In life, crises will come. Stress will be a part of life. Divorce, death, illness, relationship issues, job loss, financial problems…we will experience many or all of these in the course of our lifetimes.
Most of the time, our mental and physical health takes a toll during a crisis. Amy Pershing, LMSW, ACSW, is the clinical director for The Center for Eating Disorders in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She states, “The ability to care for oneself is predicated on the ability to consistently go inward and listen to what is there with open, compassionate ears.”
In the midst of a crisis, we lose sight of ourselves and our most basic needs. Our attention goes to the crisis and our own anxiety rather than our normal, healthy patterns of sleeping, eating, exercising, and social activity. We turn instead to unhealthy foods or eating behaviors, irregular sleep patterns, substance use, and isolation. We often don’t allow ourselves the grace and compassion we need to fully process, heal from, and act on our crisis event.
In this article, we present five basic steps to managing mental and physical health during and after a crisis. These steps are an important beginning to healing through a crisis and minimizing its detrimental effects.
1. Don't pretend like everything is okay
How many times have we been in the midst of a crisis when someone asks how we’re doing? How many times have we responded that we’re fine when we’re really not?
Denying our crisis and its effects can take a devastating toll on our emotional and physical well-being. People don’t expect everything to be fine in our lives when crisis strikes. Quite literally, it's okay not to be okay.
It's in these times that we need to stop and take a moment to identify where we’re at. Sitting in a quiet place, we really listen to our emotions and what they’re telling us. It is in the quiet, honest moments that we become aware of our own needs and begin to create a plan to fulfill them.
2. Simplify down to only what's important
In the midst of a crisis, we often describe ourselves as “busy”. In reality, we’re busy worrying, overthinking, and attempting unnecessary tasks in order to accomplish “something”. However, we’re usually not accomplishing anything that will resolve the crisis, and in some cases, we’ll actually make it worse.
While we focus on spinning our wheels and fixing un-fixable problems, we lose sight of what we need most to handle the crisis – our own care. We’d be much better off to take a moment and really contemplate what we need to weather the storm. Our focus should go from our crisis to healing through regular sleep patterns, healthy food at regular intervals, meditation and spiritual integration, exercise and body movement, healthy social interactions, and an appropriate balance of work and relaxation.
3. Don't let basic needs fall to the wayside
Crisis typically denies us crucial necessities of life that keep us healthy. We often forego needs as simple as food and sleep, which are vital to optimal functioning. It may not be as simple as that though.
In the quietness of our meditation, we will learn what we need the most through our crisis. It could be social interaction that alleviates loneliness, spiritual fulfillment for disconnectedness or guidance from someone who is more knowledgeable about our current situation.
Ensuring our needs are met will help reduce anxiety, help us make sound decisions, and reduce the damage our crisis inflicts upon us.
4. Focus on what really matters
We often fixate on creating the perfect life, perfect marriage, and perfect children. We are critical of ourselves when things don’t go just as we planned, and we work diligently to fix unwanted problems. The issue becomes when we’re so fixated on perfection that we obsess over it, fighting every battle as if it were our last.
The reality is that we don’t need perfect lives, and we don’t need to exhaust ourselves fighting every battle. Instead, we choose what’s really important and what really matters in life. We don’t fight every battle, we merely choose the ones that will make the biggest impact and are vital to the well-being of us and our loved ones.
5. Don't be afraid to reach out for help
Life crises do not need to be fought alone. We must not merely succumb to the pain and loneliness that it brings. We are social creatures, and we operate at our best when we work together to solve problems.
In some cases, we may confide in a close friend or family member who can be trusted. In other cases, a professional therapist, counselor, or clergy member may be appropriate. In any case, it is important to remember that we do have help, there are people who care about us, and we do not face any crisis alone. Reaching out for help will lessen the pain of our situation, help us work toward a resolution, and almost always shorten the duration.
We never forget our own importance.
We are worthy of help in the midst of any crisis. We all deserve to take the best care of ourselves when life isn’t going as planned. Self-care, whether it be little things or big things, is always crucial to maintaining our mental and physical health.