Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Meantime Until Fine

When hard or bad things happen it can be so frustrating to be patted on the back and told “don’t worry, everything will be ok.” First of all, how the heck do they know!?!? And second of all, it is great if eventually life won’t be so terrible and hard anymore, but the question remains-what do we do in the meantime? The un-hard life of the future isn’t the problem. The present difficulty is!
This is my best advice for how to endure the meantime until fine:

1.       Hold out on making any big decisions.
Let the crisis and its emotional repercussions pass before making any big decisions. That is advice you can take to the bank. If for some reason that is not possible, make sure to consult someone you can trust to help you make the decisions you need to make. When we are in pain or panic we cannot trust our own judgment, plain and simple. We need another set of vested eyes and ears to help us wade through decisions we are simply too emotionally impaired by difficult times to think through properly. Don’t make huge financial decisions nor start a new relationship. Don’t quit a job nor move. Don’t do anything extreme that can’t be undone. Protect yourself and sit tight until the crisis clears. If a decision must be made pull in a time tested trustworthy friend or family member to be your sounding board. I cannot count how many people tell me that they thought they were clear-headed during a crisis and could trust their own judgment only to regret their decisions and wonder what in the world they were thinking. Don’t be one of those people and heap extra stress on yourself during an already emotionally taxing time. Hold off on all big decisions or lean on the judgment of others in times of crisis.

.       Protect your physical health.
When our coping mechanisms are depleted due to stress or emotional pain it is important not to sabotage our ability to function and recover by taking poor care of our physical health. In crisis, pay extra attention to the little things as not to undermine your healing.
a.       Guard your sleep. Exhaustion undermines our coping mechanisms in every way.
b.      Get sun and fresh air. Go outside every day, even if it is freezing, hold your face up to the sun and take a few deep breaths.
c.       Exercise. Physical activity improves emotional well-being, boost immunity, and releases pent up emotions. 
d.      Eat well. Healthy whole real food builds up our health. Processed foods full of chemicals, sugar, and salt tear our health down. Maintaining a healthy diet is crucial under stress. It simply isn’t the time to live off of fast food and candy bars. It is also not the time to not eat. Even if your appetite is gone, force yourself to eat small healthy snacks every three hours. Your body  needs nutrition to persevere.
e.      And if possible, take a good multivitamin and other supplements that nutritionally supports the stress your body is under.
Emotional pain can surprise us with its grip. Loosen that grip by taking care of your body by supporting the delicate connection between our emotions and our physical health.

.       Drink tea, ditch the coffee.
Let’s just be honest here, too much coffee will slay you. We’ve all been there in college shaking while cramming for finals ready to crawl out of our skin from too many cups of coffee.  No one has ever complained about tea that way. Science proves what our bodies seem to be telling us all along. Coffee depletes essential nutrients like B vitamins (your stress fighting vitamins), causes inflammation in the body, and contributes to adrenal exhaustion. Tea provides nutrition in the form of antioxidants, ECGC, vitamins, minerals and bio-available water. Even the caffeine in tea is different from the caffeine in coffee. Tea has much less caffeine than coffee and also contains L-theanine. Caffeine and L-theanine work together to boost energy, mental alertness, and concentration while simultaneously calming the body. No other caffeinated beverage both energizes and calms. This produces a sense of well-being unparalleled to coffee, even decaffeinated coffee. People who drink tea regularly have more energy, are less anxious, and feel more centered than people who drink coffee regularly. It may seem that coffee gives you the boost you need when you are depleted but over time it will deplete your more. Restore your coping mechanisms and health with tea.

4       Cry, yell, and smash something if you must.
Times of emotional difficulty are no joke. It is incredibly frustrating when life goes on and we have to go on with it even though what we really want to do is punch something and scream for time to stop. When emotions start mounting up the best thing to do is LET THEM OUT! Cry, vent, talk, yell, laugh, sigh, write, dance, paint, play music, craft, throw something…do what you have to do to get some emotional relief before you explode. After my daughters died I loved to go to the indoor range and fire a handgun. I’d shoot at the circle target (not the one shaped like a person, that felt weird to me) with the goggles and earmuff things on. I am a little intimidated by the whole putting the bullets in the clip and loading the handgun experience so I think it felt good to face my fear and conquer it. And then, the adrenalin rush of firing a gun is exhilarating and empowering at the same time. I can’t exactly explain how it made me feel but the sense of relief it provided was undeniable.  I went in overwhelmed and after a few rounds I came out strong again and brave, able to face another day. I also ran and wrote. There are all kinds of safe and healthy ways to find an outlet for your feelings. Find what gives you the relief you need to keep yourself going.

5      Get professional counseling.
Life can be really hard. If something is going on that has set you on the emotional brink GET HELP. A professional counselor can make all the difference in the world. There is nothing wrong with you if you can’t deal on your own. The truth is, no one can. We are all a disaster behind closed doors and need support to overcome. Love yourself enough to get help when you need it. You have nothing to prove and nothing to lose. Let a professional help you.

6.       BONUS ADVICE: Do not cut your hair.

This bit of advice may not apply to everyone, but it was one of my greatest regrets so I wanted to pass it along. DO NOT CUT YOUR HAIR OFF. Do your best not to be impulsive while in crisis. Do not march into the salon with a picture of an A-line bob and let the stylist go to town. You’ll regret it. This could probably also apply to getting a tattoo, getting piercings, hair color and cutting your own bangs. DON’T DO IT. Seriously. Don’t.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Dos and Don'ts of Caring for Those Who are Hurting

The Dos and Don’ts of Caring for Those Who are Hurting

No one likes to see someone they care about in pain. It can be an overwhelming desire to want to comfort the hurting, but our well-intentioned attempts to lessen the pain often increase it. I have talked to countless people who have heart-wrenching stories of pain inflicted on them by those trying (and failing miserably) to comfort them. I myself have been crushed by the things said and done to me by others desperate to help me feel better.

This post, The Dos and Don’ts of Caring for Those Who are Hurting, is intended to help remedy this disconnect between our desire to help those we care about and our ability. Unfortunately, good intentions are simply not good enough.  It is time to clue in and take it upon ourselves to become equipped to effectively care for those who are hurting. 

1.       Do listen, don’t talk

People in pain have a lot to process. Processing is complicated by the emotional roller coaster they are on and depending on how much pain they are in will depend on how long they stay on that roller coaster.  Allowing those who are hurting the freedom to talk as much or as little as they want is important. Listening comforts. Giving them the freedom to share their feelings on their terms, letting them repeat themselves, and letting them cry, laugh, yell, and not be themselves is essential to conveying that you love and support them.  Talking does not comfort. Most of the time well-intentioned words only add to the pain.
If you must say something say only “I’m so sorry,” and “I am here for you”. Do not say, “Everything is going to be ok” or “Everything happens for a reason.” Rationalizing away pain is counterproductive in every respect. It doesn’t matter what you think, it only matters how they feel so give them the freedom to feel. If you truly desire to be a comfort to someone in emotional pain simply be quiet and listen.

2.       Do take the initiative, don’t wait to be asked for help.

Hurting people are afraid to burden others with their pain. If you just step back and wait for them to tell you what they need they most likely never will. Truthfully, they might not even know what they need. Emotional pain is confusing and when something hurts emotionally our first response is often to feel embarrassment or shame for “taking it so hard.” Don’t compound these feelings by stepping back. The needs of the hurting person will evolve and so should your support. Put the needs of the hurting person first and check your ego at the door. After all, this is about them, not you. Don’t take it personally if your help is not acknowledged or even rejected. Use maturity and wisdom and be respectful. If you are specifically asked not to help, honor that request, but if no such request is made than help away.  Show you care by taking the initiative to help without being asked.

3.       Do commit for the long haul, don’t disappear after six weeks.

I don’t know what it is about the six week mark exactly but it is somewhat of a phenomenon. After my daughters died in 2008 people came out of the wood work to console me for the first six weeks and then as suddenly as they came they were gone. Many others I have talked to experienced this same six week phenomenon. It is almost like at six weeks people feel “off the hook” so to speak and return to their own lives.
I was blessed though to have a small handful of friends and family who did stand by me for the duration. They remain by my side to this day. Their long-term support benefited my healing more than any other factor.
If you want to truly support and comfort someone you care about that is hurting walk beside them for the duration. Don’t stand by them on your time frame, commit to their time frame and stick it out. Many factors will define what that duration will be exactly and it differs for everyone, but the security of knowing they have someone to depend on for emotional support not matter how long it takes is a hurting person’s greatest comfort.

4.       Do be empathetic, don’t be judgmental

The best advice I ever got after my daughters deaths was to give my husband the freedom to   grieve his own way and not compare his grief and way of expressing it to mine. This is exceptionally wise advice across the board. It is notour job to judge, compare, or measure another person’s response to pain. Each person is different and will therefore have a unique response. There is no right or wrong way to handle emotional pain and offering our empathy instead of our judgment is the best way to be supportive.

5.       Do send a gift, don’t send flowers.

      Sending or bringing a gift to show your love and support is a beautiful way to comfort someone in pain. Hurting people need to know others are thinking of them and that they are not alone. There are many thoughtful gift options, but I’ll be frank, a bouquet of flowers is not one of them. Everyone who has ever sent flowers since the dawn of time I’m convinced meant well by doing so, but meaning well is not enough. It is so widely accepted in our culture to send flowers that I don’t think anyone has ever really stopped to think it through. The problem with flowers is that they die. The comfort they provide comes to a depressing end when the petals fall off and the stems wilt.  If your intent is to provide real and lasting comfort do the more thoughtful thing and send a gift that can’t die. Don’t send flowers.

I hope this post helps you care better for those who are hurting. Have questions? Email me.
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