We all experience difficulties, setbacks, shocks to our system, practically and emotionally. And, coming out of nowhere, they can sometimes hit us hard. Here, we’re going to look at some of the practical steps we can take when we’re facing significant long-term challenges.
First, though, I’d encourage you to recognize that we live in an inherently unstable world. The economy is booming one year and crashing the next. Companies come and go. Careers end. Relationships end. Friendships disappear (sometimes when we’re at our lowest). Or someone we love gets sick.
What can we do?
We have to accept the reality of the world without becoming depressed about it.
And the reality is:
We live in a world of constant change. And this can bring disaster or opportunity. Especially if you live in a modern city, where things always seem to be in flux and close to chaos, you must be ready for dramatic change. This means planning and taking ongoing action that will prepare you for change. And before it hits you, consider the following:
(1) If you can, save some money. And don’t burden yourself with unnecessary monthly expenses that you can barely afford even in the good times.
(2) Don’t assume things will last forever. Nurture your relationship, or watch it die. The same goes for friendships. When it comes to work, continually acquire new skills that cannot be easily replaced by AI, outsourced, or done by the lowest bidding freelancer online. (This means creative skills and, perhaps more important, strategic, creative thinking.)
(3) Make a name for yourself in your industry, and make sure you have a network of people that could help you in an emergency. (And that means preemptively helping them, even if you never see any payback.)
(4) Learn how to communicate. Read books on verbal communication, body language, and negotiation. (Check out Chris Voss’s Never Split the Difference: Negotiating As If Your Life Depended On It, Vanessa Van Edwards Captivate: The Science of Succeeding with People, and What Every Body Is Saying: An Ex-FBI Agent’s Guide to Speed-Reading People.
(5) Besides family, forge a strong network of friends that you can rely on. They may not always be able to help practically, but, if nothing else, they will be there to give you the emotional support you need and maybe some practical advice as well.
Okay, let’s say the moment of truth has come. And you have some preparations in place but it’s still tough and the future looks uncertain.
Firstly, you have to retain a sense of hope and possibility:
When I’m facing a crisis, I do an exercise that I call the Gratitude of Power. It involves thinking about the skills I’ve acquired and the good qualities I have. Nothing is dismissed, no matter how small or how vain we might consider it in normal times. These things are your ammunition for the fight ahead. Perhaps you have some highly-technical skills that, if you’re looking for a new career, could benefit an employer. Or perhaps you don’t have such skills but you’re good with people. That’s also a plus.
No matter what kind of crisis or what kind of challenge you face, there are some things you can do to keep yourself together:
(1) Don’t neglect to eat and eat as healthily as possible:
Whether it’s the death of someone close to you, a relationship that is in trouble, or a career challenge, it’s easy to neglect our diet. Maybe we don’t even want to eat. But we need to keep our physical, mental, and emotional strength up.
(2) Keep up a routine:
It’s always tempting to lay in bed a little longer — and then a little longer after that. Or to stay up late watching mindless TV. It’s a good distraction. But it doesn’t help us to act to improve our situation. Keep up a routine and spend your time wisely.
Physical training causes the release of endorphins in the body. Sometimes called “feel good” chemicals, endorphins help us deal with stress, anxiety, and even physical pain. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce stress, anxiety, and depression, improve sleep, and boost self-esteem.
(4) Get proper sleep:
Among other problems, etting less than eight hours of sleep can cause negative thinking, and can adversely affect your immune system, increasing your risk of sickness. People often like to boast about partying or working late. But the reality is if you’re suffering from stress or anxiety, you need to get proper sleep each night.
(5) Try to stimulate the mind and the imagination (and get out of the stuck mindset) by reading:
It’s easy to obsess about problems. Combat this by reading books that interest you and stimulate your mind. If they can help with your future, so much the better.
(6) Think of alternatives and options:
Go through the Gratitude of Power exercise and think about how you can apply yourself in new and different ways that will benefit you in your situation. This might be thinking of the skills or qualities that will benefit you in a career change. Or maybe it’s facing a situation you don’t want to face — a talk with a boss to ask for a raise or with a friend who’s let you down. If the latter, think of the times you have faced difficult situations and acted. What did you do right? What could you do better? How can you win the person over so that they see your side of things?
(7) Keep in contact with those friends who are there for you:
Don’t lock yourself away. Let your friends know what’s up, and make sure you get some time with your gang.
(8) Don’t allow your posture or gestures to take on the appearance of defeat:
Keep the body erect, the diaphragm and head up.
(9) Don’t turn to drink or drugs:
If you drink moderately normally, cut down or cut it out. Drunkenness and hangovers aren’t going to help. Don’t seek escapism.
Spend ten minutes or so in the morning clearing your mind and experiencing inner peace. There are many different ways to meditate, but if you haven’t done it before, just sit comfortably, close your eyes, and focus on your breathing. On the inhalation just say to yourself: inhaling. And on the exhalation, say to yourself: exhalation. If you feel a sensation in your body, just say: sensation. And if you hear a noise, just say: noise. The point is to acknowledge the distraction and move on, and move back to a sense of tranquility.
(11) If you believe in God or in a Higher Power, or in your Higher Self, pray, and ask It for help and support, and ask what you should do to help yourself.
(12) Take action. Instead of stressing, even if they are small, take steps to improve the situation.
Okay, what if someone is dependent on you?
You must realize that looking after your mental, physical, and spiritual needs is not selfish but actually necessary. In an airplane, adults are told to put on the oxygen mask first, then help their children. You won’t be any good to those who need you if you’re overwhelmed or suffering from anxiety. Show your support. But look after you so you can look after those dependent on you.
And when it is you who are facing trials and tribulations, keep one eye on the future, adapting to present circumstances so that you can overcome it and move forward. Determined that such times will not overwhelm you, they may just be the catalyst you need to become who you were meant to be.
Fortune favors the bold.