Let’s face it. Life happens, and it will continue happening for as long as we are lucky enough to draw breath.
Sometimes, we expect to be overwhelmed – in good ways and in bad (e.g., a wedding, the birth of a child, starting a new job, moving to a new home, retirement, the death of a loved one from a long-term illness).
Other times, no matter how prepared we think we are for life’s surprises, we get slapped in the face with no warning – again, in good ways and in bad (e.g., a job promotion with additional responsibilities, an unexpected pregnancy, a separation or divorce, a sudden illness or injury, losing a job, encountering financial problems, a pandemic).
Unfortunately, the list of overwhelming bad situations overshadows the list of overwhelming good situations. These less than favorable circumstances may raise your stress level. You may feel your life is spinning out of control. Or you may reach a point of calm and clarity that shocks you with the obviousness of what you need to do to move forward.
The goal is to reach that point of clarity that propels you forward. Take actions that will help you survive and thrive, even in dire situations.
How do you cope with an overwhelming situation? What do you do when life happens?
How to Cope During Difficult Times
1. Don’t Compare
Don’t compare yourself to others. What people tell you, or what you see in their social media feeds, may not be the entire truth.
Most people have a desire to show their best selves to family, friends, and their public of adoring fans. They don’t want you to see their pain or suffering. They don’t want you to realize they are in the same situation as you, or possibly a worse situation than you.
No, they are not trying to deceive you. They just don’t want you to see the other side. Most people want you to see them in their best light. It’s understandable – they want you to see them as they wish to be seen, not necessarily as who they are.
They are doing fine. They have everything under control. They know how to deal with this situation. Do they really?
There are millionaires who can’t pay their bills. There are happy couples who hate their other half. There are beautiful people who smile on the outside and cry on the inside.
Don’t compare who you are to someone else. Although what you are going through may be similar to what someone else is experiencing, your situation is unique to you.
Do you really know what is going on in someone else’s life? The only thing you can be 100% sure about is what’s going on in your life.
2. Review Your Priorities
The things that were important to you before life happened may still be important. However, the order of your priorities may change.
Examine your goals and priorities. Have the top three items on your list changed? Do new circumstances require you to rearrange your priorities?
Visualize your new future and your new goals. Think about the changes you may need to make to accommodate your new situation. Do your best to maintain your priorities; keep them alive, no matter what.
You may have to rearrange, reestablish, or reinvent the most important things in your life.
Your life has changed. Your present may be vastly different from your past. Yet your future is still ahead of you. You must have priorities. They will anchor you.
3. Keep Doing What You Do
After reestablishing your priorities, continue doing what it takes to achieve your goals. Continue doing the things you enjoy. Continue striving to live the life you want to live, even if you are afraid you’ll be kicked down again.
Dealing with an overwhelming situation does not mean you have to lose yourself. Yes, you may be temporarily lost as you work to envision your new life and the new you. You may need to take a break to regroup. You may need to take a break from everything and everyone. Yet know that the loss of yourself – of who you are when no one is looking – does not have to be permanent.
As soon as you are able, get back into your old (good) routines. You will be scared. You will be tired. You won’t really feel you’re ready. Does one ever feel ready?
Take baby steps. Then take giant leaps. You will feel comfort doing familiar things you love and enjoy. You will feel comfort knowing you are making progress towards your goals.
Keep doing what you do. Bring yourself back to your life one action at a time.
4. Acknowledge Change
Acknowledge that your life has changed, even if you aren’t ready to accept the change. Acceptance (or at least the absence of vehement denial) will come with time.
Take obvious steps to recognize the change. Write it out in big, bold letters. Send yourself an email or text. Speak aloud; hear yourself say that change has come and you are here to meet it. Scream it from the rooftops. Call someone you trust, someone who will listen and not judge, someone who is genuinely concerned about the changes happening in your life.
Change is inevitable. If you’re not changing, you’re not growing.
Face change head on, because no matter what you do, change is going to happen.
5. Make an Unmanageable Situation Manageable
There are many roadmaps to the same place. When one road is blocked, take another road or forge a new path. When you find yourself in an overwhelming, seemingly unmanageable situation, don’t change the goal, change the method of reaching the goal.
Make an unmanageable situation manageable. Take time, money, people, effort, and motivation into consideration.
Adjust your timeline. What do you need to do to achieve your goal within a shorter, or longer, timeframe?
Modify your financial strategy. What can you do to save more money, pay off debt faster, or earn extra income?
Ask for help. Lean on your support network to get you through tough times. Who truly cares about you? Who will provide a strong shoulder in your time of need?
Put forth more effort. Can you contribute more effort and energy to the situation? Will more effort make the situation more manageable?
Put forth less effort. Are you dedicating too much time and energy? Are you fighting for a lost cause or increasing your stress unnecessarily?
Modify your motivation. Are you motivated to tackle change? What do you need to do to increase your drive and energy to handle your current situation?
There are many ways to get to the same place. How you navigate the twists and turns is up to you.
Be willing to take a few detours, or draw an entirely different map.
Bonus: Give Yourself Time
In the moment, any situation can feel endless, as if it will never go away, as if normalcy is beyond your reach.
You may cry. You may scream. You may wonder why this has happened to you.
You may doubt. You may deny. You may not understand why this has happened to you.
Give yourself time to crumble, to question, to rail, to criticize, to cope, to understand, to rise, to rebuild.
Truth – your life will not be the same. Have you grown from your experience?
Truth – you will not be the same. Are you stronger, better, braver for your experience?
Truth – life if what you make of it. Do you have the skills you need to cope when life happens?
Learn. Live. Love. Grow. Survive. Thrive.
Know that this too shall pass.