I am convinced that one of our missions in life is to learn what we need to become better versions of ourselves. That is why we find ourselves in situations we don’t have the tools to handle. When we don’t know what to do with the circumstances and the associated emotions, we are presented with a learning opportunity.
Many times, I’ve found myself in situations where I feel lost, not knowing what to do or where to start. They are mostly life changing situations, events that demand us to make life defining decisions, even though we don’t even understand what is really going on.
For some people is the loss of a loved one, for others is losing a job, or being in a car accident, victim of an assault, a break up, a divorce, immigration, or any other situation we perceive as traumatic.
In a situation like that, we tend to overthink and focus only on that specific situation. We start feeling anxious about how are we going to get through it, and maybe, at the same time, sad or guilty (or both) about what’s happening. We question our decisions, “Why did I do that?” Or, “Why didn’t I do this?” We think on the “should haves”, “could haves” and “would haves”, and then we blame ourselves and give the situation or people involved, the power to impact our self-confidence and self-esteem.
We start making decisions for the wrong reasons, thinking about what others would say, what should I’d be doing, or what others have done in this situation. So we make decisions, applying for jobs that we are not trained for or that we don’t like at all, after losing our job or moving to another country, only because “I should be working”, or studying a specific career just because what we really like to do wouldn’t be approved by our parents, our spouse, our friends, etc. We also compare ourselves to others, generalizing and taking the situation out of context.
Yes, it is easier said than done. Generally, those situations come full of negative emotions. Fear of the future, fear of failure, or success, sadness for the past, for our losses, sometimes regrets or guilt, and anxiety. At this point, you are probably thinking how are you supposed to deal with all the emotions and understand what do you need to learn from the situation all at the same time? How do you do that?
Here are some strategies that can help you to manage a difficult time in life and go through it in a more productive and less painful way.
- Know yourself. You are not your situation. Pause and reflect on who are you aside from the situation, what do you like, what don’t you like, what do you want and what don’t you want, what could you accept and what couldn’t you accept.
- Respect yourself. Once you know who you are and what your boundaries are, act accordingly. Always think, how what you are about to do will impact your life, will it take you closer to where you want to be or to the person you want to become?
- Be compassionate with yourself. Understand what your contribution to the situation is by being objective, and then, instead of beating yourself up, chose forgiveness, and decide what you can do different next time. Instead of being your worst judge, learn from your mistakes and try again in a different way.
- Check reality. When you feel like you are not enough, like you are a failure, or like you are just too afraid to try, ask yourself what is the evidence of that and who says that? If the answer is that there is no evidence or that you are the only person saying that, you will be able to look at yourself and the situation from a different perspective.
- Be in the present. Despair and depression usually come from looking at the past, and anxiety comes from focusing on the future and what is going to happen. When we focus on the past we relive the painful situation over and over and beat ourselves up about it. When we focus on the future, we worry about something that we don’t even know is going to happen, feeling all the emotions we would feel in a situation like that. While we are focusing on the past or on the future we are missing what is going on in the present, with its good and not so good things, we are not really living our lives.
- Be grateful. We are not programmed to feel two opposite emotions (happiness and sadness, or anxiety and calm) at the same time. When you are grateful you are focusing on the positive aspects of your life, making impossible for anxiousness or sadness to appear. Practice gratefulness as many times a day you can, especially when you start feeling the negative emotions.
- Think before acting. Is very difficult to be objective in an intense emotional state. We become impulsive, mostly to stop suffering and find a quick solution to our problems. There is a saying that goes: “Never quit on a bad day”. Avoid making important decisions on emotionally charged times, think before acting.
- Do what you have to do. If you want to see results you need to do the work. Be clear on your goals. Then commit yourself to do what you have to do every day, focus only on what you need to do at the present moment, knowing that the next day, week or month you will also do what you need to do until you accomplish your goal, until you are on the other side of the difficult situation. The best way to move forward is to make sure you take each step.
I would like to leave you with a popular story about a little bird learning to fly. One day, it was time to open his wings and fly, but he was really scared. He asked Mom, “What if I fall?”
His Mom answered, “But, what if you fly?”
So, I ask you: What if you fly?