When you were little, you were probably scared of darkness, ghosts, or possibly your own parents. Now, when you’re a big human, your monster zoo hosts several brand new species, such as Loneliness, Failure, Loss, Worthlessness, or Insecurity.
When we face these beasts, we feel bad. Sometimes so bad that we are unable to feel anything else. Or at least it seems that way to us.
The emotions of pain and fear are quite overwhelming. They suck whatever shred of energy we have left out of us. However, the sensations in our body are not so much a direct response to the reality that surrounds us, rather than to the thoughts we create based on our own subjective judgments.
In other words, emotions are physical reactions of our body to what is happening in our mind. Our mind, on the other hand, is a house that receives and accommodates various inputs, pieces of information, or memories. Some of those we ignore so they simply pass and never come back. Some of them catch our attention, so we evaluate them and attribute them with a specific feeling. Some of them have been long-time residents and they can be either a source of positive emotions or utterly negative ones, which leave us feeling weak and defeated.
We are perfectly capable of controlling our mind but it is certainly not an easy task. Our ability to choose the thoughts and feelings we experience requires a good deal of strength. That is why, when our whole system is already affected by pain, we end up convinced that we’re entirely helpless.
If you can’t create energy with the assistance of your mind, you need to do it through your body first. When you look at your hand, you will see five fingers, which can serve as an easy mnemonic aid for remembering the five steps you need to take to refuel and power yourself.
Step one: Drink a big glass of pure or mineral water
I list this one at the top because it’s the easiest and fastest thing to do without too much thinking.
When you are thirsty, you’re already mildly dehydrated. However, even mild dehydration can affect your mood and your mental abilities. When you wake up tired in the morning, again it means you didn’t drink enough water.
Dehydration means we get less water and vital electrolytes in our body, through drinking, eating, and metabolism of nutrients, than what we lose in the form of urine, stool, sweat, or the breath we exhale. Electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, are minerals essential for our body to function properly. For example, they carry electrical impulses that activate muscles and nerve cells.
Advanced tip: If you believe you are dehydrated, go to a pharmacy and buy an electrolyte solution to dissolve in your glass of water. It’s a cheap and efficient way to feel better practically immediately.
Step two: Relax your body and breathe steadily for a few minutes
When the world is crushing you, it’s really difficult to strike the right yoga pose or think of some mindfulness techniques to appease your head. Most probably, your mind at that moment would be like: “Whatever. What does it matter? Who cares?!”
So simply sit comfortably or even lie down, and inhale and exhale slowly. The longer you can last, the better. But even a few minutes will make a difference since calm breathing means calm mind. On the contrary, when you’re stressed, your breathing is short and shallow, which causes a lower level of oxygen supply to your cells and in turn results in fatigue, anxiety, and muscle tension.
Advanced tip: Put a hand on your belly and try to breathe as if you wanted to inflate it like a balloon. When we engage our diaphragm rather than our chest, we promote the proper exchange of gasses: oxygen in / carbon dioxide out.
Step three: Eat a small nutritious meal
When you feel stressed, depressed, or anxious, eating may sound too challenging or even repulsive. Or it’s the exact opposite and you would prefer to infuse yourself with some soothing fat or sugar and not think of the consequences.
However, at this point food is merely a tool and you use it the same way you would swallow a medicine. You simply believe that it will make you feel better.
Except for oxygen and water, our body needs a range of important nutrients to work in the right way. These days, though, we are bombarded with new dietary recommendations every day, so for some people, it seems almost impossible to develop the right eating habits. But you’re in the state of emergency, so just go for anything that grows in nature — veggies, fruits, legumes, nuts, seeds — since they contain most of the nutrients and vitamins your body needs, and there’s little risk of consuming too much fat, sugar, or artificial, toxic additives.
Advanced tip: Very crucial nutrients are omega-3 fatty acids. They benefit most of our bodily processes, including the formation of new brain cells. They can be found in walnuts, chia seeds, flaxseeds, or some fish, such as salmon or tuna.
Step four: Go for a short walk on fresh air
This may sound like the hardest step of them all. You don’t want to move. Your mind hurts. Your body hurts. How on earth can you force yourself to get out of the building?
That’s why I mentioned the aid of checking your five fingers, so you can follow the steps without too much deliberation when in need. Physical exercise does use a part of our energy temporarily but in the long term, the effect is just the opposite. When we move, we teach our body to become more resistant.
When we train our muscles, the number of mitochondria in their cells increases. These cellular components are something like small “power plants” that use oxygen and nutrients to create energy. In simple terms, the more you exercise, the more efficient your body is in generating new energy even after you stop.
Advanced tip: Walking is the easiest form of exercise to get you started. If you wish to maximize its effects without investing too much extra effort, expose yourself to the sun (vitamin D!) and some greenery.
Step five: Go to bed early and sleep for at least 7 hours
Hmm, yet another “impossible” task? If it’s the case, then take a sleeping pill, because you have to sleep. Medicaments are always an extreme measure of last resort but sleep is so crucial for your mental health that if you need to choose between the two evils, go for the lesser one.
Hopefully, you can find other natural ways to put yourself to sleep, but you need to at least try. The mechanism of our body is very complex but at the same time very sophisticated. When we sleep, damaged cells are repaired, chemical messengers are released to make the body develop and grow, and the brain consolidates and stores new information. All in all, in most cases our body is able to restore and heal itself without any external help only if we give it a chance.
Advanced tip: The exact amount of sleep our body needs varies with age. Also, some people like to go to bed before 9 pm so they feel refreshed in the morning, some prefer sleeping until late in the morning. In the future, try to find the right pattern for you and stick to it. Together with proper hydration and nourishment, you will start your days as a strong and energized individual.
Even though these five steps may seem futile or hard to follow when you’re in the state of intense pain, they almost always work. They will not turn you into a new person right away but they will help you stabilize. Then, when you feel much stronger, you can start identifying which of your monsters tried to beat you this time.