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Community and mental health services for Southampton, Portsmouth and parts of Hampshire and the Isle of Wight.


Dealing with Emotions

Following a sexual assault, you may experience a wide range of emotions that can be distressing, surprising and difficult to cope with.

Each person reacts differently: you may also feel tearful, withdrawn, depressed or just numb. You may also feel very anxious and panicky or have nightmares and flashbacks of the assault. For many people these emotions pass within a few weeks. If they persist you may need professional help to overcome these traumatic responses. Being able to recognise these reactions is helpful, especially when you realise that they are normal, and you are not going crazy or mad. The following emotions are common.

We all experience anxiety at certain times, for instance you may recall feeling anxious when going into exams or for a job interview. When you are anxious your heart may beat faster, you may breathe quicker, and your skin can become clammy and sweaty. You may feel dizzy or shaky and have ‘butterflies’ in your stomach. If you are really anxious, and in a state of near panic, you may feel as though you are having a heart attack and hyperventilate. If you do experience these symptoms, they will usually pass within 20 minutes.

After an assault many people feel anxious and afraid that something might happen again, they may see the world as a dangerous place with no one they can trust. You may find you are always watching out and constantly on edge, waiting for something else to happen. You may be jumpy, especially if someone is too close or touches you unexpectedly.

Anything that reminds you of the assault can trigger anxiety and this can be smells, colours, sounds, as well as more specific reminders.

What can I do about Anxiety?

First try to notice what is making you feel anxious. Is it what you are thinking, doing or a reminder of the assault? Our body usually reacts to what we are thinking so if you can distract yourself, or think more helpful thoughts, this can help stop the panic rising. You could try counting objects, listening to music, or thinking of a favourite place.

Relaxation and deep breathing exercises may also help. If the anxiety is becoming overwhelming seek help before it becomes a problem.

Nightmares could be replays of the assault or other distressing images and dreams, they are common but can really affect your sleep. Nightmares are one way your mind tries to make sense of what has happened.

You may find yourself waking up suddenly feeling very afraid and anxious. If you then try and avoid sleeping, for fear of having a nightmare, lack of sleep can affect your mood: you may become irritable, have difficulty concentrating and feel depressed. Even if your sleep is not being disturbed by nightmares, you may find that you have difficulty getting to sleep, wake early, or experience fitful waking.

What can I do if I can’t sleep?

It is important to try and maintain a normal routine so go to bed and get up at your usual time even if you haven’t slept. Avoid napping in the afternoon to catch up on your sleep, this will make it harder to sleep at night. Try relaxing before going to bed: have a bath or listen to music that will distract your mind. Try not to go over and over what has happened, don’t try to force yourself to recall what you can’t remember, or worry about what you should or should not have done. This can make you more agitated and may make it harder for you to sleep. If you do wake up during the night, don’t lie in bed tossing and turning. Instead get up and have a warm, decaffeinated drink and do something relaxing to make you feel drowsy, like reading or meditating.

These are very vivid images that make you feel as if the assault is happening again. Flashbacks occur because a traumatic experience is shocking and different from your everyday experience that you can’t fit it into what you know about the world. Your mind keeps bringing the memory back to try and understand what happened.

You will probably want to try and push these images away as they are distressing and very uncomfortable. Unfortunately, this can increase the power of the images. Instead try and focus on where you are and bring yourself back into the here and now; remind yourself that you are safe, not still being assaulted. Flashbacks should become less frequent but if they do not, psychological therapy can help.

People sometimes feel guilty or ashamed. These feelings are related to you taking personal responsibility for the assault, the feeling, ‘I did something to deserve this’. You may also feel guilty for how you are feeling, ‘I should just get over this’, or guilty that others are upset or angry. Remember you are not to blame for being sexually assaulted.

Many people who have been assaulted feel angry, not only with their assailant but also with themselves and others. You may well feel that the world is not fair. If you are not used to feeling angry this can seem scary and confusing, particularly if your anger is directed towards those who are closest to you. Although being angry can be a positive sign in the healing process, it can sometimes mask other feelings such as sadness and pain.

Try not to block up your anger as this may result in it spilling out when you don’t want it to. Try and talk about how you are feeling and remember it’s a normal reaction.

After your assault you may well feel under significant physical and emotional stress of which you are not fully aware. As a result, you may find yourself become irritable very easily and reacting to things that normally wouldn’t have bothered you.

With both anger and irritability, it is important to try and look after yourself. Use the support of others and try to relax. Moderate exercise can also help to release some of the tension.

This is a common reaction to sexual assault and can include feeling down, sad, hopeless, or despairing. You may cry more often or find it difficult to cry at all. You may lose interest in people and activities you used to enjoy. Plans you had for the future don’t seem to matter anymore and you feel life isn’t worth living. You may also be grieving for what you have lost because of the assault.

If you feel like this, try to discuss it with someone, either staff at Treetops or someone you trust. Focus on the reasons why life is worth living; you can overcome depression. If your feelings lead to thoughts of wishing you were dead, or doing something to hurt of kill yourself, it is better to go to your GP or A&E as they will be able to help, contact 111 or 999 if you feel you are a danger to yourself.

Patient Advice and Liaison Service (PALS)

Please visit our services page for specific services and contact details. Alternatively, contact our Patient Advice and Liaison Service by emailing or calling the number below. You can also give us feedback, make a complaint or share a compliment.

0800 013 2319

*Lines are open Monday to Friday 10am – 4pm.

The Freedom of Information (FOI) Act was passed on 30 November 2000. It gives a general right of access to all types of recorded information held by public authorities, with full access granted in January 2005.

The Act sets out exemptions to that right and places certain obligations on public authorities.


Phone: 0300 123 3919

*Subject to any exemptions which apply, we are obliged to provide the information requested please note that requests for Personal Information is not covered under this Act and should be applied for through the Data Protection Act 1998.

Our administrative and managerial centre is based in Southampton.

While our services can be found around various NHS locations in Southampton and Portsmouth (and surrounding districts), our administrative and managerial centre is based in Southampton at:

Highpoint Venue
Bursledon Road
SO19 8BR

If you require a printable version of how to find us including bus times, car access and bike info please download our leaflet. (Copyright of Highpoint Venue).

Central office phone: 0300 123 3390

*Lines open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.

If you are a journalist with a media enquiry, please contact the Communications Team at:

0300 123 4156 or 02381 031076

The Communications Office is open Monday to Friday 9am to 5pm.