Life is like a roller coaster. There are a lot of ups and a lot of downs. Sometimes you’re on a flat track, moving along at an even pace, and other times you feel like things have come to a screeching halt.
It’s the downhill moments when we feel the ride of life coming to a stop where we all need a little extra support and guidance. Maybe that moment is a loss of a job, a new diagnosis, a family member who’s become ill, or maybe the weight of life just feels heavy.
While some of these obstacles we face are far out of control, we can control how we respond to different situations. By improving our ability to navigate the tough times, we learn how to live a more joyful life and grow as people.
10 Ways to Help Get Through the Tough Times
Here are a few ways to get through the tough times and come out stronger.
Feel Your Feelings
Feeling your feelings is one of the most important and helpful things you can do to help you get through the tough times. All too often, our first reaction is to push away our feelings or pretend they don’t exist. But because feelings are still there, affecting your mind and body, avoiding them actually makes it worse.
When you acknowledge and learn to accept your feelings for what they are, you reduce the impact they have on you. The following steps can help you feel your feelings:
- Acknowledge the right feelings
It’s easy to lean into the first feeling that pops up, but it’s usually not the one that’s affecting us most. Take the time to figure out what feeling feelings are really impacting you. Things like free writing and identifying your “go-to” feelings can help you get to the root of your emotional state.
- Feel it
Now that you’ve identified what you are actually feeling, take the time and allow yourself to feel it. A few ways you can do this are by sitting with it, expressing it through art, and talking or journaling about it. While this will look different for everyone, prepare yourself for a good cry or the need to get some air after.
- Practice regularly and set limits
This is not a one-and-done thing. Feeling your feelings is a regular practice that takes time to get used to. Be intentional about setting aside time to process your feelings. Be careful not to turn it into a pity party. Set a time limit so it doesn’t consume your entire day or longer.
2. Everything is Temporary
Remember that everything is temporary, including how you feel mentally and physically. Some weeks are more difficult than others, and just like the weather, it changes with every season. Researchers have found that people aren’t good at forecasting their feelings during difficult situations. It is easy to get consumed by your feelings and think that you will always feel this way. But you won’t. What you feel right now will eventually change. Hold on to hope that you will heal.
3. You are Bigger Than Your Problems
As challenging as circumstances may be, they do not define who you are. You are not your chronic illness, job, bank statement or anything that’s happened to you. Who you are is beyond any external measure.
To help overcome your problems, avoid putting a label on yourself and casting yourself as a victim. It’s not your obstacles that define you, but who you are and what you decide to do in the face of them.
4. It’s OK Not to Feel OK
It’s easy to believe everything needs to be OK all the time when we live in a culture that is constantly flashing others highlight reels. Often times we are caught up in excessive positivity, also known as “toxic positivity”, where negative emotions are dismissed and we receive false reassurances rather than the empathy we need.
All emotions are real and need to be validated. Denying, minizing and masking difficult or negative emotions doesn’t make them go away. It only buries them further under the rug until they start to express themselves in unhealthy and destrctive ways.
Negative emotions are hard to face, and they need to be. Give yourself permission to let your guard down and stop pretending to be strong or that everything is OK. Emotions that aren’t owned, own you. Honor your feelings and give yourself the space you need to let things not be OK all the time.
5. Practice Self Care
Self-care is one of the first things we let go of when we hit obstacles. Maybe you have high demands at work so you decide to neglect your normal self-care routine to dedicate those hours to your job. Maybe you have a family member who needs help, so you allocate all your spare time to assist them. But as a result, your symptoms and mental health start to get worse.
But you can’t pour from an empty cup. Contrary to popular opinion, it’s during the difficult times we actually need to increase self-care and make it a priority in our daily lives.
Look at your schedule and identify some time every day you can practice self-care. Again, remember to start small. If all you have is 5 minutes before you go to bed at night to take a few deep breaths, that’s better than nothing. Self-care doesn’t need to be extravagant and time-consuming. It just needs to work. Here are a few simple ideas to get you started:
- Eat your favorite meal
- Listen to your favorite song
- Get outside
- Read for 5 minutes
Self-care is an investment in yourself. As you start to implement more self-care, you will start to see improvements in both your mental and physical health.
6. Learn to Live in Duality
Life is not black or white. It’s black, white and a lot of gray. When you can learn to accept that there’s some gray space in life, you can experience much more peace.
Here are some examples of living in duality:
- I am sad and I’m grateful
- I am in pain and I’m okay
- I am working towards my goals and I’m allowing my body to rest
Fighting certain feelings, usually negative ones, can cause internal conflicts and make them worse. When you learn to make space for everything and give yourself time to process it, it actually gets easier.
7. Move Your Body
When you have a chronic illness and are feeling down, the last thing you may be thinking about is exercise. But research shows that exercise can actually make you happier in the long term. When you exercise, it increases the production of chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, adrenaline, and endocannabinoid. These chemicals are all associated with feeling happy and confident while reducing levels of stress, anxiety, and physical pain.
If you’re feeling down and exercise seems too far out of reach, you may need to push yourself a little harder to get moving. Instead of trying to run a marathon, start slow and pick a movement that you enjoy and is easy on your joints and muscles. Activities like walking and yoga can be modified to meet your needs. Even just 10 minutes of movement a few days a week can make a big impact.
8. Be Gentle With Yourself
When things are tough we don’t function at our best. Energy is down, memory can get off, sleep is disrupted, even digestion can get a little wacky, Nothing is close to our “normal”. This is because most of our mental, physical and emotional energy is going towards whatever difficulty we are facing.
To make it easier on yourself, it’s vital to actually listen to your body. Do you need more sleep? Are you hungry? Do you need some R&R? Does it need more movement? Listen, then give your body what it’s asking for.
You may find you need to take a few things off your plate to balance your needs and obstacle, and that’s OK. Remember, you are not defined by outside measures, including your level of productivity. Time off is productive. Try to reframe the things you are doing to take better care of yourself as accomplishments. Be proud of taking care of you.
9. Practice Gratitude
Gratitude is a practice that’s been around for centuries and it’s scientifically proven to work. It means showing appreciation for what you do have and feeling motivated to return kindness. By practicing gratitude, you take the focus off the things going wrong and put the focus on the things that are going right.
This doesn’t mean things can’t go wrong, because they can and they will. It simply means putting emphasis on the positive things. Practicing gratitude is as simple as writing down 2-3 things that are going well. When you going through a hard time with a particular situation, it can be helpful to practice gratitude around it.
10. Reflect on How Far You’ve Come
We often get focused on the road ahead that we forget how far we’ve actually come. Take some time to look back to see the road you’ve already traveled. While it sometimes might not seem like we’ve come too far, all progress is progress no matter how small.
Try not to judge yourself or feel like you should have been further along. Failing to acknowledge how far you’ve come can rob you of joy, pride, and feelings of self-worth. Instead, acknowledge the small wins and give yourself credit where credit is due.
If you have trouble seeing your progress, try asking a friend or loved one who has been by your side and has seen what you’ve experienced. Positive reinforcement can come from external sources, too.
Find Your Community
A burden shared is a burden lightened. Studies have shown that people with strong social connections and support systems are more resilient when faced with pressures of life, compared to those who don’t have a support system. While it’s easy to withdraw and isolate, we often connect far deeply through struggles than victories.
Reaching out to others during the tough times can lift you up and give you the support you need to continue to push through it. If you’re having a hard time finding that support system, know you are not alone. The PatientsLikeMe community is here for you. With thousands of members in the community, there is someone here who knows exactly what you are going through. Join the conversation today to find your community.