If you have a friend who is starting to transform into a “slender sapling” and is asking for help, you might be tempted not to respond. You don’t want to be that friend who is always asking for problems. You might also feel like you have no right to place yourself in a position of helping someone else – after all, you could be struggling too. But being close to someone who is going through a difficult time can make you feel better. If you would like to help someone, but you don’t know how, here are some ideas on how to ask for, and provide support.
“How can I cope RIGHT NOW?” These self-care strategies might help.We have all experienced difficult times in our lives.
But sometimes something happens that changes everything.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, we were collectively faced with something we had never experienced before.
For many of us, nothing seems safe or stable anymore – simple activities, interactions with people, daily routines, even the air we breathe.
People get very sick and die.
People lose their jobs, their businesses and their livelihoods.
We all want to stay safe and healthy and help others do the same.
But right now, we may not be able to do everything we want to do for our bodies.
The idea of staying fit or eating healthy can even seem trivial. Or it may seem very important. Or overwhelming. Or just… impossible, when you can’t even find or buy food in stores with empty shelves.
Each of us has a different relationship with our physical health. Some of us will be lucky enough to enjoy it and keep it. Others do not. We can’t control everything that happens to our bodies.
It can’t be repaired.
You don’t get rid of the uncertainty or the pain.
But after coaching over 100,000 clients (many of whom are going through very difficult times), we know a few things.
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We have learned a lot from those we have trained.
As humans, we tend not to think about change until its absence seems too painful. By definition, coaching is often about guiding our clients through times of crisis, transition and loss.
Many of us are familiar with post-traumatic stress disorder. We know even less about post-traumatic growth, which involves discovering and cultivating our strengths during and after difficult times.
The reality, as we have seen in training over 100,000 clients, is this:
- Suffering and prosperity can go hand in hand. As the song from the famous musical Fiddler on the Roof says: Life has the power to harass, bless and hurt us….. To be joyful even when our hearts are down.
- Like physical health, mental and emotional health is highly dependent on what we practice.
- As for physical health, small exercises increase it.
So we can’t tell you how to fix the problem. (Again, sorry.) But we can ….
- Tell us what we know about supporting human hearts and minds in times of change and need.
- To help you take care of your inner world.
- Help you build on the resilience you already have.
That’s why we wrote this article.
For the sake of clarity This is not a list of things to do.
We do not want to impose any other well-intentioned advice, responsibilities or obligations on you. We don’t want to add more things to your already full plate.
But small steps forward – even the smallest, tiniest effort – can make things a little more manageable and help you persevere in times of great uncertainty and difficulty.
Please consider them ideas. Characteristics. Things to play with – like the science experiment you did at home with the kids that exploded on the kitchen table this morning.
Be as gentle as possible with yourself. Try to take the motto progress, not perfection to heart.
We promise you: The little things add up to a whole.
1. Focus on what you can control.
There are many things we cannot control.
Sometimes it seems really scary. We are eager to know what will happen in the future. (Preferably, it should be good).
It’s very easy to get caught up in a frenzy of uncertainty, panic and/or frustration over things we have no control over. Or redouble our efforts to control more.
And yet, you probably have more control than you think.
There are factors and elements that you can control in a healthy and productive way. You can manifest in these things, make them your own and actively shape them.
When you focus on the things you can control, you feel calmer and can get on with your life better.
It could look like this.
Jennifer Brocksterman, MS, RD, dietitian, Level 1 NP trainer and CEO of NutritionRx, explains it as follows:
We have no control over the virus itself. And we can’t control what our governments or politicians say or the laws they pass.
To some extent, we can encourage those around us to wash their hands or maintain an appropriate physical distance.
What do we have total control over?
- How do we use the food we have
- Get your body moving (do exercises at home or go for a walk if possible).
- Stress management (with habits like the ideas listed in this article).
- Washing hands
- Our thinking and attitude, or the story we tell about what things mean.
- Getting in touch with our loved ones
- Help for people in need
- Keep a physical distance
- Implementation of the public health directives
It is very important that you focus your attention, thinking and actions in the area of total control, because that is where you will have the greatest impact.
So, if you feel bad:
- Make a list of things you have control over now.
- Make a conscious decision to focus and act on those things rather than the things beyond your control.
- If necessary, take time to grieve the loss of control. It’s hard to accept that much of the world functions without us as CEOs.
- And read about the fact that you tried. It probably shows that you really care about others and want the world to be a better place.
2. Maintain a clean slate policy.
Let’s face it: When the going gets tough, many of our habits can disappear too.
Maybe the ice cream and beer will disappear from the freezer and fridge a little faster. Or maybe you’re on a multi-day binge.
Take a guess!
It’s all right, it’s all right.
Seriously, though. We still love you. We understand you more than you know. (Don’t look in our recycling bins).
They still have it.
They are not spoiled or broken. Indeed, you are doing an excellent job.
Coping mechanisms such as overeating, drinking, smoking, playing video games at night and snuggling up in bed with a blanket all serve a purpose. They offer comfort, reassurance, distraction and emotional numbing.
Think about it:
Even if you can’t, you can. Or that’s what he’s trying to do. It’s just amazing.
Everything you do, no matter how silly, crazy or dysfunctional it may seem, is a sign that your body and brain are trying to help you feel better.
You are trying to relieve your own suffering.
Dwell on the beauty of it and the elegant mechanisms our brains have in place to help us relieve pain.
It may not be the ideal way to deal with the situation, especially in the long run, but it is important to realize that it is an attempt at self-compassion and self-soothing.
Don’t hurt yourself more by blaming yourself afterwards.
You only cause yourself more pain and stress, making the situation even harder to deal with….. and so on. Self-criticism only reinforces the stress management loop.
Try the following instead:
- Gently and factually acknowledge what happened.
- Try to identify the thoughts and feelings you are experiencing. (If you can’t, that’s okay).
- Do it yourself: It’s all right, it’s all right.
- So go ahead.
You can delete the map at any time and start over. You have an infinite number of erasers in your life.
Every moment is fresh. What happened yesterday – or an hour ago – makes no difference to your NOW.
All that matters now is this moment. Every day, every hour, even every minute, you can erase and move on.
A clean slate means you can’t blame yourself for your mistakes. You’re not discouraged. You’re not insulting me. And you don’t say: Shit, I’m gone forever and you’re not giving up.
Instead, leave the past in the past and move forward. And ideally, be kind to yourself in the process.
How does it work? We can offer : Do a 5-minute action.
3. Perform a 5-minute action.
One of the most fundamental practices in our coaching programs is the 5-minute action.
There’s nothing out of the ordinary after five minutes. It could be 10 seconds, or 1 minute, or 10 minutes.
Here’s the thing:
- It’s something very, very small.
- This action is what you do.
- It’s something that seems easy and simple.
- It moves you in the direction you want to go.
In his book Tiny Habits, B.J. Fogg, PhD, a behavior change expert and researcher at Stanford University, offers a simple ABC formula for creating and embedding small action:
- Anchor moment : A specific element of your existing routine that causes you to adopt a new behavior. For example: After brushing my teeth, I can …..
- Small behavior: One little action you decide to take.
- Celebrate: Consciously reinforce your new actions and be proud of your success. It is important that you choose the party that suits you best, the party that will make you happy and successful.
- I leave a glass of water on the counter. After I wake up in the morning and go to the bathroom (A), I take a sip of water (B) and then give myself five (C).
- I keep pre-packaged chopped vegetables in the fridge. At dinner (A) I eat a handful of them (B) and I mostly prepare them with salsa, which I love (C).
As Dr. Fogg’s little adjective indicates, these 5-minute activities should be very simple, small, and doable. For example:
- Get out of your house, go to the balcony or open a window and take 5 deep breaths of fresh air.
- Make the bed.
- Clean out a shelf or drawer.
- Play a one-minute ball game with your child, using the last roll of toilet paper.
- Send a text message to someone.
- Enjoy a glass of wine slowly. (I’m joking, sort of.)
- Do a mind-body scan. (We’ll show you how in a moment).
And so on.
If that sounds too easy, we assure you it is not. Over time, the small actions add up to a whole. Do what you can, when you can. We promise you this will be enough.
(For more on Dr. Fogg and Jennifer Brocksterman, see our conversation with them here).
How can I maintain my health and fitness at a time like this?
Maybe you’ve just started perfecting your workouts and diet, or maybe you’ve already perfected your healthy habits.
And then: KAPOV. Life was completely derailed.
Your fitness program? Forget it. Perfectly planned meals? No. Did you have a good holiday? Ha!
At a time like this, it’s very easy to press pause and say: I’ll come back to this later, when things are less twisted.
But now more than ever, it’s important to stay in the game.
Even if it’s just showing up and doing a five-minute action like we described earlier.
You may think that now is not the time to worry about your health and fitness.
We maintain that this is exactly the right time to prove yourself to YOU.
In fact, this is an excellent opportunity to take radical action for you. Even if a radical action is to take a few deep breaths, when before that you might have just been afraid.
So where do we go from here? Try the dialing procedure.
See your health and fitness habits as a watch face.
When you’re fully on your game, you can gain momentum. You can exercise more or set more ambitious goals.
But in times when you’re already stressed and burdened, you can cut back on the same habits – doing less, simplifying things, and/or doing a smaller/simpler version of what you normally do.
The trick is to never turn them off completely.
Zach Pello, owner of Pello Fitness and a member of our Health and Fitness Leadership Coalition, gives an example of how he uses this method for himself.
I meditate almost every day. Well, I still meditate, but only for five minutes a day. I keep doing this because I know that when I get out of this state, I will be able to spend more time on it when the time comes. So try to postpone your efforts, but don’t neglect them completely either.
(Click here to learn more about the recruitment method and how you should never take a break from your fitness and health habits: How you should never take a break from your health and fitness).
4. Breathing. (true.)
How are you breathing now?
Short and fast or long and slow?
How do you breathe: high in the chest or low in the belly?
When we are anxious and stressed, our breathing tends to react; we may feel a tightness in the chest and our breathing may become short and rapid. You may even hold your breath, gag, or feel like you’re about to have a panic attack.
The good news is that paying attention to your breathing can be a great antidote to stress, because it signals to your body that you are in a relaxed and safe state. In turn, your body and brain may begin to calm down.
Michael Gervais, PhD, creator and host of the Finding Mastery podcast, mental coach for the Seattle Seahawks and member of the Health and Fitness Leadership Coalition, recommends breathing exercises for anyone suffering from stress and anxiety.
When you feel tension, when you feel your heart skip a beat, when you feel your breathing change, when you feel nervous or when you have that inner ticklish feeling, breathing is a very useful skill, he explains.
Why does it work so well? A long exhalation sends a signal to our old brains that we are safe, says Dr. Gervais. It sends a signal to the brain that says: Hey, there’s no saber toothed tiger here now. You have the chance to take a good, deep and relaxed breath. So relax, man.
Here’s an easy way to do it:
- Inflate the imaginary balloon very slowly, and try to empty your lungs.
- Then relax your body and let the breathing happen naturally.
- Inflate the balloon again.
- Relax and allow the breath to repeat itself.
- And so on.
For a more complicated version, Dr. Gervais suggests a technique called box breathing. This is how it works:
- When you breathe in, practice breathing in for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Then hold your breath for 4 to 5 seconds.
- Exhale slowly for another 4 to 5 seconds.
- Then hold your breath for another 4 to 5 seconds.
Then you can repeat this process as many times as you like. Dr. Gervais suggests doing this for 12 breaths, although you can also start by breathing slowly.
Would you like help getting into harmony with your breathing? (Or just shut up?) Try doing a mind and body scan.
Mind and Body Scanning is a simplified meditation technique that helps you to recharge and connect with your body. Want to try it? Check out our free mind-body analysis worksheet.
And if all else fails…
Then one more.
You have this.
If you are a trainer or want to become one….
Learning how to educate clients, patients, friends or family members about healthy eating and lifestyle changes that fit their bodies, preferences and circumstances is both an art and a science.
If you want to learn more about both, consider Level 1 certification.
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