Last week I was on vacation. Kind of.
I was acting as single mom to two 12-year-old boys as my husband had returned home for work. We had the week mapped out with back-to-back day-trips and activities. We were all looking forward enjoying our last week in England.
Then, over the course of four days I received a torrent of unexpected news. Devastating, life-changing, agonizing, complicated, rewarding, exciting and much work-making are words I’d use to describe it. Oh, and stressful. Very. Very. Stressful.
It is easy in these circumstances to abandon our paleo ways as we seek to avert the crises, deal with the emotional fallout and keep things ‘business as usual’ for those that depend on us. I’ll admit for a while I was not paleo. At all.
I was madly thinking through options, calling in favors, paying people who had skills I didn’t, rearranging flights, sending out emails. I was in a different timezone to most of the people I was interacting with so I skipped sleep, ate poorly, and generally worked liked crazy to shake the modern-day tigers at my back. Meanwhile, my kids still wanted to do all the activities we’d planned. And so did I.
A streak of tigers
But after a couple of days, I stopped. I still had a whole bunch of decisions and challenges ahead of me, maybe for a very long time, but when another tiger joined the others that were after me (fortunately a very rare thing because they are solitary animals) in the form of a large business deal threatening to fall through, paleo-thinking kicked in.
What I was doing was unsustainable. A tiger either gets you pretty quick or you shake it off and calm down. We’re not designed to sustain super-high adrenaline levels indefinitely.
So when you’ve got a pack after you, outrunning them isn’t going to work. You need to employ strategies to sustain your physical and emotional energy over the short- and medium-term in order to survive.
I’d been in this situation once before when over the course of five days, I gave birth to premature twins, my husband lost his job and my father-in-law died. Back then, just about the only thing I felt secure about was that my foot was going to hit the floor ahead of the other one when I walked. Last week, I drew on this experience and added what I’d learned from my paleo pals over the past couple of years.
Here’s what got me back on an even keel, back to eating paleo, making constructive, well-thought out decisions and behaving as though nothing was wrong when it came to giving my kids a good time.
Paleo Crisis Tip #1: Stay healthy to have the energy to deal with your overwhelm.
While paleo eating is fundamental to our health, when life gets completely insane we often seek quick inputs of energy in the form of readily available, but ultimately unhealthy, carbohydrates. Maybe that’s acceptable to you, maybe not. Just don’t make it the norm especially after the first couple of days have passed or if you have issues arising from eating non-paleo that will cause you to handle your crisis less effectively.
Place paleo principles front and center – sleep, eat healthy, move. You may have a long road ahead of you. You need to stay well.
Paleo Crisis Tip #2: Feel the emotion.
Cry if you need to. We are ambivalent about everything we do and experience. All things, in fact, have an upside and a downside – births, deaths, money, everything.
We often need to grieve our losses in order embrace the gains in any given situation and thoughts that whir like screaming banshees can often be quietened if you give up to the sadness of the loss. Feel it, acknowledge it and move on.
Paleo Crisis Tip #3: Keep small, easy-to-keep routines in place.
Routines have a stabilizing and positive effect and give a semblance of normality amongst the madness. Floss your teeth, brush your hair, read that bedtime story. Maintain these mundane, everyday processes to provide structure and to ground you even when you feel like flying into the air like Dorothy and Toto in the tornado.
Paleo Crisis Tip #4: Be present in the moment.
Focus only on the task you are doing right now, even if it’s just making your bed. Don’t think of what you have to do next or after that. Stop your mind from going there when it strays.
When I had preemie babies and life seemed like running a marathon day after day on almost no sleep, I learned this technique and it never fails when life shifts to overwhelm. Concentrate on only the current activity.
Paleo Crisis Tip #5: Eat the same meals over and over.
Put them on autopilot. Put as little energy into thinking about food as possible. Prepare batches, crock pot them, freeze them. Make them nutritious and make them always available so you can just warm them through.
If you have the possibility of having people provide meals for you, tell them you eat meat and veg, fruit for dessert and that you avoid wheat and flour. That way, the majority of food you receive will be paleo-legit.
Paleo Crisis Tip #6: Do simple exercise.
Now is not the time to break your personal dead-lift record. Walk, use light weights. Keep your muscles working, aim for maintenance.
Alternatively, if it is your thing, do strenuous exercise. For some, throwing yourself into something is helpful to manage the pain but make sure you aren’t simply distracting yourself from the difficult emotional work of grief I mention in #2.
Paleo Crisis Tip #7: Create something.
I journal. As a writer this is a major way for me to process emotions, create order, formulate plans. We can resist creativity at any time but especially during crises. However, it can be enormously helpful if we go ahead and simply do it.
At this time, make your creative process light, short and regular. Don’t plan on writing a best-seller, just scribble for now. Or do a paint-by-numbers kit rather than your best attempt at the next Picasso.
If cooking is your thing, make something that takes a few minutes rather than a dish that requires a lot of preparation. That way, you create something and build a stock of nutritious food, a ‘two-fer’ – one of my favorite things.
Paleo Crisis Tip #8: Connect.
Skype is your friend. Mine, anyway. Talk to people around you – use conversation as an outlet for yourself to process your emotions, gain clarity, feel less alone, and as a way to gain advice and wisdom from others who have been where you are now. We evolved to connect as a life-supporting strategy. Use it.
Paleo Crisis #9: Drink water or herbal teas.
I know some paleo peeps don’t believe Paleolithic man drunk a lot of water and we don’t need much of it either but I’m rarely found without my trusty water bottle. (I have it by my side as I write this.) For me, water for the brain and body is like oil for any mechanical system. Everything just seems to work better when I’m well-hydrated.
Avoid or limit caffeine because of its dehydrating effects.
Paleo Crisis Tip #10: Detox.
I know it’s hard to even sit down for a second when we’re jumping around like crazy monkeys but this is so helpful. Use sauna, massage, meditation, yoga and other methods to calm yourself and get rid of toxins, especially if you have been eating non-paleo.
I recently learned about detox baths from Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride in her Gut And Psychology Syndrome Book and they are extraordinary. Relaxing, alkalinizing, they reduce swelling and pull toxins from the body. They help me sleep and avoid non-paleo habits.
Use 1 cup of epsom salts, bicarbonate of soda, or apple cider vinegar in a warm bath and soak.
Paleo Crisis Tip #11: Intermittently fast by skipping the odd meal.
There was a time when I thought missing meals was wrong. I sought out food just because I thought I should, even if I didn’t feel like it. But knowing that it is not only not wrong but appropriate to fast intermittently has given me a new perspective on not wanting to eat due to high stress or the lack of available food.
Now, I not only skip the occasional meal, I plan on it (usually breakfast) as it helps me stay on my paleo plan even during those times when life has gotten crazy.
Paleo Crisis Tip #12. Focus on the children.
I suspect if you have a tiresome, embarrassing, grumpy teenager this one won’t work for you. But if you don’t have one of those spending time with your kids is a great way to wind down, re-prioritize, see the good in the world when it feels mostly all bad. We continued with our vacation plans and it was the best thing for all of us. A child’s innocence and ability to be present in life is a wonderful thing and we can benefit from their glow at these times.
Paleo Crisis Tip #13. What’s your tip for surviving a crisis?
Crises are not fun. And, like buses (and tigers ), they sometimes all come along together. These are times when we often justify to ourselves that we have to do whatever we can to get through them and that means living in the non-paleo world.
I suggest that’s not only a wrong assumption but that it is counter-productive. With a few adjustments and a paleo focus we can stay on plan. And if we do, we will ultimately manage a difficult situation or three much better.
Do you have a tip for managing your way through a crisis? Tell us in the comments!
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