One of the best ways to relieve stress is to engage in activities that provide the opposite emotions of what you experience during a crisis. For example, feelings of fear, frustration, anger, and despair are common in response to a crisis, not to mention anxiety, worry, and doubt. When your resources become depleted from the stress of a crisis, it’s important to refuel by doing things that produce enjoyment, excitement, meaning, satisfaction, inspiration, and pride. Common outlets include sports, cultural and spiritual pursuits, cooking, reading, watching movies, and other hobbies. All of these act as healthy distractions and respites from the intensity required to resolve a crisis.
One of the primary causes of stress during a crisis is believing its demands exceed your available resources. In other words, you feel that you lack the capabilities to overcome the challenges of a crisis. A direct way to reduce this stress, while simultaneously enhancing your ability to surmount a crisis, is to increase the resources at your disposal. These can include giving yourself more time to address the crisis, getting help from others, and gaining relevant information and skills. As you gain resources, you are able to tip the scales in the other direction until your resources exceed the demands of the crisis. That is when you will have the ability to respond to the crisis calmly and constructively.
While stress attacks the body and the mind, attempting to break down and defeat them, research shows that exercise resists those assaults. Physical activity releases stress-reducing neurochemicals and bolsters your body’s immune system. In addition, it increases your strength and stamina, which lessens the wear and tear that stress places on your body. Finally, exercise also increases your energy, gives you confidence, sharpens your mental acuity, and improves your ability to sustain your intense efforts to surmount the crisis.
As human beings, we have physical, cognitive (thinking), and emotional limitations that prevent us from going at 100 percent for extended periods. Unfortunately, the severe stress that accompanies a crisis causes our bodies and minds to go into overdrive. The result of this persistent strain is the tearing down and weakening of our bodies and minds in the form of exhaustion, illness, or injury.
That is why you must ensure you have sufficient rest to repair the damage to your body and mind. Although you may not think you have time to rest during a crisis, the physical and cognitive consequences of fatigue will do far more harm than taking time for a needed respite from the stress. Essential tools that allow your body to rejuvenate and prepare for the crisis-related stress include a good night’s sleep (eight hours according to the latest research), naps, meditation, and yoga.
The simple reality is that your body can’t survive, much less perform at a high level, without adequate fuel. Think about driving your car. If you’re racing to a destination at high speed, you’re going to run out of gas at some point. Ultimately, you need to stop and refuel if you want to get to where you want to go. During a crisis, time is in limited supply and urgency seems to be a priority, which often results in a change in eating habits. Often food quality declines, and the quantity you eat can increase or decrease depending on a number of factors (e.g., emotional eating, decreased hunger, limited time to eat). What you eat and drink is the fuel that powers your body and enables it to resist the debilitating forces of stress during a crisis, yet eating habits are one of the first things to change in reaction to stress and are often outside of your awareness. If you put quality gas into your car so it runs its best, why wouldn’t you do the same for your body?
Unfortunately, the lifestyle that a crisis creates saps you of energy and makes you more vulnerable to stress. For example, there’s little time to prepare healthful meals, so you may use caffeine and sugar to keep yourself awake and alert, and fast food that is readily available. In contrast, a healthy and balanced diet every day bolsters your immune system, helps your stamina for the long days, and gives you the energy to keep ticking even when your body is taking a licking.
Excerpted from the book How to Survive and Thrive When Bad Things Happen: 9 Steps to Cultivating an Opportunity Mindset in a Crisis by Jim Taylor. Used by permission of the publisher Rowman & Littlefield. All rights reserved.
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