then recite it out loud while standing in the defensive stance. When you're done, stomp your foot and yell "YES!!!"
We promise it'll help you release any poison that's built up inside of you.
A Few More Tips
1. When an instructor asks you if you’re ready to do an activity, it’s okay to say "not yet." Learning to do whatever it is you need to do to prepare yourself for an exercise is just as important as learning any strike or kick.
2. Find a simple exercise or stretch you can do over and over again. Or jump up a down a few times and “shake it out” (with or without music). The physical activity will lower your cortisol and help you release excess adrenaline.
3. Keep something tiny with you, like a stone or a stress ball, that you can clutch when you need to.
4. Make sure you have a stash of ice in your freezer. If you’re home alone and feeling triggered, holding the ice to the back of your neck and the insides of your wrists and ankles will comfort you.
If you’re not in a place where you can use ice-cubes, try splashing cold water on your face. The cold water will activate nerves that will send a calming signal to your brain.
Don’t Do It Alone
Do everything you can to build a support circle around you.
The fifth principle of Empowerment Self-Defense is tell. When you’re ready, find somebody, or a group or of somebodies, to talk to.
Not ready to talk about anything deep? You don’t have to. Send a text to a friend, even it it’s about something totally innocuous. Milk an inside joke for all it’s worth, or send a quote from a favorite TV show and ask them to guess which episode it’s from.
Or go into a store and chat about the weather with the cashier.
Just the tiniest bit of human contact can help change the channel in your brain.
If and when you feel ready to really open up, don’t be afraid to. Don’t be afraid to accept support, whether it’s from a friend, a classmate, or a counselor.
Never doubt that you are worthy and deserving any love and caring you receive.
(If you’re not sure where to find support, don't worry. Start here.)
Whatever you feel during a self-defense class, whatever reactions you have to certain activities, you are normal.
Clara Porter, program director of Prevention. Action. Change., puts it best:
“I want my students to understand that whatever they’ve experienced in the past, whatever their bodies have done in the past, or even currently do, is normal. And that we can train so that we can have more flexibility and choice in how we respond in stressful situations.”
Don’t try to fight your feelings, or compare yourself to your classmates.
Nobody’s experiences are the same, nobody’s path to healing is the same, and nobody handles or expresses pain and panic in the same way.
Rest assured that every struggle you're dealing with, and every demon you're fighting, are all part of your healing. You WILL be okay.
It can take a long time to process all of the feelings that come up during a self-defense course. We’ve heard women say it can take three to six months.
But when we ask students if they’re glad they did it, the answer is YES.
It takes an incredible amount of strength and courage to walk into a self-defense class. You may not feel it on the first day, but that regal, radiant lion is already a part of you.
The more you take care of it, the sooner it’ll roar.
* Please share your emotional self-care tips with us.