… also known as coping when the shit hits the fan.
At the moment my family is experiencing a moment of death/not death, my mum is dying…or is she?? Prolonged illness is agony, I can’t even start to fully imagine how it must feel to be living in a bodily system that is failing. The thought of my functions shutting down around me whilst my brain is fully dancing still, the anger and frustration of being stuck inside a non compliant shell, makes me feel all the sadness that I ever knew existed and then a new level, followed by the grateful selfish sense of I am so lucky to be fully alive and fully here to enjoy all this.
For us family, we are on a roller coaster, that we did not willingly buy a ticket for and quite frankly want to get off. Watching my mum muster up all her tenacity, her dignity and strength to fight off infection caused by a ‘future proofing’ operation, being aware that some days she looks like the closest to death on the ward, followed by the miracle of her looking chipper, improving, better. We went from hour to hour, dreading phone calls, to day to day, worrying about her future, to week to week knowing that the hour to hour and the day to day may only be moments away. We can go from Everything is bad, her body is unable to cope with the peg feeding tube, to nope, s’okay! turns out it was just gas in the turn of an afternoon.
These are compelling moments in life, all of us will experience them to some degree or another. Not just death, our careers, our relationships- the shit can hit the fan in myriad ways. The question is, when you don’t know how long the haul is, how do you cope?
Stress can make your concentration span very short, so advice such as meditating for an hour isn’t going to cut it. It’s not the kind of situation that makes swanning off to the spa for the day conducive for many. In fact in times of direness, being with others can be overwhelming, when you are already processing so much, the thought of rehashing it over and over again to an audience can feel isolating.
In times like these short hits of respite are required. Nothing tough to do, just simple stuff. These are a few that I call on when the going gets tough and my brain takes a walk:
Meditate or listen to music with headphones, it brings your attention closer to you. If you drift out, it’s easier to redirect your focus back to something that is there in your ears right now.
Take off shoes and socks and get your feet on the ground. Having different textures, temperatures and sensations can fell amazingly grounding. Put your senses in the soles of your feet, it takes the weight off your brain and can be wonderfully distracting. There is something about being outside in the air that helps clear your head, and if the grass underfoot is warm, so much the better.
Stress requires breath. You may not be able to fully attend to a long breathing meditation, nor may you want to, but here’s the joy of it: simply breathing fully and deeply into your belly stimulates a thing called the vagus nerve. When this is switched on, your brain receives signals that it has to obey- these signals tell the brain to stop pumping adrenaline around your body (the hormone responsible for the stress response) and starts to produce a calming hormone, noradrenaline. Take a deep breath everything the thought enters your mind. Better still, set ups reminder on your phone that goes off a couple of times a day.
Take a walk, even if it’s just ten minutes, take a walk around the block, or to the shop but go the long way. Make sure your head is up,and take stock of your surroundings. Too often she we are overwhelmed we stare at the pavement as we move, once we are looking around at our environment is forces us out of our heads and back into our bodies.
Drink water, please drink water, be kind to yourself and drink more water. It will help you retain clarity of thought, boost important systems such as your immune system and help you flush out stress.
Watch funny films, kids cartoons, listen to comedy, surround your senses with laughter and brightness. Maybe stop watching g the news for awhile- especially if you tend to shout at it.
If you experience anxiety or panic attacks, it can really help if you find someone to talk through the feelings that go with these. If there is no one to talk to, write about it, the very act of writing (not typing, but by hand, cursively) can help you examine when the logic lies and where the rationality is lacking.
All in all, in times of stress, acknowledge that you still need to care for yourself. No matter what the situation is, you can help others better when you attend to your needs first.
Sometimes, the best option is to put yourself in someone else’s hands. Massage is so incredibly helpful in these times. To be treated and nurtured, with no necessity for you to converse or interact is bliss. An hour in a warm soft room is a fantastically balancing thing.
I would love to hear about your methods when times get tough- would you share them in the comments below?