7 Ways To Cope With Challenges
Struggling with a difficult situation?
May 4, 2021, brought me to my knees quite literally. I had a traumatic experience that onset nightly panic attacks for three months. Every night, I would experience sudden terror that resulted in uncontrollable shaking, body chills, and the repeated thought that I was slipping into a psychosis that I would never come back from.
I barely ate. I couldn’t sleep because my feelings of dread would consume me.
I stayed awake until daylight, when I would finally pass out from exhaustion. I would wake to a state of sadness and depression that everything I had worked for, a career I loved, a family who loved and supported me, enriching friendships, and the most fulfilling romantic love I had ever experienced was slipping away. There was nothing I could do about it. But I found a few ways to help me through this time.
Here’s how I did it, and how you can too:
1.Talk to yourself as if you are your friend.
When you experience a challenge, the ability to think about your experience as if you were a fair and reliable friend who listened to the situation with an open mind can help you think more rationally when you’re beginning to feel overwhelmed. Pretending it’s a friend you care about instead of you makes it less likely that you put yourself down or let yourself off the hook when you need to hold yourself accountable.
When I was going through that tough time, I beat myself up when I was already down. I would tell myself I should be stronger and more independent when I needed support from my closest people. But would I never tell my best friend she needed to be stronger and more independent when she is barely holding onto her sanity? Hell no! I wouldn’t. I would tell her how much I loved her and was there for her.
You have to talk to yourself like you would a close friend going through a tough time.
To practice this technique, first, recall a recent challenge you had. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, remember a time when you received disappointing news.
Now reimagine the challenging event from a friend’s perspective.
The BEST question you can ask yourself while practicing being your friend is:
- What would I say to my friend who was experiencing this challenging event?
Keep practicing viewing the challenge from the perspective of a trustworthy friend. Try to notice how your language changes when you speak to a friend versus talking to yourself.
2. Recall your strength.
Another technique that can help you better handle stress is to remind yourself of challenges you’ve overcome in that past or that challenges are temporary.
For example, you might tell yourself that “I’ve felt like I wasn’t going to make it before, but I’m still here,” or “this too shall pass.”
The ability to think about a tough time you pulled through helps you get through current difficult moments. It can keep you encouraged during a flood of emotions caused by painful circumstances. So next time you are in the midst of a hard time, try to look back on how far you’ve come in your life, even though it hasn’t been easy.
Start by recalling a recent stressful event. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, remember when you lost someone or something you loved. Now, remember the emotions you felt and the thoughts you had at the time. Ask yourself these questions:
- What feelings did I feel during that time?
- What helped comfort me during that time?
- How did I heal from that time?
- How did I feel once I recovered from that time?
The ability to laugh in stressful or difficult situations helps us feel some relief and generate positive emotions, even when there is nothing in our situation to create positive feelings for us. Laughter is truly some of the best medicine available to us, and it’s free.
How do you find humor in sorrow? I like to remember funny experiences I’ve had or turn on a romantic comedy.
You might remind yourself of something that made you laugh or smile. Or, you might call a friend who makes you laugh or turn on a comedy special.
Be creative and think of anything that would make you feel better during the challenging moment that doesn’t involve something self-destructive, like having sex with your toxic ex, drinking too much, or binge eating.
4. Find the lesson.
Finding the lesson requires openness and introspection. For example, you might say that the lesson of a complicated relationship is that you learn what you don’t want and what doesn’t work for you. But you might also say that the benefit of an easy relationship is that you learn what you want and value in a partner.
I know that it can be hard to find the lesson at first during challenging experiences. But the more you practice, the easier it will get. Start by spending a few minutes thinking about the lessons you learned because of a negative experience. Try to find at least one meaningful lesson. Ask yourself these questions to brainstorm:
- What did you learn as a result of your experience?
- What advice would you give to a friend in a similar situation?
- How did you grow and develop as a result of this situation?
- What are you thankful for about the experience?
My challenging moment taught me that I am still worthy of love even when I don’t feel like I am. It showed me how much love and support I truly have. And it showed me that love— like most gifts— is something you have to choose to accept even when you don’t feel deserving of it. Our feelings don’t determine our choices; we do.
Love— like most gifts— is something you have to choose to accept even when you don’t feel deserving of it.Arielle Davis
It wasn’t an easy choice when I decided to start taking antidepressants. It made me feel weak, different, and ashamed. I spent so much time suffering unnecessarily. I thought by taking medication, I was admitting to myself and everyone else that I could no longer handle my life on my own. And the truth was, I couldn’t. When I decided to go on medication, I had so many questions like:
- Would I become a numb shell of myself?
- Would I gain weight?
- Would my libido slow down, or would I still be able to have orgasms?
I knew who I was without medication, but I had no idea who I was with it. I found out that I was less obsessed with worries, less socially anxious, and had easier access to calm with medication. Medication isn’t for everyone, but it would be inauthentic and a disservice to dismiss how much it helped me. It gave me the life back that I had been losing over the last three months, and I am grateful I trusted myself enough to start taking it.
Prayer honestly could have number two on my list, but I buried it in the middle, so those of you working through religious trauma wouldn’t immediately click off. So let me make myself clear and concise. I am not religious, but I am spiritual, and I pray. PRAYER SAVED ME when I lay awake a night, unable to calm myself enough to fall asleep during my mental health crisis. It brought emotional, mental, and physical calm when my mind challenged me the most, and it still does.
I am in a loving, committed, honest, and secure relationship with God (the Universe), angels (benevolent light beings), spirit guides (helpful souls), my ancestors (those who have come before me), and myself (god in one finite form).
But who I pray shouldn’t be important to you. It is my relationship with the Divine.
In that same way, I don’t care who you pray to, how long you do it, or what you say. The only thing that matters to me about your prayers is that they are helpful to you. If prayer helps bring you comfort, hope, peace, resilience, or calm, then pray. It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks. It’s your mind, body, and spirit; choose the tools that work for YOU.
7. Start opening up to yourself.
Talking about painful experiences with anyone is hard, even if you’re having that conversation with yourself.
In life, many things will make you feel like you’ll be drowned by your pain, never to resurface again. Life can be so overwhelmingly painful that we avoid processing things that threaten to cause us more pain. We don’t acknowledge how we truly feel because the fear of emotional overwhelm or falling apart seems too scary.
But this kind of avoidance can be dangerous because the emotions never get resolved. Instead, they hide like a monster in your mental closet, ready to jump out and take you at any moment. If you don’t address your challenging emotions, they never go away, and you carry them with you wherever you go. You can’t run from yourself. Ever heard the saying, “Wherever you go, there you are.” It’s a book title by a mindfulness author named Jon Kabat-Zinn, and it’s true. You can’t escape yourself.
Wherever you go, there you are.Jon Kabat-Zinn
When you’re carrying a bunch of unresolved feelings with you, it’s going to be hard to hold yourself together under the weight of all your emotional baggage when life throws a new disaster bag your way.
So if you are the type to avoid feeling uncomfortable, you are making life harder for yourself.
You have to start opening up to yourself about how you truly feel, so you can begin to heal the parts of yourself that feel the most wounded and vulnerable. Once you start to heal these parts through self-compassion, nurture, and understanding, your life will become less painful, and you can deal with one challenge at a time instead of your whole life’s trauma in one tough moment.
Eventually, you’ll be able to improve all of your relationships by teaching people how to love and help heal you because you’ve learned to love and heal yourself.
All of these techniques will empower you when life brings you to your knees with unexpected challenges so that the pain you experience is not in vain but an opportunity to transform into a stronger and more empowered you.
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