Cultivating Health During Crisis

CrisisSo often we associate the two together – health and crisis. You can’t blame us really. The headlines brim with the concept weekly. Newscasts run their stock video of obese or frail forms walking down a city street. I have something else in mind here, however – inspired by some friends and readers who I’ve talked to lately. Their stories run a gamut of scenarios from cancer diagnoses to divorce, personal loss to geographic moves to name just a few. The underlying commonality of them all, of course, is major life challenge and/or transition. Upheaval of this magnitude has a way of knocking us out of our orbits. Emotionally disoriented and fatigued, we can feel out of sync, stuck in an oddly passive or at least awkward pattern. Life can feel like it’s happening around us. Even our routines can feel foreign as we navigate days with an unusual detachment. So often we talk about crisis as something solved outside ourselves. We turn ourselves over to a team of physicians and specialists in a health crisis. In times of loss or transition, we access resources, including – again – professionals. While I wholeheartedly believe in availing oneself of every benefit possible, I think something else critical gets lost in shuffle. How do we care for ourselves during crisis?

If you stopped people on the street and asked them, for example, what would get them through a divorce, you’d get a lot of references to Ben & Jerry’s. If you asked about how they would take care of themselves if they lost a loved one, I think you’d get a lot of blank stares. (Do any of us really know before it happens?) If it was a question of job loss or unexpected relocation, I think a lot of people would poo-poo it altogether. Get over it and get back on the horse kind of thing. That’s fine and well until you consider, for example, that research has linked job loss with a surge in serious physical and mental health risk. According to one study, losing your job can put a person at an over 80% higher risk of serious, stress-related conditions like heart disease, diabetes or arthritis. The fact is, from a physiological and psychological perspective, transition often equals trauma, regardless of how our intellects would like to see it.

Reflecting on the aforementioned stories of friends and readers, I’ve been thinking lately about what it means to cultivate health in the face of acute stress. So often we talk about the impact of everyday, run-of-the-mill stress and calmly assure folks that sitting in traffic activates the same hormonal response that legitimate evolutionary challenges elicited. Even on a low grade level, these effects layer themselves over time and wreak major havoc over the long term. We need to learn to “manage” those everyday influences and learn to put it all in perspective. But what about living with the real deal – the undeniable pain of losing a spouse, of watching a child go through cancer treatment, of seeing your whole life and the lives of your children upended by divorce? Where’s the guidance beyond the pat “time heals all wounds” suggestion? What would Grok and his kin do during their own variations of these events?

The resources that people I talked to found were of the most vague nature possible. “Eat a balanced diet, exercise daily and talk to your doctor if symptoms of depression worsen or persist beyond a few weeks.” I know I have my surly side, but is that even worth the paper it’s printed on? Is it just me imagining Grok picking up a rock and hurling it at the person who would say this? While we don’t live with the same communal narratives or customary rituals that may have governed crises and transition in traditional society, we can be thoughtful about what our basic needs and responses are in these scenarios and make choices that address the elementally – primally – human character. I hope those of you who have been through these situations and can suggest relevant groups, books, web communities/sites, and personal tips will offer them in the comment section, but let me lay out a some primally inspired thoughts on caring for yourself and cultivating health in the face of acute stress. Some points will speak more to medical issues and others to personal crisis. In both cases, modern “efficiency” thinking can lose sight of what is inherently human.

Follow the basics – but retool them as necessary.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least mention the basic principles of primal health. The fact is, they matter at least tenfold when you’re undergoing intensive, long-term stress. Crisis can suck us into a powerful undertow of fatigue and inertia. The same routine might not be possible, but in that case revise your fitness efforts instead of relinquish them outright. Keep up with low-level movement, and find something more relaxing like at home body weight exercises if the gym becomes too overwhelming. When it comes to diet, avoid the sugar-serotonin trap. Stay the course with a Primal eating plan, but simplify it as need be. If there are only a handful of things you can make yourself eat, do those. Incorporate a natural fat- and protein-rich shake, and keep up with (or upgrade) a nutritional supplement if you’re not able to eat as diverse a diet. Likewise, try to avoid muffling the physiological messages your body wants to send with the likes of caffeine, alcohol, etc. Emotional stress, for example, takes a physical toll and will tire you out. Medical treatments can do the same. When we buy into the message that we should be able to fulfill all of our normal responsibilities while processing our current crisis, we’re setting ourselves up for a bigger malfunction down the road. Forget the enticement to load up on caffeine to make it through each day. Go easy on medications that encourage skating over deeper issues that should be addressed or that offer a false sense of physical ability or ease. I’m not suggesting making yourself suffer needlessly or refusing anything that can genuinely help move through a difficult time, but I think artificial means allow us to deny our needs in many cases – needs that will eventually catch up with us, be it ample sleep or psychological processing.

Counter the medicalized sensation.

I’ve known a lot of people who have gone through invasive or otherwise grueling procedures and treatments only to say the hardest thing to shake wasn’t the physical effects but the mental sensation of being a medical specimen. It’s not the fault of any physician or specialist per se. Everyone is doing his/her job, which tends to be pretty technically focused in the modern medical arena. We can in many respects be grateful for their expertise. That said, these people’s experiences are fully legitimate responses. The “medicalized” feeling, as one friend put it, was the most traumatic part of her illness. What effectively counters this varies for everyone, but recognizing it (if it’s part of your experience) is a step. While Grok may not have had any deft surgeons on hand, there is something to the myths and healing cultures of traditional societies that preserve a psychic “intactness.” I’m not suggesting anyone forgo modern medical know-how to go chase down a medicine man, but understanding that standard medical practice isn’t going to meet all your needs at this time can be freeing. Take advantage of support groups, relevant readings/writing, art or music therapy (sometimes offered at hospitals) and the support of a therapist.

Give yourself the gift of a retreat.

Let’s face it. When you’re sick or grieving, sometimes others’ constant checking in (as generous-hearted as it is) can wear on you. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to get away. A friend of mine took an especially long retreat after her mother died many years ago. It was the biggest help to her and the catalyst for healing, as she puts it. Don’t think about what others in your life will think or how much they’ll worry. As long as there’s no medical reason you shouldn’t, give yourself the time away to reflect in peace on your experience or to escape it entirely. The point isn’t so much where you go but that you have the time to yourself and use it intentionally for your well-being. Furthermore, don’t stop at one. Make it a regular part of your routine even if it can only be for a day at a time.

Spend as much time in nature as possible.

The psychological as well as physiological benefits of nature speak for themselves, but they may have deeper impact when we’re most vulnerable. The mental and physical pain involved in crises can keep us locked into ourselves and our stories. Giving yourself time in wilderness outside of the realm of human distraction puts you in the center of something that can dwarf your experience. For many people, this offers the ultimate – and sometimes only – substantial release.

Prioritize sensory experience.

Following emotionally traumatic events or experiences, some people experience issues with sensory integration. They may be hypersensitive to sensory stimulation like noise, bright lights or crowds. Others experience a “flatness” that can feel impenetrable. Consider investing in pleasant sensory experience with everything from time in water (e.g. hot baths, swimming/floating) or a sauna, massage and other therapeutic body work/spa treatment, music, and hours in calm, visually pleasing environments.

Consider meditation or other centering and restorative practices.

Crisis – whether it’s our direct experience or being a primary caretaker for one who’s in crisis (e.g. parent of a child with life-threatening or other serious condition, caretaker to a spouse with significant illness or disability) so easily co-opts our minds and can overtake our thinking every waking moment. Meditative practices help us counter this surge. Yet, we have to embrace times when we can detach from the experience. Even in the midst of crisis, we’re still living an overarching life and not a single event. While we often can’t find much comfort in the thought of the future, being in a particular moment exactly as it is can be freeing. Maybe it’s sitting (or breathing) with and accepting the dark feelings sometimes, but it can also be asking yourself “Is the worst happening right now in this moment?” You’re not having surgery in every moment. You’re not in a court of law in the present moment. When we can make the choice to come back to what is happening at this particular moment in time (even if it’s a few minutes), we can get out of the traumatized feeling and into sensory reality again. The more time we spend there, the more sanity and healing – inward and outward – we’ll find.

Thanks for reading today, everyone. I’ll be interested in reading the thoughts you have on cultivating well-being during acutely stressful times. Share your experiences and thoughts. Have a great week, everybody.

About the Author

Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.

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66 thoughts on “Cultivating Health During Crisis”

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  1. Coincidentally enough I started my Primal journey just as I lost my job! I found that it kept me positive until another came along.

  2. As I go through a divorce the best things I can do for myself is 1) to continue my primal lifestyle and 2) accept help from others. This a not a time for complete independence and self sufficiency. Saying yes to help will help me heal.

  3. Another wonderfully timely post, Mark. As someone who has been experiencing an emotional loss for the past two months, I’m working every day to become stronger and more positive. It’s only been in the past few days that I’ve been able to truly accept the fact that the anxious thoughts and depression I am feeling is really only happening within my mind, and not what is actually happening to me. Reminding myself of this frequently is enabling my to form a more positive and optimistic view of the future.

  4. Mark, you keeping hitting the nail on the head and getting out articles that I can only conclude are touching so many of us on multiple levels. (((Mark)))

  5. The value of ritual is huge. Attending Church, singing the liturgy and hymns, receiving the Eucharist, praying with this “tribe” of people to whom our lives have been connected and who share our burdens and joys. It’s healing all by itself. And the mere force of habit makes it doable even when one can’t
    “think” one’s self through it.

  6. THIS IS ONE THING YOU SHOULD INCLUDE IN ANY DISASTER PLANS YOU MAY MAKE: how to maintain (or semi-maintain) a Paleo/Primal diet and lifestyle in the face of whatever disaster you may be prone to…hurricanes, tornadoes, floods, earthquakes, or just the power going out for a few days. Disasters far worse than divorce, unemployment, or death of a loved one.

    One day, you may wake up, go to work, and suddenly find your house gone from fire or flood. What do you do now?

    One night, you may get a knock on the door from a rescue worker telling you to evacuate NOW. What do you do?

    Do you have a plan of where to meet, what to eat, where to safely sleep, how to get to/in contact with work, relatives, etc.?

    So many Paleo/Primal foods are non-perishable, and can be included in an emergency food supply, and that food supply can be stored off-site (in a rented storage facility somewhere across town), or even at the nearest relative’s garage, basement, or attic.

    Also, do you have provisions for your pet(s)?

    Survival comes before the relative luxury of feel-good aspects and relative comfort. If you end up retreating to a campground, wilderness, or beach in tents or makeshift shelter, chances are you’re going to have parts of the lifestyle happen as a matter of course: gathering firewood, foraging, hunting, plenty of chances for movement, lifting, carrying, hanging, jumping, running, etc.

    Next time you go camping, use it as a trial run–pretend something apocalyptic happened back home, and there will be no going back (until thew end of your trip). All you have to live on is what you brought with you. How are you going to exist with no access to power or modern conveniences?

    Think Tom Hanks in the movie Cast Away, or Gilligan’s island.

    When you get back, I guarantee there will be some modifications made to what you thought was “essential”, and you emergency preparations list will change for the better. Then and only then can you consider cultivating health–once you have cultivated survival. You have to be ALIVE to be healthy!

    1. A real example is Alexander Selkirk, who the book Robinson Crusoe is believed to be inspired by. He was marooned on an island for four years and chased down goats.

  7. Very timely and very helpful post; thank you.

    A year ago when a normal part of my life became very stressful, I went to a counselor for help… and wow, did she help! Her observations and insights, offered in a very supportive and nonjudgmental context, helped me address not only that specific situation, but allowed me to see how it was part of a pattern in my life. That has allowed me to head off similar stressful situations from developing.

    In the US, seeing a psychologist often carries a stigma, which is extremely unfortunate. A counseling psychologist such as the one who helped me can be invaluable for getting through crises; and it’s no indicator of weakness to seek help from such professionals.

  8. Have to agree with the getting out in nature. There’s something about feeling connected to something much grander that can really repattern my thoughts and attitude.

    I got a few secluded hikin spots and lookouts just for that!

  9. Thanks for this. I’ve been debating making a major move, but it could easily be postponed. I knew it would add some stress for a while, but I had not really considered how much and how I already have some health stressors and other issues that I am working through and how much the move would pile on this. This really helps, a reminder to add in the effect of personal stress and trauma.

  10. This is a very timely post for me– my sister had a major stroke in February, completely out of the blue as she is relatively young & very health-conscious. Helping with her care has been physically taxing (it is devilishly hard to sleep in a hospital!) but the emotional stress is worse, especially since I have a general tendency toward anxiety. Meditation has been absolutely key for me. I have a few mantras that can stave off a downward spiral & give me strength when I need it most.

    I confess I’ve definitely gone down the too-much-caffeine road, though. It’s all too tempting after 2-3 hours sleep! But I know I really need to work on that.

  11. Found out yesterday that my company has sold and that I’m facing major upheavals in the next months. Very timely post for me, because I have a tendency to give up all my good habits when I’m stressed out.

  12. I haven’t gone through trauma like Mark talks about but I went through a huge change after my son was born. The huge responsibility of putting this other person in front of your own self and needs does take a toll on you. I don’t think I am eating that well as I used to nor am I giving myself enough attention. I can tell that my health is not as good as it was a few months ago.
    But now that I have this knowledge I am determined to get back to being my old primal self. Sometimes all you have to do is wait for time to take its own course and have the faith in your self that you’ve done it once you can do it again.
    I think once you’ve taken control of your health it’s not that easy to let go of it.

  13. Taking care of and watching my father die was made twice as easy by staying on the Primal path. I ate perfectly and did my workouts, which I believe made the situation much more bearable.

  14. Cry. It’s very healing and I know to my detriment the results of not allowing oneself to do it.

    1. Yes, and allowing yourself to make sound (other than the socially acceptable talking of course). I really struggle with this.

      1. I like to make a screaming noise similar to the sound of an anteater. I feel like it vents stress. I rarely do it in public though. I have to be really psyched up for that. My favourite time for it is probably in a forest at the top of a tree.

        1. Making a noise is something blocked deep in my psyche, yet to find a way in with that.

          Life On Land – Emilie Conrad (Continuum) really demonstrates how important sound is to human health and wellness.

        2. Back during a time of extreme shyness and in the midst of a stressful relationship, I would hide in the ladies room or in my car. Obviously not ideal, but since I didn’t want to be heard even crying, I would take a deep breath and then slowly ease into a low resonating hum that matched the sound of the bathroom fan or the sound of the car’s engine.
          Yeah, OK, it sounds like I was doing a meditative “om”, but the feeling behind it was completely different. It was like crying with the entire body.
          Even nowadays during a crisis I’ll use this vocalizing and imagine all the pain and anguish filling me and then being vibrated out of my body, and it’s still surprisingly cathartic.
          (Singing helps, too.)

        3. Corinna, you are a ninja at crying. I wish I was equally able to emit sonic despair by paralleling environmental ambiance.

      2. Sound is really a great way to reduce pain and relieve stress, and even get to the deeper levels of emotional healing. Sound therapy or sound healing, sessions and training is what I have been doing professionally since 2001. Just gently groaning when in distress or pain can really help. You can read more about how it works on my website (there is nothing to buy there; just click on sound healing to read the how-it-works info.

        1. Thanks I’ll check it out.

          Corrina you’d resonate with Emilie Conrad’s Continuum as well!

          Unless in a congregation with everyone else singing that’s another one I ‘can’t’ do, even on my own!

  15. Just today I tried colour therapy and Bach flower remedies – I’m hoping they will help rebalance my thoughts while PB balances my body.

  16. This is all good advice.

    But then you get a recent study about one of the most debilitating conditions of the modern society – migraine – which showed that many patients with migraine syndrome get their head pain when “coming off stress”. (the let-down phenomenon)

    Specifically, 6-18 hours after stress patients were TWICE as likely to develop a migraine. Neurovasculature and hormonal interactions need so much more research.

  17. Maintaining my yoga class throughout the last few years has helped give me a couple of hours of calm twice a week amidst the turmoil in the rest of my life.

    I know I would have done better if I’d not slipped from opitmal eating so often or periodically dropping my piano lessons; I’ve yet to find a way of keeping them in place when life gets rocky emotionally.

    Mindfulness makes a massive difference, but is most effective if you are already regularly practicing, even just a few minutes a day when life is going well, when things fall apart it is more likely to remain in the rhythm of your day.

    Many times lately the advice of a biodynamics therapist has been pivotal, to remember ‘it’s not out there’, we create all our emotions, detaching ourselves from the ego driving this, even for a few minutes, can be more freeing and empowering than anything else.

    And of course there is Benjamin Zander’s great quote from The Art of Possibility (a must read) – Rule 6 – don’t take yourself so seriously.

  18. Love the post. I have been through several traumatic experiences- near death at the hands of nature- type. In one incident, I was amazed at how little people know about how to support someone fresh out of a trauma experience- this case near drowning. I more needed to be listened so I could digest my experience and come back to my body. Like Mark said, a lot of folks fell into the “gotta get back on the horse” syndrome. Well duh, but one also needs to sit with the experience and live in it for a bit. I gave deep tearful thanks to the creator for sparing my life. I believe everything happens for a reason. I needed to touch things, have a sensory experience, to know that I am still here on this beautiful planet. Many moments still felt like a dream. I needed to be alone, sit with nature, and just listen.

    In all the native cultures I have experienced, including the Bushman of Botswana, telling our story is crucial. To be truly listened to and not told what to do was paramount. Listeners might pull out more details through questions or ask for more details in areas that spark curiosity as they listen. The experiences we have are half of life. Telling our story makes it real and settles it into our longterm memory and shapes who we are. No wonder native cultures around the world put so much emphasis on the story of the day.

    The bushman were big on shaking off trauma, with their bodies. When a bird almost gets killed by a hawk, it will go to a protected spot to shake off the trauma. It has to continue on with feeding. The bushman made a regular routine of releasing trauma in group ceremonies. They also knew that if it carried on in the village, it would soon infect (like a disease) everyone. They actively (elders particularly) worked on releasing so health can return.

    I teach primal survival skills to hundreds of people a year, and a deep connection to nature is a theme that pulls people through hard times. The skills put our humanness in context of life, and build our confidence as we get more into the flow of life. This all helps us through hard times.

  19. Great post. My personal take is that rule of 80/20 is a dangerous one when applied to paleo diet, overall, not just moments of crisis.

    That’s because if you add a discontinuity point into your diet, chances are that you will veer off the track for good.

    We all know how grain carb foods are addictive.

    Just taking one off-limits food is like clicking a link on Wikipedia, only to wake up the next morning like Bradley Cooper on a bridge in “Limitless’, wondering how that one link led to spending all that time ‘researching’.

    Personally, I’ve found that Bulletproof Coffee (coffee with added butter) is a great way to build mezzanines full of energy to the daily moments when the will is at its weakest (like visiting a grocery store).

  20. This could not have come at a better time. I just lost my job and I’m 4 months pregnant, so it will be very difficult to find another job until after the baby arrives. I never planned on being unemployed for 5-6 months before baby arrives. It’s stressful and I know I need to be good to myself, now more than ever. I’m glad I have a good foundation, but I am attest- it is not easy dealing with the curve balls life throws you!

  21. Pregnancy was my traumatic experience, as I suffered through nonstop hyperemesis gravidarum (severe, excessive nausea and vomiting of pregnancy). If you suffer from that, I recommend community forums on Also, diclegis has recently been approved as a Level A drug for HG treatment. I vomited so much, which wasn’t even the worst part of it. The worst part of it was what all the relentless suffering did to my psyche; as a lifelong athlete, I had thought I knew what physical suffering was. HG showed me a whole new world. I gave birth to a bright, beautiful girl, who I was able to breastfeed successfully until she weaned herself, but I also dealt with post-traumatic stress disorder for about a year after my daughter’s birth. Once the nausea stopped with her birth, I could finally start piecing my life back together. I went for walks in the woods, got back on a primal eating style, and kept up meditation. The one positive about the whole experience is that now, having gone through all of that, I am tougher than hell. I also feel so intensely confident: If I can get through HG, I can get my PhD, I can lift that weight, I can do one more pull up, I can do whatever. The power comes from now seeing how much choice I have in my life. I never had choice with the nausea and vomiting; I choose everything I do now, even the uncomfortable things. When I have the choice, I have all the power and all the joy.

  22. Outstanding post. Thank you Mark.

    I especially support “giving yourself a retreat” even if it’s only to say “no” to others’ well intentioned demands.

    I was widowed 10 years ago at a relatively young age (51) and everybody and his brother knew what I should be doing with my time and energy and spared no expense in telling me about it. It took me quite a while to have the courage to tell them that while I appreciated their good intentions, I needed to reinvent myself by myself, as myself, not into what they thought I should be.

    Lost some friends over it, but gained some wonderful new ones who support me for who I am.

  23. As somebody in middle age going through a somewhat unexpected divorce with two small kids, I can testify how crazy and stressful divorce is. When my spouse said she wanted to leave me in early January, first I lost 15 lbs because I had no appetite and could hardly sleep. Maybe I would not sleep for 2 days, then I would finally crash on the third night. It’s easy to say get good sleep but if you are so wound up and stressed that you cannot, you’ll be a wreck and I was.

    After physically separating in February, I then gained 10 lbs back and was not primal. I got better and began cutting back some junk from my diet and have stabilized. I do realize a connection between what I eat and how I feel but you are so stressed and out of control it is not something you readily feel able to counter.

    Although things are relatively cordial between my Ex, if for no other reason than spousal stress is very bad for kids, there is unavoidable conflict. It is very expensive too. You see your net worth halved, if not more. You have unavoidable expenses to set up two households, you argue over stuff you probably should not argue over.

    Seeing a therapist is outstanding advice. Also talk to whomever will listen, get your unofficial support group of friends. If somebody says come on over, do it because if you don’t they’ll think you’ll want to be alone and that can be traumatic after awhile.

    Finally, if going through a divorce read “Crazy Time” by Abigail Trafford and you’ll realize just how emotionally and physically debilitating divorce can be. The most rational, normal people may feel suicidal, angry, fearful, grieving, yet happy and liberated. Heck I’ve felt all those within a 24 hour period. It’s an emotional roller coaster the likes of which I’ve never felt before.

    1. Thanks for your post Jeff, your post means a lot to me at this point in my life.
      And thanks MDA, for yet again, posting excellent information and guidance, with a seemingly spooky talent for providing just what I need, at just the right time.

  24. Thank you, this is such an important topic, and such a sincere and humane treatment of it. I never cease to be amazed at the variety of topics MDA takes on, and takes on well.

    The only thing I would add is to lean on your social networks. Some people want to be alone during or after trauma, and if so they should follow that path. But most of us need at least a few people to lean on. Friends and family often don’t know how to help or whether to help, so you need to ask–for support, practical help, resources and recommendations, good conversation, or a big hug. The rule of thumb seems to be that some of your good friends will disappoint you (and others will come through beautifully), but others will come out of the woodwork and support you in ways you couldn’t have anticipated.

    I say all of this because my father died when I was a pre-teen. My mother’s only “mistake” was trying to handle everything on her own, being afraid to ask for help. This was too much for her, and left my sister and I without really knowing who we could turn to, or how to ask for help either. A lot of time has passed since then and many wounds have healed, but it’s left lasting damage to our family relationships.

  25. I lost my first (and at the time only) child two years ago. I did not realize for quite a long time afterwards how badly the shock and stress affected my body. I kept dancing and doing Crossfit, but started to gain weight and feel fatigued and weak at the joints. My already underactive thyroid got worse, and I had several early miscarriages. Finally, I went to an acupuncturist, who told me I had all the symptoms of adrenal fatigue. I learned that there is a time to push the body hard, and a time to be gentle. I took a break from the tough workouts, and did yoga instead. Eventually, I started to feel better, thanks to that and to acupuncture. My acupuncturist is also a crossfitter, so it helped that she understood it and could tell me when I was ready to go back. I highly recommend being sensitive to your body, and being gentle when necessary.

    1. +1 on the listening to your body! Emotional stress can take a HUGE toll on us, both mentally and physically. So very sorry to hear about your loss.

  26. I’ve been through many traumas, from tornadoes almost getting me to the death of both parents. At those times, I didn’t have a plan or a way to deal with what was happening. Years later I’m dealing with the psychological and physical trauma with EFT (meridian tapping), myofascial release and seeing my friends who were in my Therapeutic Coaching class for help un-creating, deleting and de-storying the past.

    As the saying goes, you either pay attention… or you pay with pain. I’m getting better at paying attention to where my body asks for attention via pain or twinges, paying attention to my intuition when it says take the carry-on bag, not the one you need to check, etc.

  27. Quite the timely post, Mark. Thank you! My 26 yo fiancé has recently began having symptoms of RA/gout.. not sure which the doc hasn’t made an official diagnosis yet. His uric acid and liver enzymes were elevated, though. also slightly anemic and low platelets. western sed rate was elevated but not CRP. and RA antibody was negative. hmmmm? He does have a hx of autoimmune UC. but the past few weeks… whatever this is has been pretty debilitating for him and especially at night. yet he refuses to stop eating crap… it’s been quite stressful for me and frustrating. It’s like I’m almost starting to resent him 🙁

  28. Though not trauma, my wife and I recently had our third child. Our children are ages 4, 2, and 2 months.

    With all of the joy children also bring stress and sleepless nights. I like to think that my primal diet and exercising has kept me from falling ill.

    Three years ago, before I went down the path of a primal diet, I would fall ill a few times a year at least.

    Now? Not so much. I’ve had a cold here and there, but nothing that’s flattened me like before.

    I would be one of the first to say that even if you aren’t getting much sleep you should try to keep to the primal ways, and exercise is still key, but maybe less so since you aren’t giving your body enough sleep to recover.

  29. Very timely post for me, too. I am about to get my BFA and will not only have to work very hard for that, but also prepare for my life after school – moving, getting a job, a studio, trying to build up my practice. Maybe not as bad as a divorce, grief or illness, but I am very bad with stress like this very definite deadline and the insecure future.

    I went primal last summer and haven’t ever felt better, it even seemed to have cured me of some minor depression/anxiety I used to have when under stress, but now I feel it looming again. Hopefully being strict with my priorities like good nutrition, yoga, plenty of sleep, sun and “me time” will get me through it.

    Some people don’t understand when I prioritize an evening at home and an early night over a gallery opening, a yoga class over a day in the studio, a day in the studio over a lecture. But one of the things I have had to learn was to put myself and my health first, not out of selfishness but out of self-preservation, and for the good of everyone around me. I am of no use to anyone when I am stressed out, tired and generally unhealthy.

  30. Great timing! I just came back from the doctor’s with the diagnosis of a torn ligament in my wrist, and wondering what to do about exercise as Crossfit is out of the question for a month.

    I was thinking of doing the elliptical at the gym, but this post saved me from that. I will do low level exercise in nature = take a walk outside in the mornings before work.

    Thank you for helping me figure this out!

  31. One of your best articles ever Mark and you have a lot of goods ones. In the span of a couple of months I went from a guy who was pretty ripped and active to suffering through some things that has had me in tears a few times (multiple issues but each minor compared to what many are going through). I’m going to print this and use it as a guideline to increase healing and gain back my former vitality. I do believe among Mark’s many good suggestions that for what I’m battling minimizing inflammation is one key strategy that I’m working to implement.

  32. I absolutely love reading your blogs. This one resonates with me in some way. Thank you

  33. Look for any positivity in the crisis. Focus on it.

    Learn simple breath meditation to stop the paralyzing thought train and let your body rest, it has to react chemically to every stressful thought. Learn the simplest method, the less appurtenance you need to make it work the more versatile it is. IE, if you need to chant, that limits where you can practice, so learn without if possible.

    If you can, take a 10-day retreat; offers them for what you can donate and they have a ride share page. The practice they teach connects you with how you and everything around you changes constantly, which can open possibilities you hadn’t thought of because you can become part of that flow of change as opposed to resisting it. It’s not religious or anti-religion, just a mental health technique.

    If possible, go *live* out in nature, enjoy wild animals as neighbors instead of people, they are much more civilised and aware. Having a raven acknowledge you with a few caws as it wheels in the sky is the universe acknowledging you. Look on Craigslist for “cabin” or “cottage” and “rural” and rent a place. See if it isn’t long before you start spending more time there and less in town.

  34. If you stand by a spouse or loved one through a long illness, you may think you are coping to some degree. But, after the inevitable death, expect to be hit – and hit harder than you can ever imagine. There will be serious physical ramifications to this. The term heartbreak will have new meaning. I mean your actual physical heart will ache. Grief is a genuine disability, physical as well as emotional, no matter how strong you are. Learn to manage it as such.
    Here are my suggestions, for what they are worth (and, of course, it’s not a case of one solution for everyone):
    Expect a physical blow to your health that will take a lot of work to overcome. Lean on animals and nature. Animals will sense your grief and they offer sincere humble consolation. If you are religious, pray. It may be the only thing that pulls you through the worst of it. If you live near a great cathedral, I recommend it as a hiding place, where no one will disturb you.
    Nature, wild animals and solitude have immense healing power. So does sleep. And pay attention to your dreams, as you may get consolation there.
    You will no doubt be blindsided by grief at the most inopportune moments. Just learn to escape quickly from such situations and don’t berate yourself. You’re only human.
    Finally, a word of wisdom from my piano teacher, who himself lost a young daughter in an auto accident. He told me, “Don’t listen to people who tell you that you will get over it. You won’t.” That may sound harsh but, oddly, it was the one piece of advice that really helped me. No, you won’t get over it….but in time you will heal.

    1. I love what you wrote. And your piano teacher is right. You never “get over” a death like that. It forever changes you.

    2. Thank you for your post. I’m in the caregiving stage right now. As exhausted as I am, I can’t quite wrap my head around how I will feel when my husband dies. It helps to have some idea of what to expect.

      1. Sonya, there is one thing I want to tell you that you may or may not have heard. If and when your husband falls into a remote, non-communicative state, he can, in all probability, still hear you. I asked the professional hospice nurse if my husband could hear me when he became completely paralyzed, vision gone, totally unable to show expression or speak. She said: “Yes, hearing is the last sense to go. He can still hear you. He’s either still in his body or somewhere in the room.” This is from a no-nonsense R.N. with decades of hospice experience. (Ask nurses.They know.) And indeed when she instructed him to answer, by blinking, my three final questions about his last wishes, he blinked slowly in response, once for yes and twice for no. Despite your very deep undeniable exhaustion, do talk or whisper to your husband at that point, it will ease you both through the final departure. I hope that, whatever your beliefs, you will later look for messages, both in dreams and waking life. You, and only you, will recognize them. They may come at any time in the first year. Please write them down. May the angels stand beside you. Hold on tight. Know that you are not alone.

  35. I became paleo a few years after a bad cancer diagnosis at 39. I can say with all seriousness that denial and magical thinking have done the most to keep me on an even keel. Far more than any experience I’ve ever had with therapy or meditation. My other mainstays are friendships and general optimism. The optimism might be genetic, but the others can be practiced.

  36. When my best friend was diagnosed with breast cancer I felt helpless – she said “we were not going to do crying” i.e. She did not want to be sad with me. So in the end I made up lots of very small organic meat stews for her and filled her freezer. So on days when she had some appetite, a perfect little paleo meal could just be popped in the micro. I felt I was doing something positive and she had the benefit of good nutrition when she wasn’t strong enough to cook.

    We also talked a lot of happier times and spend a lot of time in beautiful local municipal gardens to get as near as nature in an urban context. She is still my best friend 5 years later and going stong, thank goodness.

  37. Great post, thank you! Another suggestion is to keep warm. I have found that in times of crisis – emotional or physical, I give myself permission to increase the heat in my house (if it’s winter of course). I dress in extra layers and when I feel warm, it tends to make me feel better and more “safe”.
    In the summer, I turn off the A/C and let the natural warmth soak into the house. It can be very comforting.

  38. All the tips here are great. I try to go to the gym and listen to music. When something traumatic happens like losing a job or getting a divorce so much emotional energy is used on that problem. One really has to be disciplined at redirecting that energy on to something healthy.

  39. Thanks Mark – this article is perfect timing for me. With the crappy economy, I had my teaching position eliminated at the end of the 2009, 2012, and 2013 school years in three successive districts. The 2013 one was a complete shock – we were already planning for the following year when the district came in and ran rough-shod over our school. And it happened three weeks after my miscarriage of a much wanted later-in-life first pregnancy. I have not gotten back on an even keel since then. My current teaching position has not been a good match, and it’s been a struggle all year to deal with it as well as all of the lingering other stuff. And I’ve just found out this week that I won’t be able to continue in my current position because of a variety of reasons. So now I’m job hunting again, and possibly facing moving again as well. I just hate everything right now. I think I need to print this article in large font, laminate it, and put it up in my living room so I see it every day. Thanks again!

  40. Welp, that’s one right in the feelers. In a good way. My marriage is in crisis mode right now, and anything to help me keep an even keel is a spectacular help. I’ve found that refined sugars and alcohol are horrible tar pits for my mood, and ability to cope with intense emotions. Being primal has allowed me to be in tune with how my body (including the brain) and psyche react to what I eat, and I know it’s helping me stay sane and stable right now.

  41. Wow, perfect timing. After losing my mother 2 months ago, all my old, bad habits were starting to kick in, as “coping mechanisms.”
    Time to really care for myself again, (the primal way) and thx for all the great suggestions on how to do that. I think humming and pranayama will be very helpful to me. I also think I need to re-start my journaling, which I’ve found in the past to be a good way to connect with what I’m really thinking/feeling.

  42. Thank you, Mark. Just in time.
    I’m going through the pains of a mutually agreed upon break up with a sweet guy – we’re just going different ways. Nature seems to be the only place I can find relief.

    I’m glad you mentioned the section of Prioritizing Sensory Experiences. Six months ago I moved out of my family’s home after more than a decade in a disturbing and dangerous situation. Shortly after moving across the country to live with friends I was diagnosed with PTSD and have since been in therapy. This is the first I’ve heard much on the subject of sensory overload. All I knew is that I was experiencing some serious sensory overload. I could not handle crowds or parties, couldn’t bear to go to the movies (vivid nightmares), couldn’t take loud noises or too much bright light (save for sunlight). I was also constantly exhausted and easily slept 10-12 hours per night. I am doing better, but still find that I crave extensive time in the outdoors to settle myself, and need at least 9 hours of sleep to take on the day because I gave up caffeine.

  43. Mark I think you have a great post here. As a cancer survivor, you have covered most of my list. I will re-iterate some and maybe add a couple. Exercise but not to exhaustion. Mindful mediation. Music, singing, dancing. Walks in nature or sitting in nature if you can’t walk. Gardening and cooking up your beautiful vegetables to nourish you. Naps in the sunshine. Lunch with friends where you talk about things other than cancer (or divorce or death or whatever your stressor is). Water – sitting on a beach, a lake, listening to a fountain or waterfall or the rain. And my most important healing action was a true vacation outside of my climate and culture. I was wrapped up in my little world of cancer and hospitals and work and a good vacation gave me new hope and a new perspective.

  44. I know that there are times in my life where God carried me through a crisis. For those of you who also believe in God… cast your burdens upon him, for he cares for you.

  45. This article coincidentally came out as I was also writing about the same topic on my blog – a form of my own therapy. I have been trying to conceive for many months, requiring mutliple fertility treatments and IVF. I ginally got pregnant, but then I had a miscarriage. Talk about an emotional and physical (hormonal) rollercoaster! Blogging and journaling has helped me to reframe, I’ve taken a step back from my normal high intensity training and have gone back to basics – walking and yoga and swinging a kettlebell whenever I feel like it. And I’m trying to eat as well as possible (with a few primal treats thrown in, the hardest part for me). So far, after a week of shock and feeling very crappy, I am feeling much more happy and accepting of the situation.

  46. Thank you for this, Mark. I was diagnosed with cancer a couple of weeks ago and in the whirlwind of doctors, tests, forms, insurance, etc., I was in denial. After all, my cancer was caught incredibly early and hasn’t spread yet, so I told myself (and loved ones) that I don’t REALLY have cancer. Your post helped me accept that my “cut it out and move on” mentality isn’t the best for my recovery or long term health. I didn’t want cancer to define me, but I also don’t want to fail to optimize my recovery and the rest of my life.

  47. Great post! I definitely like the idea of getting nearer to nature. It’s can be much easier to meditate in the environment and help you through your stress.

    Even at places like the beach where it can be noisy when it is crowded. The noise is pleasant and seems distant as part of your mind in a dream state.

    Keep up the great work!


    The Inspirator

  48. As someone that has struggled with declining health after losing my brother in a tragic accident almost 7 years ago, I have finally decided to regain control of my health and my life. I love reading your posts, great job, home run!