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Overcoming Crisis With Resiliency

Overcoming Crisis with Resiliency
By Alex N. Sabo, MD - Published in the Berkshire Eagle, August 3, 2015

The world can be a wonderful place. It can also be wildly unpredictable. In the midst of what seems to be a steady and happy period in life, an event suddenly happens that feels like a catastrophe. A good example is the loss of a job. Your adrenaline starts pumping as you consider the financial uncertainties ahead. Your heart beats faster. You feel sick, and wake up frequently at night worrying about the future.SABO, Alex.jpg

One third of the population can take this kind of punishment without a risk to their health. No matter how harshly life treats them, they can’t be broken. But for most of us, catastrophes that go on for too long can threaten our health and leave us vulnerable to illness. When faced with life’s misfortunes, we become pre-occupied with the immediate stress of the moment and neglect the basics that keep us healthy.

Yet, it is precisely during the most difficult periods of our lives that we must take time for self-care. Attention to sleep, exercise, and good nutrition are all extremely important yet frequently overlooked when it feels like our world is falling apart. It’s always a good idea during a crisis to make a checklist that will remind you to drink enough water, eat something healthy, get a little exercise, and sleep on a daily basis.

In addition to the health basics, the following four steps are simple yet powerful ways to harness the inner strength and resiliency needed to recover from a major setback:

  • Be compassionate to your mind and body. Acknowledge what you are feeling and thinking. As people weather devastating situations, they need validation for their experience, the emotions they are feeling, and the serious life predicaments they must begin to solve. These feelings are normal.
  • Transform the catastrophe into a challenge.
  • Being resilient does not mean having the ability to tough it out on your own. Assemble a team of people who care about you and leverage their various skills to help solve the challenge. Your team can include family, friends, your church group, therapist or others. The importance of social bonding—spending time with supportive people — cannot be over-emphasized during a catastrophe.
  • Break the challenge into pieces. Some you can solve and some you cannot. Accept those that you can’t control and don’t waste time trying to change the impossible. Instead, work relentlessly and tenaciously on those you can control. This step is very important.

Sometimes, despite the best efforts to follow the principles of healthy coping, a pro-longed stress reaction can set in. Typically, it begins with the inability to sleep eight hours a night. You may begin to feel anxious and worried all the time. If this continues for two to eight weeks, you may lose your appetite, lose pleasure in the things that you once enjoyed, develop a persistently sad or irritable mood, and have poor concentration and fatigue. Depending on how severe the stress reaction, some may even begin to think that ending their life is the best or only option.

Please reach out for help from your physician, minister, pastor, rabbi or imam, therapist, local mental health agency, and others if you experience these symptoms. And just as important, help those you know are suffering through a crisis. A prolonged stress reaction which has evolved into a major depression is treatable by psychotherapy and/or medication. Help is available and things will get better.

Having resiliency will not make the catastrophes in life disappear. However, being resilient will help you weather the storm with your health intact, ready to face what comes next in life.

Alex N. Sabo, MD, is Chairman of the Berkshire Medical Center Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science

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