When life slaps us down via gallons of wet from the sky, a life changing diagnosis, a job loss, a divorce, or a death, we are challenged to find our resiliency.
So much of life is a forced going-with-the-flow, letting go, dusting off, and starting over. We need to understand resiliency, and how to fuel it. When we do so, we keep depression and darkness at bay. We must not become our own energy vampires during great times of stress.
Below are 10 tips for simplified self-care for crisis and recovery. As always, take what works for you and toss the rest. This list is intentionally directive and to the point to help with the overwhelm and brain fog so common post crisis.
What to do:
1. Get your priorities straight.
If you don’t know them, here you go: water, food, shelter, clothing, mental hygiene, in that order. Don’t be the guy who’s trying to run a marathon the day after a major surgery (yeah, you know who you are). Those of you who “help” while you are on your last leg, those of you whose identity feels most secure when helping v.s. the vulnerability of allowing others to help you, or even just stopping the frantic nature of it all.
Many of you have and will suit up in capes, and that’s fine to go and fly and save, just know you have to balance. A body cannot physically keep up with what your heart and mind expect in the face of so much that needs doing. Think about my marathon guy (and those around him) because it sucks to watch him hurt himself and disrespect his body and healing, doesn’t it? There are countless “Yeah, buts…” anyone can create in response, no doubt. Come back to this grounding priority list as a technique, when you need to, and often.
Feel numb, sad, angry, guilty, stressed, defensive, exhausted, overwhelmed, perplexed, foggy, powerless, etc., and be prepared to feel it all again, until you don’t have to anymore. The trick to not getting stuck or sucked down into depression is to manage anxiety and stress with really healthy cognitions (your therapist or coach or support groups can help with this) and to feel (without shaming yourself with WHY) the feelings so they can move through you, process, and leave the body and mind. So cry if that’s what comes up (let it out!) and don’t you dare let the dark parts of the mind shame your natural human response or frame emoting as weak. You are strong beyond measure, each tear proves that, if you let it, because you are HERE.
For those with kids, it’s a teachable moment to show children how to have emotion and deal with struggle. So if you are a parent who is upset or tearful, that’s a teachable moment, it’s shareable. Connect with the bigger picture of your role as a parent: to teach that child to be an effective, healthy, well-rounded adult. If you are having a meltdown and cursing the gods in fury (normal, hello), then saying “I need a moment to myself” and excusing yourself to have your private intense expression so as not to frighten or emotionally overwhelm the kiddos is good strategy, and also a different teachable moment for kids to be empowered to take their own moments to process, too.
3. Shift and Pretend.
The counterbalance to feeling all the feelings is shifting, folks. How? Breath and Imagination. Walk away for five min, take deep breaths, and force the mind to focus on anything OTHER. Examples? A pretty purple color, the leaves on a tree, the shape of a cloud. Visualize yourself on your favorite beach or mountain—with all of your senses and allow yourself to GO there for one to five minutes, and feel the elements, see the elements, smell and hear, even taste the elements in your happy place.
Remember the last awesome hug you were gifted and feel that, as if it is happening right this second. Put a hand over your heart and belly and repeat: “We are safe, one thing at a time, and everything I’m doing is good enough.” We can’t escape most difficult circumstances we find ourselves in in the ways we’d most like to escape. Our brains, bodies, and psyches, benefit from breaks, like mini power naps.
Work hard, sure, but not until you drop or get sick. Remember marathon dude? All the obvious things about a good night’s rest, yes. I urge you to take the concept of rest further. Moment to moment, day to day, during waking hours, rest. Imagination in action is a powerful healing force, believe it or not. Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or raw; use that as a cue to rest as you feel emotion build.
A mini nap, or even sitting and slowing your breathing is resting. A major block to resting comes from all the “shoulding” in our heads. Often, to be able to rest, we must utilize our “no” muscles. Strengthen any weak no muscles by practicing “not right now,” “I can do that later,” “tomorrow,” or “I think so-and-so was just offering up this kind of help, I’m happy to connect you.” You simply cannot attend to every single need that crosses your awareness. Tell yourself this as you release emotion. See how this resiliency stuff fits together?
5. Understand survivor’s guilt.
It’s real. People are experiencing epic loss; it is your lovely empathy that brings on this guilt. This is natural because we are naturally tribal. We are supposed to feel guilt so that we give and share our resources with our tribe, for the tribe and individuals survival. Breathe and let this guilt go with the exhale each time it comes up. It’s not productive for modern society and a major energy suck and depression inducer. You’ll have more to offer the tribe from a place of security, health, wisdom, balance when survivor’s guilt doesn’t rob the energies.
Plan fun. Without guilt about all the other things that need doing. Tell guilt to “go take a hike,” or use more colorful language that resonates with you.
Enjoyment and joy bolster the psyche, like vitamins against depression. This is “nutrition” for prevention method v.s. a “medicate” for treatment later, strategy.
7. Enjoy the beauty and sparkle that happens when faith is renewed in human kind, with every fiber of your being.
Let it wring out your “wtf is up with humanity” vibes, if that’s part of your reality. Wring out any “ick” like an over saturated sponge and soak up the love that is happening. I’ve probably cried more tears of beauty and joy watching humans show up for each other with brightness. It’s spectacular. Was there ever more proof that light follows darkness? Tuck that in your pocket til the end of your days for every dark moment.
What not to do:
1. Don’t try to do all the things.
Limits are real and keep us psychologically and physically safe. Even Superman balanced his super-heroing by being Clark Kent most of the time. Do what you can get to in any one day and let go of all the rest. We climb all mountains one step at a time, and we get there eventually. This is expectation management in action; expectation is a sneaky energy drainer and an awesome way to tap into more energy by allowing expectations to remain achievable. Maintain emotional boundaries by not allowing other people who don’t understand or respect limits and self-care to “put” this stress of doing all the things onto you. Dodge that energy like you would play dodge ball.
2. Don’t try to make sense of feelings/emotion.
Do you see that? Re-read that sentence. Feelings are things we need to FEEL to move through and past. Making sense is for the thoughts we think. Those of us who score higher as highly sensitive people and empaths will be feeling a lot of feelings that aren’t even our own, too. It really is okay, at times of extreme stress, to radically accept that we can just move through the feelings and they often won’t “make sense,” and that’s okay.
It’s when we start believing we should be able to make sense of feelings that we can really question our sanity, such a drain on energy. If you have a severe mental illness diagnosis, connect with your healers; seek out pharmacists if your doctor is unavailable if your meds have been interrupted or prescriptions lost, etc. It’s important you connect with people you trust and can lean on to maintain good mental health and stay safe during this time.
3. Don’t “should” yourself about goals.
Most mindful people are mindful about their futures. Any forced transition or major life change in the present moment means our personal future projections have also changed. Understand that what we want, when it all boils down, is a sense of control. We can loathe the reality of what we don’t have control over, which is a huge energy sucker of a process.
Again, life requires a lot of letting go of expectation and adjusting. These are skills and it is normal to struggle with this, normal to grieve, normal to want to scream at the skies or curl up in a ball and disappear when we feel an absence of control. It’s your job right now to keep depression/anxiety at bay to focus on what IS in your control.
At a basic level, this explains the psychological act of taking a breath, stopping to take a long, slow, deep breath can feel so damn good. We have full control over taking that breath. Sometimes, we resist the simplicity of a breath because subconsciously we don’t want to admit all the other things we don’t control (and the little we actually do). This is not a time to fight this reality, it’s a time to take the most epic care of yourself as possible.
You are a surviving bad ass, after all.