A Compass in Turbulent Times: Staying Healthy & Productive When Difficulty Strikes

Life comes with its ups and downs. But what do you do when the downs keep heading towards you in unmanageable waves? It’s not just a matter of sink or swim.

How you choose to stay afloat can make all the difference in the long-run.

Many people tend to feel a little low at the close of the year, but underneath all the jolly fa-la-la’s and hopeful resolutions, there seems to be an unusually persistent and growing discontent among Americans of all stripes. And that raises the following question: how does one stay as healthy and productive as possible when in the midst of a distressful situation- especially when the circumstances cannot be so easily or quickly changed?

When it comes to the mental and physical well-being of the average American, things aren’t looking so rosy these days. According to a recent study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a staggering eleven percent of Americans aged 12 years and over take antidepressant medication. Other recent studies have linked poor mental and physical health to mortgage delinquency, long-term unemployment, and even the quality of employment-all of which have become headlines in the lives of millions of Americans. For these people, insecurity and disorder have become the status quo.

With so many out of work and lacking job security, with countless people facing mid-life career changes, the dwindling value of personal assets, and the rising costs of just about everything, it’s no surprise that so many Americans seem to be suffering from depression, anxiety, and other stress-related ailments.

If you find yourself caught up in a personal whirlwind- whether you are a recent college graduate struggling to find work, a seasoned worker in a weakening industry, or someone who is facing an unexpected financial crisis- mustering up the resilience to be able to ride out the storm is vital, but can be a challenge. Here are three essential points to help you navigate those turbulent times:

1. Don’t solely rely on quick-fix, band-aid solutions. In periods of economic difficulty and depression, businesses that offer cheap pleasures, such as candy, alcoholic beverages, cosmetics, and fast food, all experience an uptick in sales. The reason behind this is not so hard to grasp: when stress is high, people tend to reach for a quick and easy pick-me-up that won’t leave a sinkhole in their wallets.

While these kinds of crutches can be beneficial since they can offer a temporary “breather” from all the gloom and doom, they need to be used with moderation. Most people are aware of the negative consequences of binging on alcohol or junk food, and for those who may be turning to medication as a quick fix solution, the negative side effects of taking antidepressant medication over the long-term have been well-documented.

Clearly, you need to have additional tools in your toolbox to help you cope with any distressful feelings and keep you focused on what’s important.

2. Your support system is vital. Perhaps the biggest and most effective tool out there for dealing with difficulty is the network of people you choose to surround yourself with. This includes close friends, family, mentors, a life coach, and where necessary a qualified professional, such as a psychologist. Not only can these people offer physical assistance and clarifying information, but they can be a wellspring of inspiration and emotional support.

Close friends in particular can be a powerful factor in fighting illness, depression, and anxiety. There have been several studies examining the relationship between friendship and one’s health and well-being. A study conducted in 2006 of almost 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times as likely to die from the disease as women with 10 or more friends. In a study of 736 middle-age Swedish men followed over the course of six years, attachment to a single person didn’t appear to affect the risk of developing heart ailments, but having friendships did.

Recent reports, such as The Strength of Internet Ties by the Pew Institute, and work by Dr. Paul Zak at the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies, also suggest that those involved in online social networks will experience similar benefits to their health and well-being.

3. Stay as physically balanced as possible. One of the best ways to to give yourself the space, clarity, and strength to cope with a distressful situation is to make an effort to eat and sleep properly and get some exercise. Though this may seem self-evident, often a person’s physical needs are the first to be sacrificed when stress levels and discomfort increase. At such times, there is a tendency for extremes even among people who are generally mentally and physically healthy: some just can’t eat, others turn to over-eating or binging on junk food; some people can’t sleep, while others can’t get out of bed; some people feel like they just can’t move, while others can’t seem to get rid of their restless energy.

Not only should you try your best to maintain your normal, daily routine (if it was balanced to begin with), but you should make an effort to avoid exorbitant amounts of junk food, caffeine, alcohol and refined sugars that are low in nutritional value and high in calories.

In short, when life gets distressful, your ability to cope will to a large extent depend on a combination of balance, self awareness, and a network of social support; it will be your trusty compass in turbulent times.