WWLD? Staying “In The Equation” in a crisis
And right now things are tough. My Dad has spent the last 12 days in the hospital about 60 miles from where I live — a week in critical condition in the Intensive Care Unit. My 13-year old nephew is still without full-time parental care and living in a temporary foster home. His mom, my 53-year-old sister, is in her third nursing home in 1.5 years working on recovering from a massive stroke. And the family dynamics amidst all of this are a challenge to say the least.
Thus, for the first time since May 2012, I find myself really struggling to stay “In the Equation.” I’ve fallen off my healthy eating plan and eaten more junk food in the last two weeks than in the last five years (yep, I’m not perfect). I haven’t practiced my regular high intensity workout routine for weeks. Sleep is a challenge. I haven’t written a blog in nearly a month. My home and yard need attention… And yet, despite all of that I have NOT thrown in the towel on my own self care. Why? Because this is my new “Healthy Lori” non-negotiable.
As I returned last night weary and sad from a long stretch at the hospital, I debated whether I could muster the strength to write a blog in an attempt to process some of the stress I’m feeling. What would I say to myself to get back on track that might also be useful to others who find themselves in a tumultuous sea of crisis — things totally outside of their control and struggling to stay afloat?
What popped into my head was not an answer, but a question: “What would Lori do?” I wondered.
Not the “old,” pre-transformation Lori that relied on food and work to cope with emotional stress, but the NEW, In-The-Equation Lori. The one that worked incredibly hard to drop those layers of protection (all -200 lbs) that she hid behind when things got tough. The Lori who was strong enough, courageous enough, and determined enough to put herself in the equation of her own life, to stop making excuses and using distractions to process the pain. The Lori that decided to transform her health trajectory and her life one day, one step at a time. That beautiful and brave Lori who has maintained that healthy, In-the-Equation life for five years and now helps others achieve the same. “What would she do?”
Then it hit me — THIS — was my new mantra for taking care of myself when things get really, really really tough. And it’s perfect, because indeed I know the way! I no longer beat myself up for screwing up, for struggling, for being human. I remind myself that my self-talk is now positive and my self-care strong, even in a crisis. It’s true, I am not at my best right now. But I am taking care of me in a situation that is tragic, stressful, worrisome, sad and feels like riding a roller coaster you don’t want to be on because you are ready to throw up. You just want it to stop so you can catch a break and feel grounded again.
WWLD? Well, it looks something like this…
7 Tips For Self Care During Times of Crisis. (I write for me…and for you).
- Redefine self-care during times of crisis. It’s not the same as in your regular day-to-day life and that’s okay. For me, this starts with focusing on things that are IN my control (me) and being patient with myself in determining what I can do something about and what I can’t. I can’t fix or cure my Dad or any of the rest of it. I can’t really maintain my daily healthy routine in exactly the same way while I’m away from home spending long nights at my Dad’s bed side. But I CAN still take care of myself in this situation. It just looks different. Right now, it means walking the hospital halls for exercise and getting outside for a change of scenery and longer walks when I can. It means taking regular hospital breaks to have dinner with a favorite person and favorite dog for companionship and support. It’s bringing refillable water bottles and stocking my purse with the healthiest energy bar I can find in case I get stuck and can’t get out for a meal. And, it means frequent visits to the hospital chapel to quiet my mind and ask for help. This is not my regular healthy routine — not even close — but these are the things that matter most when worry, lack of sleep, out of control emotions and stress are the norm. This is what’s doable right now, which brings me to tip #2.
- Lower your expectations on what you SHOULD be doing. When I’m in a crisis or just trying to cope, things like getting enough sleep, eating regularly scheduled meals, staying hydrated and just moving become hard. Sometimes getting back to basics is all you can muster, and it’s exactly enough. So stop “shoulding” on yourself and be okay with the basics. They really matter.
- Don’t beat yourself up for not being perfect. I decided about 6.5 years ago that I was done wallowing, making excuses, playing the “victim” and beating myself up for not doing everything right or being perfect. Perfect is boring and kept me stuck. Mistakes and imperfections are now accepted, if not celebrated. So when I have a day where I don’t hit 10,000 steps, or worse allow ice cream and cookies into my otherwise sugar-free diet, I no longer punish myself with negative self talk. I acknowledge that I’m a recovering emotional eater — high emotions and stress make me want to eat. And then I forgive myself and get back on track. Rather than wallow, I restart. And sometimes, restart and restart and restart until I am back in my healthy living groove. Admittedly, as I write this, I am in a daily restart. But I am literally doing my best in a sucky situation, and, I know the way! I also know that beating myself up or feeling bad does nothing — absolutely nothing — to move me forward.
- If possible, avoid sugar & alcohol — or any mood altering substance. Self-explanatory and, as noted above, perhaps easier said than done. But these mood altering substances only make it harder and I know it.
- Give yourself permission to say no, to take breaks, and do something that feels good to you. This one, too, can be a challenge because to the “old” me always being there for everyone else is the right thing to do and the only way to help. NOPE! Not true. Sometimes you have to say no, walk away, recharge and then go back in. Learning to set healthy limits and boundaries with others in a crisis is key. In fact, I am learning that without this skill, I am doing a disservice not only to myself but also to others. Which brings me to #6.
- Remind yourself that self-care is not only necessary for YOU, but it’s also the best way to help OTHERS. It’s so easy to feel guilty or beat ourselves up for leaving someone’s bedside when they are really sick. Or to say no to other people who need us or other commitments on our regular schedule. And it’s especially challenging to take care of ourselves FIRST. I’ve found that gentle and frequent reminders to myself about the importance of self-care are absolutely necessary. It is only by me staying strong and healthy — inside and out — that I’m able to be strong and fully present for those who need me. And modeling this behavior consistently can help others who are struggling too.
- When you get emotional (and you will), don’t beat yourself up, remind yourself that your reactions are normal. Riding a roller coaster of emotions is beyond hard. It’s what makes me want to turn to food and work for relief. I am a passionate and emotional person — I love that about me. But it also makes these times extra challenging. I’ve learned over time to accept this about me and give myself a break when I become “unglued,” irritable or outwardly emotional when going through the toughest stuff. Believe it or not, just acknowledging this and giving yourself permission to “feel” can be very therapeutic.
So, no, I have not been consistent with my morning ritual of self-care including my high intensity exercise routine and daily walks, mindfulness practice and clean eating diet. I’ve eaten more junk food in the last 12 days than I care to admit and packed on enough pounds that my jeans are tight and I’m out of my comfort zone.
But I also have followed a back-to-basics routine of self-care that honors my new In-the-Equation self. I’ve kept the focus on taking care of ME while taking care of others in a major crisis situation. And I am okay with that. I’ve ditched the negative self-talk and absolutely know what to do next to get back on track as things begin to stabilize. And they will.
I can’t make my Dad well or change any of the other tough situations my family is dealing with. It’s hard, sad and stressful. But it does feel good to be able to rely on myself and take care of me. It feels good not to throw in the towel and resume old habits and negative patterns when the going gets really, really, really tough (yes, three reallys!). It feels good to practice self-care, even in a crisis.
WWLD? Exactly that.
Thanks for being here. Let me know how YOU practice self-care and keep yourself “in the equation” when the going gets really tough. I’d love to hear from you.
P.S. I must end this blog with a shout out to my Dad who taught me strength, determination and never, ever giving up. #godad #wevegotthis