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Self-care on Survival Mode

Survival Mode. It seems to no longer be a “mode”, but more a way of life for most of us these days. We are stretched too thin – running from one event to the next while juggling 10 things at the same time. Throw kids into the mix and surviving the day can feel like an accomplishment.

So, what are you doing to manage the stress? It's important to take a look at your habits and tendencies to understand how you are REALLY coping with life.

Do you run to the gym to burn off that stress or run to the pantry for chips or a bottle of wine?

Do you talk with a friend or spouse about the craziness or do you store it all up and try to “Keep Calm and Carry On” – until you can’t – then completely lose it on your spouse or kids?

Emotions, like stress, worry, and anxiety, don't stay buried long. They manifest themselves in our behavior. Without examining these behaviors, say why you yelled at your kid or just found yourself staring at the bottom of a tub of ice cream, we blow through our days completely unaware of why we act the way we do. It takes mindfulness to be able to step back and realize that you got upset this morning because your jeans you haven't worn a few months are now too tight and that made you feel shame, which triggered that snarky comment to your husband later (not that this has ever happened to me...).

When we are barely getting by - simply surviving - mindfulness is hard, but not impossible. Here are four behaviors you can work on that science has proven can help with both your mental and physical health.

1. Sleep better

Research is super clear here. Sleep affects our mood, weight, and overall health. Most of us need 7-8 hour a night. Less than 7 is generally too little and more than 10 is too much. And, sleeping in on the weekends really doesn’t make up for what you miss during the week.


  • Having trouble going to sleep? You’ve probably told your kids this rule, but disobeyed it yourself: no screens an hour before bed. Also, avoid caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol several hours before bed. For me, I can’t have caffeine after about 4 PM or I have a hard time falling asleep.

  • Create an ideal sleep space. Make it cool and dark in your bedroom and keep the lights low as you are getting ready for bed.

  • Adopt a bedtime routine to help train your brain that it is time to relax and go to sleep.

  • Still having trouble? Consider trialing a time-release melatonin, but not until you’ve talked to your doctor first. It isn’t for everyone, but can be a big help for some.

2. Exercise

No, it isn’t easy. Yes, it is hard to stick with. BUT, exercise is a game changer. It has tremendous impacts on mood – fighting hard against depression. But, also it can have some major benefits for your gut! I can definitely tell that exercise has a major impact on my mental health and IBS symptoms.

Ever heard of the gut microbiome or microbiota? Essentially it is the collection of all bacteria and microorganisms in your gut. A recently published scientific review found that exercise can actually change your gut microbiota and result in positive health outcomes.


  • First and foremost, find a routine you can stick with. Too many people take on extreme exercise program (or wake-up times) to “get in shape” only to abandon them after a few weeks or months. Find something you enjoy and can see yourself doing long-term.

  • Have an exercise buddy! If you can afford a trainer, awesome, if not, make a deal with a friend. You both show up to exercise together. Knowing you’ve got someone waiting means you are more likely to show up!

  • Don’t feel like it is the gym or bust! There are some great, no-equipment-required online exercise programs. I personally love because there are a ton of workouts and you can search by time, level, type, equipment, etc.

  • If you are concerned about your health or ability, check with a physician first. It is never a bad idea.

  • Mix it up! You are more likely to get bored if you do the same thing every day. I do mix of HIIT workouts, cardio, strength training, and yoga every week to keep it interesting.

3. Meditate

Maybe you are pretty spiritual or earthy-crunchy and you’re like “no kidding”. But, chances are, you are like most of the western world, and you’re thinking “I don’t have time for that” OR “yeah, tried it a couple of times and I must not have done it right”. Whatever your thoughts to date, you can’t argue with the science that shows meditation is good for your health – including gut health.

Meditation is a practice that engages your mind and body. There are lots of ways to do it, but generally involves four key things: a quiet place with few distractions, a comfortable position, something to focus your mind on, and releasing distracting thoughts.

Christian meditation and Eastern techniques generally take different approaches. Eastern techniques focus on emptying the mind and being present. Christian meditation is more about filling your mind with the knowledge of the presence of God.

There are tons of resources out there – these are just a few.

  • Reimagining the Examen app on iTunes. This is prayerful meditation. I love this app and use it several times a week.

  • Headspace app and website. This is not “spiritually” focused, but intended for anyone. I’ve tried it and liked it as a mid-day practice. You can try it for free then subscribe through their app or website.

  • Centering prayer is another Christian-based meditative prayer.

  • Calm app. Similar to headspace and great for anyone. Also, it is a subscription service.

4. Eat and Drink Well

The food we eat (and how much we eat) has a dramatic effect on our mood and health. If we are nourishing our bodies well then, before long, the effects will be felt and seen. If you have IBS or IBD, eating a low FODMAP diet can improve your gut symptoms, anxiety, depression, and fatigue.

Even if you aren’t ready to go all out on the low FODMAP diet, cutting back on processed carbs (particularly wheat if you have IBS or IBD) and adding in healthy fats like avocado or olive oil (not coconut – we can argue about that another day) can improve your mood and reduce fatigue. Use avocado oil anytime you are cooking at a high temp and olive oil for dressings or any cooking that involves low heat.

Staying hydrated is important in stress and in grief. It’s easy to be worried about other things that you forget to drink water. This is particularly important, as many people mistake thirst for hunger and end up snacking when they really just need a water. Also, alcohol is dehydrating and decreases your inhibitions (you’ve probably figured that one out), which means it can also make you more likely to overeat. It is also a depressant, so, while some people use it to “take the edge off” or relax, more than a drink or two can actually make you feel worse.


  • Sign-up for a free FODMAP Fix webinar to see which low FODMAP diet program is right for you.

  • Download the Monash University FODMAP app.

  • Buy a nice, insulated water bottle and keep it with you wherever you go to remind yourself to drink that water!

  • Skip the cocktail and opt for a sparkling water spritzer with your favorite “sparkle water” as my family calls it and some added lemon or lime juice and a tiny dash of salt.

  • Need a salty snack? Opt for these yummy crunchy baked carrots instead. Like I tell my kids…try it, you just might like it.






Eswaran S, Chey WD, Jackson K, Pillai S, Chey SW, Han-Markey T. A diet low in fermentable oligo-, di-, and monosaccharides and polyols improves quality of life and reduces activity impairment in patients with irritable bowel syndrome and diarrhea. Clinical Gastroenterology and Hepatology. 2017;15(12):1899.

Staudacher HM, Irving PM, Lomer MC, Whelan K. The challenges of control groups, placebos and blinding in clinical trials of dietary interventions. Proc Nutr Soc. 2017;76(3):203-212.

Harvie RM, Chisholm AW, Bisanz JE, et al. Long-term irritable bowel syndrome symptom control with reintroduction of selected FODMAPs. World J of Gastro. 2017;23(25):4632.

Pedersen N, Vegh Z, Burisch J, et al. Ehealth monitoring in irritable bowel syndrome patients treated with low fermentable oligo-, di-, mono-saccharides and polyols diet. World J of Gastro. 2014;20(21):6680.

Pedersen N, Andersen NN, Végh Z, et al. Ehealth: Low FODMAP diet vs lactobacillus rhamnosus GG in irritable bowel syndrome. World J of Gastro. 2014;20(43):16215.

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