The first thing to recognize is that whatever the issue is, you can not control all aspects and that managing yourself and your emotions are likely to take more energy than usual while managing the event will also take energy you likely don’t have.
These pieces are going to leave anybody somewhere between tired and exhausted, and will often mean that you can’t do everything you usually do. Something has to give, and you don’t want it to be your health!
Often what ‘gives’ is a person’s routine, and often self-care is one of the aspects most often lost in times of crisis.
Let’s talk about why we don’t want to do that, and how to consciously decide what goes and how you prioritize your life during these difficult times.
Why cutting out self-care is a form of self-sabotage
Whatever has happened, whether an accident that leaves a loved one hospitalized, a large rift in your social circle, loss of a job or income source, or an emotion-laden loss like a breakup or the death of a friend or family member, it is going to have a negative impact on you and increase your emotional stress load.
In many of these cases, you may also have an additional role to play in your life as well(advocate/caregiver, peacemaker or gossip sharer, income hunter, or the bereaved who lost a large chunk of their life structure).
Also, these kinds of things disrupt your life patterns and schedule, which means you need to put more thought (energy) into each decision you make – very few things will be automatic because your priorities have shifted and your life pattern has been disrupted.
Often, these traumas and stresses include making decisions that can have larger than average consequences.
For example, you may need to make a difficult decision on behalf of a hospitalized loved one, or you need to use extra care in choosing your words for fear of alienating already angry friends.
You may need to put extra energy into a job hunt, applying for benefits, or finding things you can sell. In the case of a death or breakup, you may need to change your housing situation, plan a funeral, organize or pack belongings, and rebuild a lot of patterns in your life now that person is gone.
The point is, your physical and emotional energy is going to be taxed tremendously. You will need all the energy you can get in order to remain rational, capable, and thoughtful while under all of these extra stresses. You also need to be able to do your best to avoid or minimize symptom flares from your condition during these times of crisis.
Our bodies don’t really differentiate between physical and emotional stress, so an emotionally triggering event also increases the possibility of flare or increase in symptoms.
So, whatever this trauma or stress is, the pressure to perform is increased, your stress level is increased, and if anything you need to pay more attention to your self-care than ever so that you can make it through the crisis.
So what can I do to protect myself?
When a crisis hits, recognize it as quickly as you can, then build a plan for integrating your self-care into your crisis management. You also may prioritize aspects of your self-care, with some bare minimums and plans to add back your other self-care habits as you manage your situation.
The rest of the post is self-care priorities with examples of how I managed them in crisis situations
Get a reasonable amount of sleep
How difficult getting enough sleep is varies dramatically by individual and situation. Sleep is essential for physical healing, emotional stability, and clear thinking. Sleep debts are very hard to pay off and you are going to need that clear thinking and stability to help you get through your stressful situation.
Many of us with disabilities often have one or more sleep-related dysfunctions, so pay attention to your sleep needs, and how well you can fulfill them should be a top priority.
When Al shattered his acetabulum, for example, he was in the hospital and under the influence of very strong pain medication.
I was by his side for over the first 24 hours after his injury with only a catnap or two after he got a room around 2 AM.
My mother helped me get a hotel room near the hospital and I made sure I got a minimum of 5 hours of sleep a night before I returned to the hospital.
My goal was 8, but my anxiety was so bad that it was really hard to stay asleep. I did not set an alarm, and when I woke up naturally, I made sure I had a shower and a meal before I went to the hospital(more self-care).
Currently, I am dealing with the rift within BiRequest, and have already lost several friends and a dating relationship due to it.
There is very little that I can do. By the time you read this, I will have participated in the first mediation meeting.
I also still have the migraine, so am still supposed to minimize computer time, am taking strong medications, and various other self-care and healing activities. If the migraine isn’t gone by Friday(when this post goes live) I’ll be getting a nerve blocker injected.
The good news is that sleeping hasn’t been a huge challenge in my current situation: many of the medications suggested have drowsiness as a side effect. Each night I make sure that I take an appropriate painkiller that knocks me out, so I am getting 6-10 hours of sleep a night with an occasional nap during the day.
I would recommend that if anxiety or insomnia are major issues for you, break out your usual(or backup) sleep aides as you likely will need them because stress will make sleep harder and more essential than ever.
You also will want to do your best to carry on as much of your sleep rituals as you can.
Eat regularly and reasonably
When an emergency occurs, food is often an afterthought. it’s hard sometimes to remember to eat when you are running on adrenaline and focused on the emergency. Your patterns around eating are often out of whack and a lack of food also often affects a person’s patience and information processing.
Also, one of your body’s natural responses to lack of sleep is to demand more food, so depending on your situation and stress responses, your eating habits are going to be off-balance, sometimes forgetting to eat, and sometimes seeking food more frequently than you actually need it(and usually ending up eating junk food instead of meals)
Immediately after Al was hospitalized I also focused on eating at least two meals a day(one on my way to the hospital and the other on my way back to the hotel to sleep) and would try to get something to eat while in the hospital.
My goal was to eat simple and healthier food. One day, I picked up a fruit parfait at the hotel(yogurt, protein, slow sugar fruits, and granola for a bit of crunch and fiber), another day it was a breakfast burrito with a lot of vegetables.
I also got myself smoothies, mostly vegetable subs, and similar food. During that first week, my priorities were to get fast, portable and healthy food.
With the longer-term stresses I am dealing with now, I’m picking up prepared salads whenever we go shopping(I don’t have the spoons to make salads right now).
Al is doing the lion’s share of the cooking, and making whole wheat pasta dishes with lots of vegetables, and I’m having yogurt with fruit and granola for breakfast.
Sure, I’m also sometimes having desserts or less-healthy stuff, but I am doing my best to put good food in my system, so I have the nutrients I need to keep my body well nourished.
Drink more water
I think this is both one of the most commonly given pieces of advice, and one often forgotten or ignored.
Humans are over 70% water, and it’s necessary for pretty much every aspect of body function. We should be drinking about 8 cups of water a day and most of us don’t drink enough.
By the time you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated, and under stress, we are often less apt to notice or respect our bodily needs.
My suggestion is to have a water bottle that you carry around regularly, and know how many times it needs to be refilled to give you your daily supply – then make sure you keep refilling and drinking it.
By keeping it by your side, it’s easier to remember to keep drinking- and could possibly replace any bad habits you have while waiting by using those extra moments to have another sip of water or refill your bottle.
If you don’t have one or aren’t in the habit, try to always have a container of water by you.
After my tooth sensitivity started, I discovered that room temperature water sipped through a straw was least painful for me – so we ran to the dollar store and picked up a sip-a-mug with a straw for a handle. It holds 14 oz, so my daily goal is 4-5 refills. The pain discouraged me from eating or drinking, so by making it as simple as possible and having a specific goal, I was able to drink more than I would have otherwise.
By keeping plenty of water in your system, you are helping your body have all the necessary resources to help you keep going.
If you are spending time in a hospital, be aware that there is often a room stocked with drinks and nonperishable foods, often with a fridge. If you ask(especially for something to help the patient) the nurses may direct you to the room, where you can raid as needed for water, juice, crackers and other snack items for yourself, the patient, or other family members.
Keep up with your medication, PT, or other medically necessary self-care
You may not be able to do everything if your sequence is complicated, but at least keep up with the simpler essentials and rebuild your full routine as quickly as you can.
When Al was hospitalized, I happened to have a several-day supply of my medication on hand and an early priority was to make sure I had enough to get me through Al’s hospital stay(I stayed with him for 10 days, then went home for a couple of days to recuperate and prep the apartment for his new needs).
I canceled my pelvic PT appointment that week – besides the inconveniences involved (the hospital was over an hour commute north of home, and the appointment 30 minutes south) my FND symptoms were severe which makes the exercises nearly impossible and somewhat unsafe to do.
I made sure to keep up with my medication, tried to walk and use stairs instead of elevators when I could, and was able to arrange a couple of extra conversations with my therapist by phone – we canceled my in-office appointment for the week.
The stress of Al’s injury greatly increased my FND symptoms, but by recognizing it was a stress response, I could better comfort myself that it wasn’t a sign of a new problem, just an increase in life stress.
I tried to meditate a bit, but that was especially challenging with my symptoms
Once Al came home, we made sure I had a good walk on the trail most days to get the exercise I needed and I put more effort into rebuilding my meditation habit.
This time around, the main problem is my migraine. The pain level isn’t terrible, but I have been light and screen sensitive for over 3 weeks now, and have had the headache close to 6 weeks.
Knowing that stress is a likely cause, I have been doing my best to keep meditating daily and walking most days(in the early morning and in sunglasses), and have been experimenting with migraine medications to try to break the headache(under my neurologist’s and then a headache specialist’s care)
Friends of mine with migraine experience suggested I take magnesium supplements and drink electrolytes so I have been investing in vitamin water, Gatorade and other electrolyte sources as well as a magnesium supplement.
I was able to see a headache specialist last week, who now suspects my antidepressant may have been staving off the worst of the migraines and suggested I up the dosage on other medications I was already taking for headaches.
The headache has continued but has gone down a bit. Hopefully, it’ll be gone by the tie you read this!
Conclusion: take care of yourself!
Self-care is essential, and as I have mentioned when talking about radical self-care: you can’t pour from an empty cup – so you need to keep your cup full!
I actually did write more about managing trauma and helping yourself feel sure of your significant decisions, but in the interest of both my migraine and your time, that will need to wait for another post!
Basically, the important thing to remember is that when you are managing a major stress, it’s more, not less, important to take good care of yourself.
Prioritize getting a good night’s sleep(or at least as many hours as you can) – if you don’t sleep, it’ll be harder to do everything else!
Feed yourself regularly and with the healthier options you can find – make sure you get some fruits and vegetables and don’t fall prey to too many empty calories!
Drink water – you most likely don’t drink enough and emergencies are distracting and lead to you being less aware of your bodily needs – keep a water source on hand and take a sip every chance you get
Finally, make sure you prioritize your self-care and medical needs. Make sure you can take your medication when you need it, try to get some exercise in, and take those extra five or ten minutes to meditate if you can!
You are dealing with something stressful and tiring, and if you aren’t the focus of the situation, you don’t want to become it!
You may have responsibilities to others at times of crisis, but when that’s the focus nobody’s going to be thinking about your needs besides you – and helping a little less is often a much healthier decision than running yourself to collapse.