Hard times, whatever that means to you, are a common part of life. Developing coping skills can better help you get through them.
Maybe you’re experiencing a financial setback. Or someone you love might be facing a health challenge. Maybe you’ve lost your job, or an unhealthy relationship is weighing you down.
You might not be in complete control of these difficulties, but you have a choice in how they impact the way you feel.
Overcoming these challenges is possible. Mental health experts have offered 10 tips to cope with hard times:
If you’re facing a challenging time, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed.
“When faced with emotional pain or frustration, this can feel like you are going to be in it forever,” says Boston-based psychotherapist Angela Ficken. “That thought alone can increase the severity of emotions someone is feeling and make it worse.”
Reframing your perspective — seeing things from a new angle — can help you step away from this mindset.
“Whatever you’d say to your best friend, now say the same to yourself,” Ficken suggests. “An example of a reframe would be, ‘I know it feels like this will be forever, and I know logically it’s not. I have been through hard things before and came out OK. I know I will get through this, too.’”
“Emotions don’t go away if we ignore them. They come out later and in ways that we don’t quite understand,” explains Rachelle Heinemann, a mental health counselor in Brooklyn, New York. “The best thing to do when the going gets tough is to acknowledge your emotional experience and allow yourself to feel.”
Holding feelings in may make the situation more difficult to cope with in the long run, explains Donna Novak, PsyD, a clinical psychologist in Simi Valley, California.
“Let yourself feel all the emotions. Sadness, frustration, grief,” she suggests. “Allow yourself space to cry, hurt, and be upset.”
Feeling and expressing your emotions is an essential part of healing, says Jennifer Weaver-Breitenbecher, a clinical psychologist in Rhode Island.
“This isn’t a time to try and be strong; that’s a fallacy. Feeling the feelings is tough but imperative,” she says. “Allow yourself to grieve or process whatever is happening.”
Most difficult situations have a possible upside or a pending end date. For example, the last day of a tough school year.
Sam Bolin, a licensed clinical social worker in Linthicum Heights, Maryland, tells Psych Central that focusing on the future positives “is an effective strategy for individuals who are going through a hard time.”
Bolen recommends positive projection. This refers to focusing on the possible positive outcomes of a situation.
He suggests using guided meditation or general meditation for at least 5 minutes every day. While meditating, he says, try to focus on one or more desired outcomes for the situation.
A positive projection requires turning positive intention into words. For example:
- The survival rate for my illness is 85%, and if I follow my treatment plan, I can be in that group.
- There aren’t many job openings, but I have a great resume and a strong track record.
- The publisher rejected my manuscript, but this is a typical part of the process, and it means I’m trying.
“As you become better at staying focused in your meditation […] the detail of your process will become more specific to accomplishments that contribute to improving your life,” Bolen says.
While it might feel like the best response to a difficult situation is to take charge, sometimes letting go can help preserve your mental health.
“One way to help yourself get through hard times is to let yourself off the hook for things,” says Billy Roberts, a mental health therapist in Columbus, Ohio. “Ironically, many people are even harsher critics of themselves when times are harder or when they are under a lot of stress.”
Gina Marie Guarino, a mental health counselor in New York City, recommends practicing acceptance.
“Hard times come with challenges that are out of your control, and the harder you try to control the outcome of a difficult time, the more stress you are inflicting onto yourself,” she says.
While knowing when to let go is helpful, so is working on gaining “a sense of meaning and purpose,” Roberts tells Psych Central. “A sense of meaning and forward momentum helps keep us energized and hopeful.”
The trick is to identify the positive amid a crisis that’s out of your hands.
A job loss might mean you’ve got more time to help your children with their homework. Or maybe you’re motivated to make healthy lifestyle changes in response to a new medical diagnosis.
Even if meaning and purpose aren’t immediately obvious, you can consider making a point to look for them in everyday moments.
Rituals can anchor you in a time of change and uncertainty.
Healthy rituals could include:
- adding a regular mindfulness practice
- committing to daily morning workouts
- practicing different relaxation techniques
- scheduling coffee with a friend once a week
- journaling every night
- getting 15 minutes of sunlight or fresh air every day
In a romantic relationship, rituals can also provide some comfort during trying times.
“Couples need to proactively protect their relationship with healthy rituals like date nights without the kids, time not talking about work, and things that help them stay connected and balanced,” explains William Schroeder, co-founder of Just Mind Counseling in Austin, Texas. “It is beneficial to notice what helps you get back on track.”
Your support system is all those people who care about you and can be there for you to offer practical help, a word of advice, or encouragement.
“It is vital to focus on one’s relationships as these people can be very helpful,” says Bryan Bruno, a psychiatrist in New York City. “It can feel isolating to be going through a hard time, but surrounding yourself with a trusted support system is very necessary.”
Feeling connected can boost your mood and help you cope with challenging situations.
“The most important factor that will determine how we get through hard times will be whether or not we feel connected and supported,” says Heinemann. “Go ahead, call or text that friend. Sit with them saying nothing or saying everything.”
If you rather find support from other sources, consider joining a support o community group.
“There are support groups available for individuals experiencing hardships,” offers Novak. “By joining a community, you will not be alone, and you will not feel alone. You will be around people who understand and support you.”
When times are tough, finding a healthy outlet to express yourself can make coping easier.
“Find a healthy way to express yourself and your emotions. This could be through journaling, having a close friend or family member to talk to, or practicing self-care,” suggests Novak.
Heinemann agrees that journaling is an effective stress-management tool. “Journaling is a great way to get thoughts out of your head and brings a sense of internal organization. You can follow prompts or write free form.”
Identifying what has helped you cope in the past can support you in your current situation.
“Do what you know works,” recommends Weaver-Breitenbecher. “Like meeting friends for dinner? Do that now. Feel good when you volunteer at the local animal shelter? Go read to some dogs. Need to focus on your physical health in order to regroup? Get to the gym.”
Denver-based counselor Amanda Conroy suggests being intentional in gratitude.
“Write down all you are thankful for and what is going well in your life,” says Conroy. This exercise will give you hope and uplift your spirit. […] Engage in activities that are fun and joyous. Be mindful and sit with the positive feelings when engaging in these activities.”
Schroeder recommends taking challenging situations one step at a time. “Breaking down significant events into smaller, more manageable parts is an essential and adaptive part of survival. We have to find those coping techniques that are natural and healthy for us to survive.”
A mental health professional can help you sort out your feelings and develop coping strategies. They can also become a safe space where you feel supported while working on an actionable plan to get through hard times.
Going through hard times is part of the human experience. Even if they feel challenging, they won’t be permanent most of the time. If they are, there are ways to cope with them effectively.
If you’re experiencing a tough time, consider changing your perspective to focus on what aspects of the situation you can control to feel better.
Reaching out to the community or loved ones for support, adding healthy rituals to your ritual, letting yourself feel all the emotions, and seeking professional help can all be important steps when navigating these difficult times.