How to Equip Yourself to Endure Crises in Life
By Courtney Klein, PsyD
Many of us respond to crises differently. Many of us handle crises differently. And many of us think of crises differently. It may be something significant like a sudden loss, change in finances, illness, an accident, and broader national changes in our country; or it may be smaller like a surprise deadline, running out of a food item, getting stuck in traffic, and being in conflict with someone. Regardless of the severity, these crises can lead to stress, anxiety, depression, or other longer-term problems in your world.
No matter what has come up in your life, there are a few factors that may help to mitigate or reduce the effects of long-term stress or residual problems after a crisis occurs. Identifying or integrating these helpful factors into our own lives is likely to improve our quality of life. As you will see, I’ve highlighted various categories of life below to help us hone in on specific, healthy strategies for crisis management. By taking note and then trying to improve one or more of these categories (even if you are not currently stressed or dealing with major problems), you will improve your chances of managing everything in your life more effectively than before. With a better, more balanced and more dynamic lifestyle and system around you, you will be able to navigate anything that comes your way.
Physical health – Keep your body physically fit, which may include: regular workouts, routine walks around your neighborhood or with friends in a park, getting as consistent of sleep as possible, and engaging in any other way you like to keep your body in good form. Paying attention to your physical health will help you to be resilient to crises while also enhancing your coping capabilities. Even emotional crises that may not seem to directly impact your physical health can be more easily tackled when you are feeling physically fit as well.
Stress – Try to maintain a low level of stress in your life if at all possible. You may not be able to predict when a crisis is coming, or even the level of difficulty or crisis that arises. Knowing how to manage your stress and also reducing your stress as much as possible, can help you to be more flexible and prepared for an upcoming stressful event or problem. Consider good ways you can cope with stress on a regular, sustainable basis. Adopt healthy habits or activities as a lifestyle to help promote your overall health while also bolstering your sense of resiliency. For example, take time to breathe deeply, do a meditation exercise, or other form of self care that can reduce the negative impact stress can have on you.
Family support – It may already sound intuitive to you, but those of us who are close to our family members and can utilize them for support, fare better when being faced with a crisis. Our family members can be a loyal presence in our lives, can express unconditional love, and may even have ideas and ways to help you that you may not be able to do on your own. Even if you are the one in the family who seems to shoulder some of the burden for others, feeling that these relationships are helpful, healthy, and strong, does help to mitigate a problem that could occur.
Mental health – You may be someone who could benefit from or is already engaged in therapy. In addition, you may also be taking psychotropic medication such as antidepressants with or without additional therapeutic support. Lastly, you may be someone who has not felt the need to talk with a therapist or take medications before because you’ve been able to maintain a healthy frame of mind and/or emotional resiliency. No matter what category you fall into, maintaining your mental health is crucial for managing crises of all sorts. The stronger you are mentally/emotionally, the better you can navigate and problem-solve when something difficult happens. Seeing a therapist or attending a therapy group can provide many skills, tools, and strategies to managing and enhancing mental health, even if you are not actively in crisis.
Social outlets – Just as having strong familial relationships is important, having other strong relationships outside of your family members such as close friends and partners play a major and very helpful role when a person is facing a problem or crisis. Lean on your friends by reaching out to them for support and expressing what you need from this support. If this feels uncomfortable, remember that even as you need help now, your social network might need help from you at a different time. Allow yourself to accept this support, knowing you can repay the favor another day.
Diet – In a similar way to physical health, what we put into our bodies on a daily basis has a major impact on the stress we carry and what we can manage in the future. Feed your body well through a balanced diet of whole, nutritious, minimally processed foods with guidance from your doctor or another dietary professional, Enjoy some indulgences from time to time, but do this in moderation as studies show that your quality of diet has long-term effects on your overall health and lifespan. Maintaining a healthy diet will fuel you to better address any crisis or difficulties that come your way.
Substance Use – Reducing or moderating the amount of alcohol, marijuana or other mind-altering substances you ingest can help you live much healthier while also allowing you to be more effective with navigating anything that life throws at you. Using substances as a “crutch” to help you manage stress can actually diminish your ability to cope well in the present crisis while also setting you up to “need” substances to endure future crises. This can lead toward psychological dependence and even physiological addiction that can create new crises on their own. Work to no longer be dependent on fleeting and potentially harmful substances, asking for support from your social circle or even a professional if needed. You are trying for an optimal level of health across physical, emotional, and mental domains, and your efforts will be better rewarded by not turning to substances or alcohol when stressed.
Perception/Interpretation – Last of all, you may have a healthy body and mind, emotional and social support, and manage your stress well. However, another major factor to consider when boosting the other areas of your life is how you might interpret the crisis or problem. Studies indicate that when a person who experiences a crisis perceives and interprets this is as exceptional, singular, and potentially random event, they can both endure and cope better overall. When we tend to interpret things in more distorted ways such as perceiving we deserve bad things or that life will continue to endlessly lead to crisis or problems, it makes it much more difficult to show resilience. Working to be confident, hopeful, and healthy in all regards can take any crisis and shift it toward an opportunity for growth and recovery.
Seeking to improve the above categories in your life can reduce the amount of stress a current or future crisis will have on you. Your commitment to your own health will help you endure anything that life throws at you. In so doing, we can more confidently declare: “Bring it on world!”