Everyone experiences dark times. It's how you navigate your way through challenges that makes all the difference. Take control of your situation with these steps.
Change is stressful, and when disappointment strikes, whether in relationships, at work, or your personal health, the stress increases. At such moments you discover how good your coping skills really are.
Because life is nothing but change, the part of yourself that wants everything to remain the same isn’t realistic. Beneath the surface there is fear of change, so coping skills have two aspects.
- Minimizing your sense of fear, anxiety, panic, or depression.
- Maximizing your ability to turn disappointment into opportunity.
These two goals are linked, because they come down to the same thing: consciousness. Your mind delivers good news and bad news. When change suddenly happens, you need to sort out these messages, paying attention to what’s helpful, supportive, and affirmative while downplaying what’s unhelpful, negative, and harmful to the self.
Here are the steps that have worked for many people who find themselves confronting unwelcome change.
Step 1: Take Care of Yourself
Stress makes everyone feel as if they are losing control, so take care of yourself to help restore that control. Follow your daily routine of eating and sleeping. Take walks, and go out into Nature. Seek the company of friends; remain in communication several times a day. Being good to yourself is important, even if negative thinking tells you to hunker down and isolate yourself. These are the very things you need to avoid.
Taking care of yourself shouldn’t include alcohol or snacks—the last thing you need is toxins in your system. Instead of reaching for junk food, let your comfort food be healthy. One study showed that, in times of crisis, 95 percent of people dealt with their situation by watching more TV. Find better ways to keep your life positive.
Step 2: Make a Conscious Assessment
Emotions run high during stressful times, and the rational part of the mind can help with this. Wait until you feel reasonably calm. Sit with eyes closed and breathe deeply. Wait a few minutes until you feel centered.
Now take out a piece of paper and assess your strategy to get past your disappointment. It may help to think of the person who needs the strategy as a friend or even a stranger instead of yourself, if that helps to keep anxious feelings at bay.
Now ask yourself a key question: Is this a problem I should fix, put up with, or walk away from?
Unless you can answer this question clearly and rationally, your vision will be clouded by stressed-out thinking. Without knowing it, you will be acting under the influence of negative emotions. You may give in to impulsiveness or fall back on old, unhelpful habits.
Clarify your inner confusion and get your bearings in a reasonable way. The first option is to consider finding a fix. Write down five ways you can fix the problem. If the fix isn't there, ask why. Perhaps someone is blocking you or you lack the resources of money and time. Regardless, it’s always worthwhile to first search for a fix, and if you find one, commit yourself to the actions you’ve written down.
Only when you feel satisfied that you’ve exhausted your realistic options should you move on to option two: putting up with the situation. Generally this alternative is wise when patience makes sense. Note that patience is not the same as passivity, and it should not bring on a sense of inner defeat. Putting up with bad situations needs to be the best thing to do, given all the possibilities. It can be a temporary decision, and most often should be. The rationale for it is about control and stress. If you truly decide that staying put is rationally correct, you’ve regained control; you can move forward without the extra stress of uncertainty. Make sure you write down all the reasons in favor of staying put and all the reasons against it.
The third option is to walk away. For some people, this option occurs first; for others, it’s the last thing they would ever do. Those are emotional habits. Let your rational mind weigh this as an option along with the other two. If you have listed the reasons to stay or to go, and you’re sure that there’s no fix and too much stress to put up with, then walking away is the right choice.
Analyzing your three options like this is incredibly helpful, because most people vacillate when things go bad. One day they wishfully hope for a fix and maybe take a few steps toward it. The next day they feel passive and victimized, so they put up with things as they are. The third day they are sick and tired of suffering and simply want to escape. The overall result is self-defeat. No solution can ever be found by running in three different directions. So clarify your situation and act on what you clearly see.
Step 3: Consult Someone Who Has Solved the Same Problem Successfully
Bad things aren't solved in isolation. Finding someone who has gone through the same crisis that you are facing accomplishes several things at once. It gives you an example to follow, a confidant who understands your plight, and an alternative to withdrawing into isolation. Victims always feel alone and helpless. Reach out to someone who has proven, through their own lives, that they were not victimized by the bad thing you are facing now.
We aren't talking about hand-holding, shared misery, or even therapy. All of those activities can be beneficial at times, but there's no substitute for talking to a person who has entered a dark place and come out successfully. Where do you find such a person? Ask around, tell your story, seek support groups, go online to find blogs and forums—the possibilities are much greater than ever before. And don't stop until you find, not just good advice, but real empathy from someone you trust.
Step 4: Reach Deeper Into Yourself for Solutions
Turning bad things into good things is up to you. No one can be there all the time, and like it or not, crises are all-consuming. You find yourself facing an inner world that is suddenly full of threats, fears, illusions, wishful thinking, denial, distractions, and conflict. The world "out there" won't change until the world "in here" does.
There is a simple spiritual truth that I deeply believe in: the level of the solution is never found at the level of the problem. Knowing this, you can escape many traps that people fall into. What exists at the level of the problem? Repetitive thinking that gets nowhere; old conditioning that keeps applying yesterday's outworn choices; lots of obsessive thinking and stalled action. I could go on. But the relevant insight is that you have more than one level of awareness, and at a deeper level there is untapped creativity and insight.
Your higher self contains the potential for new solutions, but you must find it. Instead of higher self you can substitute any term that applies—soul, Atman, holy spirit, muse, inspiration—because linguistics are not nearly as important as the experience itself. You must experience the place inside where the light dawns and brings hope, where peace is possible, and there is certainty about finding a viable path forward.
It's not a mystery that such a place can be reached, because even in the worst crisis we experience flashes of it. The trick is to be able to inhabit the level of awareness that brings solutions. First, know that this level exists. Second, make a plan to get there, through all the techniques open to you including meditation, reflection, contemplation, and prayer. Reduce your stress by every means you can find. Seek others who understand consciousness. Read books that inspire you but also books that realistically describe what it means to go on the inward journey.
I've given an abbreviated plan of action, yet the important thing is that you take the first steps inside. I urge you to quit the majority who live in confusion and conflict. Join the minority that sees a clear path out of present darkness, that never submits to fear and despair, and that in truth leads the world into a future full of light.