How To Use Tough Times To Get Stronger

So we know that tough times happen.

Struggle is inevitable.

It’s life – bad things are going to happen.

Financial setbacks, health issues, loss and grief.

Stress in general – not just in January, but all year round.

During the last 2 weeks of January there is noted decreased resiliency as a result of post-holiday stress, bad weather, lack of sunshine, missing lifestyle supports etc.

With every new year that starts with high hopes there is the inevitable fall of reality.

Research out of the University of Exeter confirms that ““Depressed mood is often exacerbated by a perception of a gap between how someone wants things to be and how they actually are. These actual-ideal discrepancies are highlighted at this time of year.”

And with this a lack of readiness for the unexpected, or just for the let down of reality being the same as it was before occur.

Here are 3 key strategies to get through unexpected events and struggle…

1. Embrace the struggle.

Counterintuitive right?

A change in outcome requires a change in behavior.

Stop running away and hiding.

You’re going to have a fight/flight/freeze response.

This stress response is normal and it’ll make you feel reactive because of that activation in your nervous system.

Fight responses might mean you feel irritable and argumentative.

Flight responses make you want to check out, leave the room, choose avoidance tactics and distractions.

Freeze is common too – you might feel shut down, immobilized, unable to take action/indecisive.

These are normal responses to stressful events.

Expect it and embrace it.

It’s temporary and you’re going to get through it.

You will benefit from this struggle if you move through it in a grounded way that allows it to increase your resiliency.

Resiliency is never built in times of rest, it’s built through the struggle and coming out the other side.

If we fail to embrace the struggle, what we resist persists and we have to repeat the lesson.

So take a breath and dig into it, reminding yourself that it’s time-limited and use it as a challenge to get stronger.

2. Get your head right.

When these things happen we often feel overwhelmed and flooded and lose all our coping strategies.

We lose perspective and the event becomes huge. The biggest thing ever.

(and sometimes it really is)

You become reactive.

And this amplifies the experience and limits your ability to make good choices.

Avoid the temptation to catastrophize everything and make it bigger than it really is.

Considering this is a moment in time, how big and important is this in the grand scheme of things.

Some things are monumentally life changing huge. That’s a different set of principles than this focus which looks at things that happen that are comparatively not as big as they feel in the moment.

What if you looked at this as an opportunity to be creative in challenging and pushing back into your own life?

Fast forward a year down the road… what’s the story you want to tell about this time and how you chose to get through it?

Because you do get to choose how you want to get through this no matter what the event is.

What mood do you want to say you had as you dealt with this struggle?

What strategies do you want to say you employed?

If you were teaching a lesson to your kids or close friends in difficult times, what kinds of things would you share in terms of feeling proud of how you got through this?

Daydreaming a year in advance about how you boldly walked through the fire of this time in your life.

Then make choices that support the story that you want to create for how to talk about this time.

Are you making temporary judgments and decisions, radical and extreme measures, with permanent impact and future regret, or are you choosing a mindful way to get through the struggle?

You get to choose how to get through this time.

3. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.

We easily get tunnel vision.

Seeing only our struggle and closing everything else out.

Life becomes narrow and it’s easy to get stuck inside ourselves.

We pull in and away from others.

We push away people that could support us, along with their knowledge and creative resources to get through this time.

We isolate, stop taking care of ourselves and easily get locked into negative thoughts.

When this has passed, we’ll come out alone, having lost valuable friends and assets in our lives.

Instead, fight that urge to withdraw and use this as a time to negotiate better terms, friendships, relationships rather than getting rid of everyone.

Be selective, choosing to include people that you want to become more like.

People who are positive and strong.

Think about whose nervous system you want to model yours off of and spend more time with them.

Notice how you feel when even when you have to force it you have time with calm, grounded, positive people.

You’re crippling yourself by not surrounding yourself with good people and energy.

And you’re going to come through this compromised and less resilient as a result.

Slow down. Get a grip. Look at things with a wide angle lens. Forecast best case scenario and consciously decide how to move through tough times without being reactive. Plan and slow it down and decide how to move through this in a grounded way.

You will get through this fire better, stronger, happier than coming into it and you likely won’t have to repeat it again. You get to choose how to create your own story. Make this time of a struggle another victory you had to your history of overcoming and allow it to make you stronger.

by Tara Miller

Psychotherapist & writer. Helping you live your fullest life using neuroscience based SRT (Self Regulation Therapy). Specializing in general and trauma therapy.

5 thoughts on “How To Use Tough Times To Get Stronger

  1. Daniel Olexa, CCHt says:

    Oh yeah… even in rainy Los Angeles, the weight of the winter takes hold… It’s supposed to be sunny all the time here, what’s up with all this rain?!?!? Thank you for this re-framing reminder.

    I agree that embracing the struggle is one of the most important, if not the most important, aspects of changing mindset. By continuing the struggle, the person gives power to the issue instead of finding their personal peace and power in the situation.

    It reminds me of teaching scuba diving. When we discuss the possibility of becoming entangled in a line while underwater, the first lesson is “stop struggling, don’t move.” When you struggle, you just get tied up tighter and make the issue more difficult to resolve.

    It’s true underwater and it’s true in our daily lives.

  2. Pingback: The ONE thing you need to survive | Tara Miller | Psychotherapist, Registered Clinical Counsellor & Writer

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