The BTBS Guide to Maintaining Your Health During a Crisis

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Life has a funny way of testing us further when we're probably already stressed and under a lot of pressure from other areas of our life. Fitting a healthy lifestyle around a full time job can be enough of a challenge, but what about when crisis situations happen on top of this, such as the death of a friend, a family member being rushed into hospital or your own health scare? (Or in my case, all three, at once, during an already stressful point of my social work masters degree!).

During a crisis, the last thing anyone has the time (or wish) to do is to head to the gym or cook healthy meals from scratch. It's hard enough to do this when life is going smoothly, though it's certainly worth preserving with until you have a routine you can fit neatly around your working and family life. In a crisis however, this routine needs to go out the window along with the 'all or nothing' attitude. You're unlikely to be able to stick to a workout plan, or cook meals from scratch, but that doesn't mean a license to eat nothing but rubbish, or not eat at all. 

Here are five tips for maintaining your hard-earned health during life's testing times:

1) Don't reach for the alcohol or caffeine to help you cope.

Alcohol is a depressant and will only slow your whole body down (including metabolism) and make you feel sluggish at what is likely to be a point where you need to remain alert. It'll make your mood far worse too!

Too much caffeine, while a stimulant, will disrupt your sleep cycle at a time where sleep is probably the only chance your body is getting to repair itself from the high levels of stress hormones. If you're already having trouble sleeping because of said situation, resist the urge to get out of bed and sip coffee until the sun comes back up, instead focus on keeping your eyes closed in a dark room and breathing slowly. If your thoughts are keeping you awake, write them down on a bit of paper or a memo on your phone. Sometimes, getting your thoughts out of your head and onto a physical form is all that's needed to calm racing thoughts.

2) If you HAVE to skip meals, don't under-eat!

Chances are, you'll skip meals during crisis situations. While this habit has no place in a healthy lifestyle and work alone is not a good enough reason for it (although it may sound like it in your head), in a genuine crisis, you can't simply pause life and take a lunch break. 

The best way around this to ensure you don't end up missing out on the calories you need to sustain all the rushing around you're needing to do, is to either snack frequently or make eat calorie-dense food in your next meal. Not junk - but think high-protein and foods that are high in the good fats. This left me (as a meat eater) with steak and fish dishes from the local pub to save the time on cooking/washing up and food shopping (all three are thing that often cannot and will not be done in a crisis situation! 

Now I'm not suggesting you all rush of the the pub for the best 2 for £10 deal in your particular crisis situation, but it can certainly a better option than ordering takeaways, going to the drive-thru or even worse, not eating at all!

3) Drink as much water as you can.

Keep a bottle in your bag  filled with water and take it everywhere! It will help keep you alert when you need to be and help reduce any stress-related bloating you may be having.

4) Don't beat yourself up for missing a workout session

Let's keep things into perspective here. Crisis situations rarely last long-term, things will have to settle at some point and you will be able to get back to your normal healthy routine. By all means take some brisk exercise if you want to and feel it'll help with your stress levels, but if you're going through a crisis and really don't have the time, it doesn't matter! There's far more urgent things to focus on right now than your exercise goals, just promise yourself you'll pick things back up once the crisis has passed.

5) Look after your mental health and ask for help if you need it. 

Chances are for a short time after the crisis has resolved, you'll really feel the affects of the high stress kicking in. This is down to adrenaline levels falling, leaving you feeling exhausted, drained and numb. If you feel like your mental health is beginning to suffer, seek help wherever it's available. 

Your employer or place of education may have a counselling service to help you talk things though or speak to your GP who may be able to refer you to a service that can help, such as bereavement counselling and a wide variety of support from social services. Asking for help doesn't mean you're weak and unable to cope, it means you're running low on resources and taking control of the situation!

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