“The person who is prepared has half the battle fought.”
~Miquel De Cervantes
So much of life is wonderful. And then there are the times when it’s not. I’m talking about the mildly annoying, stress inducing moments in life as well as the gut-wrenching ones that leave us reeling in confusion, fear and uncertainty. One moment we’re content, going about our lives and then something horrible occurs, and we’re left lost and disorientated. Maybe we’ll experience a horrible fight with a close friend or lose a job or experience an ending of a marriage. Maybe we’ll have a health crisis or lose a loved one. Our lives will always be full of difficulties, frustrations and devasting events that have the potential to inflict damage to our spirit and derail our entire lives. How we manage our response can make the difference in our overall health, wellness and quality of life.
What if we could have a practical, well-thought-out manual prepared in advance of a crisis that we could instantly turn to it for direction, guidance and comfort in it all?
It’s quite common for business entities to have exactly that; a detailed document outlining specific steps in response to a critical situation. In business this is known as a Crisis Management Plan and having one in place can minimize the impact to the organization and help it move forward in recovery. Why can’t we individuals have the same? Situations of unexpected change, stress and struggle will happen in our everyday lives and having a plan in place prior to a crisis is just being prudent and practicing good planning.
In the middle of a crisis, thinking clearly becomes difficult. The environment can feel intense, chaotic, and so much can seem out of our control. Physically, our bodies react to this stress with a release of the stress hormones adrenalin and cortisol. These hormones stimulate an increase in heart rate, blood pressure and breath rate and, truth be told, often leave us feeling like we’ve been punched in the gut. In addition to the physical effects of stress, our spiritual selves take a tremendous hit during the hard times and we begin asking “Why is this happening to me?” and “What am I going to do now?”
I’ve experienced my fair share of struggles, both big and small, in my 48 years on this Earth. And I know I’m no different than anyone else. But all my experience in hardship has taught me that all struggles can be managed using virtually the same tecniques. This insight led to my constructing what I call my Wellness Emergency Action Plan. It’s a holistic guide to managing my physical, mental, emotional and spiritual self when everything in my life feels upside down and inside out. It’s my own, crisis management plan put together to fit my specific needs. Here it is.
Practice breathing. Obviously, we breath unconsciously all the time. I’m talking about conscious, mindful breathing. During a stressful situation you will find me silently counting my breath. Inhale, exhale, one. Inhale, exhale, two. This counting helps me calm down and remain focused. Concentrated breathing anchors me to the present moment, re-connects me with a sense of control and helps to process my body’s physical response to stress.
Have a crisis support team. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Many businesses hire entire teams of people to take control once an emergency occurs and each member of that team has specific roles and responsibilities. Rely on your family or friends for assistance in managing, strategizing, and executing a response. You can assign your people specific roles. One person might be good for emotional support while a different person might be great for analyzing problems and finding solutions.
Get proper rest & nutrition. It’s simple biology. I understand my brain will not work if it doesn’t receive rest. My body will not work if it doesn’t have fuel. Our bodies are not machines. They are living, breathing organism and they require certain things to survive. Eating and sleeping are necessary for continued strength and resilience and are essential to keeping the mind and body operating well while under stress.
Use self-care strategies. Exercise is a method I use frequently to let off steam. I will do yoga, go for a run, take a cycle class or lift weights. Some use massage or Reiki. Talk therapy with a professional therapist is another tool. Some find spending time in nature very healing. Finding healthy outlets can help reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body, and often stimulate the production of endorphins, which are natural painkillers and mood lifters.
Find moments to be still & quiet. You can call it meditation or simply quiet moments with yourself. But it’s here, in these moments, that I filter all the noise, open a clear channel to my inner wisdom and ask myself about my next moves. It’s in this space that I’m calm, clear and open enough to hear the answers I’m needing.
Process emotions. Am I scared, sad, angry? All three? I take time to acknowledge the emotions I’m experiencing instead of denying them. Shoving them down will only cloud my thinking and slow my healing. Emotions that go unacknowledged physically get stuck in the body and are experienced as stress, muscle-tissue tension and tightness. I let these feelings come up and use my breath to open to them, accept and process them throughout my body. Breath by breath. Emotion by Emotion. This is how healing happens. You can work with a meditation teacher or even browse on-line for meditations on processing emotions, but for me, this is essential.
Find gratitude. Wait. What? Yes. I will find something to be grateful for, even on the godawful days. I’m not saying it’s easy but it’s not only possible its essential. When my father was dying, and I was visiting him daily to help with his caregiving, I was grateful for the one on one time we were spending together in spite of the complete horribleness of the situation. When my son was diagnosed with Autism, I was grateful for the phone call with a family member who had been through the very same situation and was there for support and guidance. There have been days when the only thing I could come up with was a decent cup of coffee or a good hair day. Find something, anything to hold onto to get you through each day and remind you that there is still good in your life.
Look for lessons. I believe there will always be something to learn from hardships. Some of my most difficult experiences have taught me the most valuable lessons in self-love, patience, and forgiveness. Looking back at my struggles allowed me a clearer understanding about myself, about my strengths and my weaknesses. And frequently I was able to use that insight to help others get through something similar. And if nothings else, if I cannot see any lessons at all, I know those really difficult moments strengthened me and made me way more durable.
Have faith. I do not subscribe to the “everything happens for a reason” theory. Sometimes horrible things just happen by bad timing or bad luck. That is the nature of humanity. But during most of my hard times, where I could easily have spiraled into a deep depression and stopped moving forward, I could still feel the Universe working hard, trying to get me back in alignment with my path and purpose. I would notice that guidance through signs, “coincidences”, synchronicities and my own intuitiveness. You can choose to call this whatever you want, but in order to hear it we must be awake, aware and connected. We can’t allow ourselves to be numbed by drugs, alcohol, food, social media, hours of Netflix or anything else one might choose to deal or rather “not deal” with the stress and pain of hardship. I will always have faith that there is a plan in place even when I can’t see it or understand what that might be. Unexpected changes, loss, setbacks and disappointments will happen, but I trust in my ability to endure. I choose to be brave, have patience, keep moving forward, and believe in my path. Even when it’s hard. In fact, especially when it’s hard.
That’s my plan. I understand yours may look very different. In any case, I encourage you to sit down and put together a guide of all the wellness steps you need to take when a crisis strikes your life. Our lives will always be a journey of highs and lows, and it’s inevitable that sometimes the bad stuff will happen. But being prepared and arming yourself with your own specific and practical wellness emergency action plan will give you some sensible, tangible steps to follow to stay healthy, focused and continuing to move forward while you weather those storms.
Gina Dubois is a yoga instructor at her Hidden Haven Yoga Studio in Highland, NY. She writes a blog on her Facebook page.
photo: Yoga Pause by John Hain