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Early this year I found myself plunged into a personal crisis I could never have imagined, which derailed all my plans and put me deep in an emotional hole. At first I struggled and fought hard against what was happening, but there was nothing I could do to change the situation and I found myself in limbo; I could only wait and see how things would resolve. And in the meantime, in a state of trauma, with nothing as it should be, I just had to keep on getting up every day, living my life, and adulting the best I could in the circumstances.
My crisis is over now, and while I’d vastly prefer that it hadn’t happened, it’s easy to see small ways in which I, and my relationships, are stronger for living through it. Every time we survive against the odds, we realise we are stronger than we think. Eventually, we learn that nothing really has the power to harm us.
Real emotional maturity is how thoroughly you let yourself feel anything. Everything. Whatever comes. It is simply the knowing that the worst thing that could ever happen… is just a feeling at the end of the day. That’s it! A feeling. Imagine the very worst, the only thing bad about it is… how you would feel about it.Brianna Wiest, 101 Essays That Will Change The Way You Think
ELEVEN STRATEGIES FOR ENDURING A CRISIS
FOCUS ON YOUR OWN WELL-BEING
You can’t control other people but you can control you, and it’s so important to look after yourself, especially when things are wrong. When the hard stuff is over, you’re still going to be here, living your life, so you might as well work on yourself even if there’s nothing else you can improve right now. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep, regular exercise, and nutritious food, even if you’re not usually focused on these things.
Keep yourself distracted and stimulated, to reduce rumination on the problem and avoid sitting doing nothing. This might mean scheduling activities for yourself, reading more, seeing more friends, or whatever suits you.
Count small achievements, and know what makes you feel better in the short term. For me this is taking a shower, walking in nature, or putting on a playlist of upbeat music.
IDENTIFY YOUR FEELINGS AND YOUR NEEDS
If something is badly wrong in your life, if people are hurting you or you’re going through a loss, then it’s perfectly okay to feel bad. We all need things like peace, security, honesty from others, love, companionship, respect, acceptance, hope, and the list goes on. When these things go missing or are taken from us, it is natural that we are upset.
So don’t push your feelings away, but recognise them and accept them. Identify them, and identify the needs involved. Write them down. Perhaps you are angry because your need for honesty was trampled. Maybe you are sad because your need for love is not being met. Perhaps you are scared because change threatens your need for stability. Your needs are part of you. Love them and accept them.
Close your eyes and spend some time visualising what life would be like if this problem was resolved. Not just resolved, in fact, but perfectly healed and restored to a state of bliss. (In the case of a loss that cannot be restored, picture instead the total healing and peace for all involved that will follow with time.) Picture every detail of a perfect day. Write it all down. Then find three or four moments in that perfect day that really represent wholeness and bliss for you. Think of them often and anchor yourself in that positive vision.
NEUTRALISE NEGATIVE THOUGHTS
This is difficult. Seriously difficult. Our monkey minds just love to catastrophise, assume the worst, and dwell on our self-pity.
Check your thoughts for truth. It’s easy to imagine terrible things may be happening behind our backs, or that things will never be right again, or that we did something awful to deserve this or cause it. Replace these thoughts with realism. You don’t really know what’s happening behind your back – it may be bad or it may be good. You are enough just as you are. Other people’s actions are their responsibility, not yours. All things will pass, and one day in the future this won’t hurt any more. You did the best you could at the time. You will come out of this stronger.
Listen out for self-pity, then use ‘and’ to add a positive note. “I am lonely and I am okay.” “I am scared and I have hope.” “This hurts and I am working on healing.”
Catch repetitive thinking. Even when a thought is undeniably true, such as something someone did to hurt you, going over and over it in your head will only harm you, and become a habit. Tell yourself ‘stop’ – out loud if it helps. Replace these thoughts, too. Memorise a mantra or prayer and repeat it whenever you need to. Sing a happy song.
Keep checking and questioning your thoughts, and changing course each time they’re going the wrong way. You may not always succeed. Never quit.
“The best use of imagination is creativity. The worst use of imagination is anxiety.”Deepak Chopra
There are some things we can control in life, and some things we can’t. But boy, do we torment ourselves wishing we could control other people and the outcomes of all our situations.
All the fuss we make when we don’t get our way is simply down to our preferences. But what if it’s all a fuss about nothing? What if the universe knows best and has got everything planned out in our best interests? What if we were just able to go with the flow, without worrying, and trust that we’ll be okay? Wouldn’t that feel great?
Consider for a moment the possibility that what’s happening to you right now could actually turn out to be the best thing that’s ever happened to you. Imagine if it led to fantastic new opportunities, growth, connections and miracles in your life. Things might be dreadful right now, but the fact is life is always changing, and we never know how things are going to turn out until we get there.
In fact, nothing – no event, no person, no change – is inherently, irredeemably bad. It’s how we respond to it that makes it good or bad. One crucial thing you can control is your own responses.
“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”William Shakespeare
And since life is always changing, there’s not much to gain from resisting change and clinging to the past. Accepting the present as it is, one day at a time – even one moment at a time – will set you free. You’ve got to let go. And that might mean letting go of the way things were before, letting go of a person, letting go of your pride, letting go of your preferences or desires, letting go of control, letting go of the outcome.
“Attachment is the root of suffering.”Buddha
For me, a hugely helpful turning point was accepting that the past was gone, things had changed, and life would never go back to how it was before. Even in the best possible scenario, things would be different in future and important lessons would have been learned. When I realised that, I was able to stop looking back so much and live more in the present, with hope for the future again.
For a full lesson in letting go, read Awareness by Anthony de Mello or The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle.
FOCUS ON THE NOW
“Realise deeply that the present moment is all you ever have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”Eckhart Tolle
Yes, the past is gone and the future is unknown, and you can’t control either. So be present, and choose joy. Joy is something you can ONLY experience in the present moment. Take time to appreciate the details of your life, to see beauty, and to act consciously, with love and positivity. Stop focusing on what this moment lacks, and instead focus on what this moment contains.
“There’s only one reason why you’re not experiencing bliss at this present moment, and it’s because you’re thinking or focusing on what you don’t have.”Anthony de Mello
COUNT YOUR BLESSINGS
No matter what is wrong in your life, I bet there’s a whole lot right too. List all the things you’re grateful for: friends and family members, small comforts, practical facts, favourite items; big all-embracing things such as having a safe home and enough food and the sun coming up in the morning; tiny ordinary things that make life better, such as spoons and glue and feet. Or try a daily gratitude practice, writing down five things you’re thankful for each morning or night. You can’t feel thankfulness and suffering at the same time. Always be grateful.
“Gratitude is the solution to both anger and fear”Tony Robbins
Sure, right now things are terrible – it’s like a huge stinking pile of poop just got dumped all over your life. But poop is fertiliser. Poop leads to better growth. In fact, it’s often required for better growth. Every challenge teaches us. Every challenge makes us stronger. Although it doesn’t feel like it, this crisis is also an opportunity.
Nothing lasts forever and this situation will end eventually. While you wait, look for opportunities to grow and learn. Expect positive change, even if it’s not something you’d have chosen or thought of yourself.
“On the other side of adversity is a better version of yourself.”Hal Elrod
PURSUE PERSONAL GOALS
Do something for yourself, and preferably something off-topic. Move closer towards being the best you you can be. You’ll boost your self esteem, and become stronger and more ready for what comes after this crisis. This could be as simple and everyday as taking care of your figure and looks, learning some new recipes or ticking more titles off your reading list. Or it could be pursuing a brand new hobby or skill, or embarking on a project or bucket list experience. Setting goals at this time brings hope and personal growth, and can help you think more positively about the future.
We all need friends, and never more so than when life gets hard. Even when it’s tempting to shut yourself away alone with your self-pity, make the effort to spend time with close friends, and nurture those relationships. When we’re vulnerable with others, we often strengthen our bonds, and this is an opportunity for friendships to grow deeper.
As far as possible, choose people that ground you and bring positivity and strength to the table; a panicky, anxious, cynical or reckless friend, though they might mean well, is probably not the ideal person to hang out with right now. And make sure you ask for help if and when you need it. We can’t always do everything on our own, and that’s okay. We’re here for each other.
TURN TO THE DIVINE
The divine power, made of love, that created you wants good things for you always. Humans on earth have free will to hurt themselves and each other, but no matter what happens there is always something better ahead if we walk with him: he can use every tragedy and every crisis for his glory and our good. He is interested in every detail of our lives and wants to help. He wants us to talk to him, and bring him our needs and our requests. Draw near to him and he will draw near to you.
Praying continually was one method I used to drown out negative thoughts during my crisis. I also used YouVersion’s excellent free Bible App, which posts a daily Bible verse and short meditation, and the Big Life Devotional daily podcast, and God used these tools to speak to me and comfort me every single day.
WHAT ABOUT YOU?
Have you endured a crisis? Do you have any tips that might help others in a similar position?