Tips for the Rough Patches

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Is life throwing you a curve ball? Maybe even more than one? We each experience hardship, and it can be difficult to stay positive during those times. Whether you had a bad day at work, can’t seem to get your teenager to say anything remotely respectful to you, or are dealing with something much more serious such as the illness or death of a family member, here are some ideas to help keep you grounded.

1. Remember that you are not alone.

Oftentimes we see everyone’s “facebook” version of the nearly perfect life they portray to the world: beautiful, smiling children, exotic vacations, fancy dinners in new, trendy restaurants with a gaggle of fashionably dressed and laughing friends. It’s important to refrain from comparing your insides to everyone else’s outsides. We all struggle, and some are more open about their challenges than others. Personal experience has taught me that the more we open up, make ourselves vulnerable to others, and share even a bit of our own (slightly soiled?) laundry, the more others share with us. While my mom’s old saying “misery loves company” seems a tad harsh, there’s a level of connectedness we feel once we realize that we’re not the only ones going through tough times. In addition to supporting each other, opening up also allows us to learn from each other. So whether you decide to share or not, please take comfort in the knowledge that you are, in fact, in good company.

2. Prioritize self-care.

When bad days or crises creep in (either bit by bit or suddenly, like uninvited guests storming into our living rooms, breaking all the dishes in the kitchen along the way), it’s easy to let self-care slip. “How can I go to the gym when I don’t even have time to make the kids lunch or walk the dog?” you ask. Perhaps it’s time to outsource some of your tasks so you can take care of you. Just as we’ve heard so many times on the airplane, we must put on our own oxygen masks first before we can assist others. If we get burnt out either emotionally, physically, or (in most cases), both, we won’t be able to show up to deal with whatever sh*t storm has come our way. Feelings of guilt may arise if we think about paying the neighborhood kid $20 to mow the lawn so we can go to the gym, but we can give ourselves permission to do it anyway. Add in a few yoga classes, just for fun. And don’t be shy about asking for and accepting help. If your pride gets in the way, remember that accepting a gift from others is also giving them a gift. Studies have shown that those who give have higher happiness and fulfillment, so do your friends a favor and let them bring you dinner. Why would you deprive them?

3. Hold a vision of positivity.

When troubles arise, it’s easy to slip into the dreaded “What if..?!?” spiral and imagine all the worst case scenarios. You get one cranky email from your boss and suddenly you’ve gone from stupid to incompetent to fired to homeless to starving and unable to feed yourself or your family. I challenge you to hold the most lovely, hopeful, and positive vision of The Good. Your teenager just got caught smoking and your brain has already gotten to the she’ll-never-get-a-job-and-someday-be-in-prison-selling-her body-and/or-drugs scenario, in less than 3 seconds? Instead, picture her as her sweet, adorable, and loving 5-year-old self, and feel the soul of that beautiful human being when you think of her. Picture her as a grown woman overflowing with riches of friends, a family of her own, and a fulfilling career, showering you with appreciation and praise at a Mother’s Day brunch she’s hosting for you. Don’t those pink roses smell wonderful? I can’t believe she planned this all on her own–what a sweetheart! That precious soul is still in there, despite the sassy, crazed teenager who is temporarily living in her body and your once peaceful home. We know from the Law of Attraction that the more we expect and imagine the positive, the more the Universe will conspire to make it happen. Keep up that bar!

4. See what life is trying to teach you. 

“For real?” you ask, “you honestly want me to try to turn this Crazy Town life experience into some learning? OMG!!!” I hear you. Trust me, I’m the first to roll my eyes when someone says “well, it’s for the best” or my favorite (not!), “I’m sure that she’s in a better place” (when they learned of my sister’s passing.) I am not suggesting that whatever is happening is in the grand plan or there’s a definite reason for it, although I could perhaps be convinced (message me later to discuss).  What I am saying is that when we struggle, we do, in fact, learn a lot about ourselves. If we are willing. What new perspectives can we find? How can we have more gratitude for all that is going well in our lives? How can we learn to become more peaceful, grounded and resilient? What limiting assumptions, beliefs and reactive behaviors do we continuously hold onto? Surely this will not be the last (or even the worst) thing that happens in our lifetime. Challenges are wonderful catalysts for growth and present huge opportunities for transformational change. So even if the experience itself sucks, there is usually a gem for the finding.

5. Become the master problem solver.

My brother-in-law’s son just completed his first year at Princeton University, and I’ll never forget the story he told about the first day of orientation (thanks, Mike!) The Dean had instructed all the parents of incoming freshmen in the audience: “Raise your hand if you want your child to become a great problem solver while they’re here at Princeton.” All hands went up, of course. This was Princeton, after all; these kids would become the best problem solvers ever! “OK,” the Dean continued, “now raise your hand if you want your child to have lots of problems while they’re here at Princeton.” Hands down, all around. Yeesh, not that! Problems for my little darling? No, thank you. Double no, because I won’t be around to help them. The Dean then asked, “how can you expect them to become great problem solvers if they don’t have any problems?” Wow, such a great point. Thank you, Dean at Princeton, for reminding us that adversity necessitates growth, evolution, and creativity. Yes, even (and especially) when it’s painful. How will we build a bigger and better boat if the smaller one never gets knocked over? 

6. Let yourself be sad.

Especially in this “I have to be tough because I am a strong, independent person” culture, sometimes we feel weak if we wallow a bit. Nonsense! If life gives you lemons, don’t be afraid to cry. There’s a great poem by Rumi, The Guest House, that talks about how welcoming all emotions–both positive and negative–allows us to be “cleared out for some new delight.” Come to think of it, I also got that “breaks all the dishes” metaphor from that poem. It’s a good one. When we spend some time dipping into our feelings of fear, sadness, or shame, in a purely visceral way (actually experiencing them vs. trying to analyze them or solve our problems with our thinking minds), the energy and emotion will pass through us and cease to consume us. Does that sound like woo-woo voodoo energy magic? If so, then I say hellz yeah, this chick believes in magic. So go cry it out, then get your ass to the gym. And while you’re on the treadmill, revel in your newly found warrior god or goddess problem-solving skills. You got this!