Me: "Tell me about how the last couple days have been going."
Leader: describes chaos, endless decisions needing to be made, experiences of shock and disorientation, feelings of heartache and exhaustion, and experiences of adrenaline rushes
Me: Expressions of appreciation, and then, a few questions about how basic daily habits are going, including eating, sleeping, movement, and fellowship with housemates or close friends
Leader, many times: expression about how things have been far too chaotic or their have been far too many decisions to make to do any of that.
Me: Expressions of appreciation, then, gently: "So, when is the next time you will be having a meal with your family (or housemates, or friends)?"
The leader, at this point, often blinks at me, as reality registers: if they keep going at the same pace they have been going for the last few days, they honestly have no idea when they will spend regular time with their loved ones again. Or, exercise regularly. Or, sleep regularly. Or, eat regularly. Or, engage in hobbies again. I sometimes ask, "Does it feel like it might be six months or a year before you do that again?" The leader often nods, as they consider all the work and enormity of needs surrounding them.
Though doing so may feel counter intuitive, we have found that one of the most essential practices for becoming restored after disaster is to begin to implement nourishing routines, even if only in very little ways, as soon as possible. Without forcing or rushing, but rather incorporating them a step at a time sooner than later.
Here are some of the tips that we encourage our leaders to consider resuming, even within the first days after disaster:
- Drink water throughout the day.
- If you have to sit or stand for long periods of time, set an alarm to take a five minute walking break every hour. Within a week or two, try to incorporate ten-twenty min walks at least a few times per week, until you gradually can increase to or resume 30-60min of daily movement.
- Periodically stretch your body throughout the day.
- Give people in your home, or, if you live alone, at least one close family member or friend, at least ten-fifteen minutes of your time in which you do not talk about what's happened or how work is going. If you do not know what else to talk about, try asking them to simply tell you about other things that are going on in their life or the world beyond the disaster. Notice how your body feels after the conversation, and continue to foster conversation topics that give your spirit a bit of a lift. Continue to practice this daily routine, and consider incorporating a nourishing meal with it.
- Smile at people you love, reminding them and you that circumstances do not determine your love.
- Practice breathing slowly throughout the day.
- Eat foods that give you healthy energy, help you think clearly, and encourage your spirit.
These practices will not magically make things better. But you will notice, incrementally, that they help you feel some relief and take another step forward in a healthy way.
At the Institute, we often equate Long Term Recovery with training for a marathon or an extreme sport event. We consider the tips above to be like the water or supplement packets you would take along with you or would stop at a station to receive while you are training or completing the event. Long Term Recovery is a long haul. You will do well to consider what truly nourishes you along the way.