Everyone faces difficulties from time to time.  It’s a natural part of the cycle of life.  Just like we can’t really know hot without knowing cold, we can’t really know the good times if we don’t know bad times.  Sometimes the difficulties we face in life come from situations out of our control, and other times our difficulties are a direct consequence of the decisions we make.

In life, we cannot change events or their outcome.  We can, however, choose the emotion and meaning we attach to them.  It’s like the saying goes “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react”.  Our brains are designed to store information and then, at every single second of every day, when new information is received, our brains search for a reference memory to lay the foundation for our response.  Think about it, this is why if you have a bad experience on a roller coaster or eating a certain food, for the rest of your life you have an automatic impulse reaction whenever you come across them.

We have to retrain ourselves to see the positive in even the most challenging times.

Am I Still Breathing?

Sometimes the best we can do is breathe.  During overwhelmingly difficult times, our stress levels rise, our breathing gets shallow, and our body’s natural rhythm gets all out of whack.  At these times it’s essential to stop and ask yourself, ‘am I breathing?’.  If you are then, hey, you live to fight another day.  If you find yourself highly stressed out, take 10 minutes, find a quiet space, and just breathe deeply.  Diaphragmayic breathing has been shown to lower stress levels and helps relax your automatic nervous system.  One of the keys to staying positive is to be relaxed, and making sure you’re breathing correctly is the best way to start.

What Is My Part In This?

Notice this said your ‘part’, not your ‘fault’.  There’s a huge distinction in these two words.  One is acknowledging and accepting your responsibility for your current situation, the other is self-defeating and simply assigns blame.  Focusing on your part instead of just casting blame reduces the challenge you’re facing to a more manageable size.

What Is In My Control?

When life feels completely overwhelming, we often lose sight of those things we can change.  Assess your situation honestly, and look for those things you can control.  This will help you to feel more centered, more focused, and assist you in being able to tackle the challenge.

What Is Out Of My Control?

Sometimes there’s things we just cannot control.  Whether it’s other people, mother nature, or just plain bad timing, no matter how much we want to, we cannot control everything.  Take time to look at your difficulty, identify the things that are out of your control, and then let them go.  Too often we view the totality of our difficulties and it is overwhelming.  Being able to segregate what you can and cannot control makes the problem smaller, your stress levels lower, and often the path to the solution much clearer.

What Is My Emotional State?

Making decisions when we’re overcome with the emotions that are inherent in difficult times is about the worst thing we can do.  We’re more likely to make poor choices when we’re in the wrong emotional state.  Being able to recognize that we’re not ‘of our right mind’ in the middle of our trials allows us to stop, breathe, and get ourselves in a better emotional state, allowing us to make better decisions.  When we make better decisions, we’re more likely to feel better about our circumstances because it gives us a sense of empowerment.

What Is The Most Important Thing I Can Do Right Now?

Sometimes the best thing we can do is nothing.  Sometimes the best thing we can do is make a phone call.  Focusing on and doing the best thing you can do right now when in the midst of difficult times helps center you and relax your nervous system.  It also increases our confidence in ourselves that yes, we can weather this storm.  Progress is progress, no matter how small, and progress towards resolving a difficult situation will boost your self-esteem.

What Can I Learn From This?

With every difficulty comes a lesson.  As crazy as it sounds, if we can see even the smallest lesson, the smallest purpose in the trial we’re facing, it gives it positive value.  It also gives us an outcome to move towards, whether it’s improved health, more stability in finances, or fixing a broken relationship.  Suffering without purpose leads to a feeling of helplessness.  Shift your belief from “Why me?” to “What can I learn from this?” turns the challenge from just a random happenstance of bad luck into a problem to be solved.

Am I Taking Care Of Myself?

There’s an abundance of evidence that stress wreaks havoc on our physical health.  There’s also abundant evidence that our physical health directly impacts our mental health.  When challenges arise, the most common things we do are eat less, sleep less, and get less physical activity.  Overwhelming challenges have a tendency to cause us to completely shut down.  Don’t.  Sacrificing your physical health isn’t going to make the challenge go away any faster and may actually make the challenge worse because now you’re a physical wreck.  Maintain a normal sleep schedule.  Eat healthy.  Stay hydrated.  Get some physical activity.  Maintaining your physical state is a key to maintaining your mental and emotional states.

What Are My Choices?

Make a list.  Write them down.  Weigh the pros and cons.  Creating a list of choices brings clarity to the path we need to take to overcome the difficulty.  It also helps us realize that we actually have choices, which is a big thing when we feel powerless.

Will This Matter 5 Years From Now?

Don’t sweat the small stuff… and really, 95% of our difficulties are all small stuff.  Looking into the future and thinking about whether or not the current difficulty will matter 5 years from now often brings it into perspective.  We’re naturally oriented to turn molehills into mountains and imagine the worst possible outcome to every challenge.  If you’re having difficulty with this, try to think of a difficult time you faced 5 years ago that you thought was the ‘end of the world’.  Very few difficulties have the kind of impact that resonates through time.  Take heart and have faith that what you are facing now isn’t as bad as you’re imagining it to be.

Challenges and difficulties are a natural part of life.  We can stop from feeling overwhelmed by finding and focusing on the positive in our lives.

Featured photo credit: Geralt via pixabay.com

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