How To Get Through A Tough Time

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A major purpose of this blog is to get real with you readers and to reassure you that you’re doing a great job, even if your life is not as perfect as you think it should be.

As I mentioned back in August, I was going through a tough patch - luckily something I haven’t been through in a long time.

While in the midst of one of these rough times, it can feel all consuming, like it will never end and like you never appreciated the ‘normal’ times.

It reminds me of when I get a cold - sore throat, runny nose, the works - and I realise I was never grateful for all the days I was healthy with a clear nose and fully functioning throat! 

So during this period I read, listened and soul searched through as much self-help collateral as I could find.

And you know what? There was no quick fix... sorry readers. 

But - I did pick up a few strategies that helped ease the pain and that I will remind myself of in future hard times.

Treat yourself like your best friend

When going through a tough time, it’s so easy to beat ourselves up and berate ourselves about getting over it as quickly as we can.

Negative self talk can come in - voices telling you that you're being weak, too emotional, too easily affected. None of this helped me.

What did help was imagining one of my best friends coming to me with a problem - would I tell her to get over it and stop being so stupid?

No, I would listen to her and make her cups of tea, and take her on long walks and hop on the couch with her to watch her favourite movies. So what did I do? I did all these things with myself.

Another thing I found helped was doing things that made me feel capable - getting involved in a tough work project or helping a friend or family member with a task I have skills in. It helped distract me and made me feel useful and worthy.

Don’t deny the negative emotions

Again, it’s so tempting to mock ourselves for feeling down and in turn try and bury any negative emotions.

Sure, thinking positively and expressing gratitude helped me, but fighting against the negative emotions did not. They were going to be there whether I kicked and screamed against them or not.

As Dr Russ Harris notes in his amazing book The Happiness Trap, we can make room for negative emotions even if we don’t like them, and they will often start to come and go without too much fuss. It also seemed at times that I was addicted to these negative emotions because I was constantly replaying negative scenarios associated with my problem. Again, fighting aginst that did not work. 

Molly Mahar also said a great quote that helped me with during this time and that was to ‘trust that when you are ready you will start to climb out’...

Accept the different seasons of life

I won’t post any frivolous quotes here but I’m sure you’ve heard the concept - how can we appreciate the positive seasons of life without the negative?

Not every year or season of life is going to be up, and if anything a slump makes us appreciate the neutral, so-called 'boring' times of life, or even better, the happy seasons.

It’s the nature of being human and I accept there will be plenty more crazy seasons to come. If you are going through a dark phase, I want you to know it will pass and one day you will look back upon it and it won’t seem as all consuming as it does right now.

Hang in there, be super gentle with yourself and put one foot in front of the other, day after day, and eventually it will be ok. I promise.

How To Deal With Negative Thoughts (My Review of The Happiness Trap)

I read The Happiness Trap by Dr Russ Harris earlier this year, and it made such an impact on me that I’ve re-read it in the last month.

Based on the psychology of acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT), the book is centred on dispelling the widely sought after goal of chasing a constant state of happiness. It also addresses the belief that negative thoughts get in the way of happiness and need to be eliminated or controlled.

As the name suggests, ACT teaches us how to stop struggling with negativity and accept negative thoughts as part of the complexity of our minds.

Here are some revelations I had while reading the book, and strategies you can use yourself.

1. Your thoughts are not the truth

I literally shrieked this across the room to my husband when I read this (the things he puts up with…). The passage reads:

Thoughts are merely sounds, words, stories or bits of language. Thoughts may or may not be true; we don’t automatically believe them. Thoughts may or may not be important; we pay attention only if they’re helpful. Thoughts are definitely not orders; we certainly don’t have to obey them. Thoughts may or may not be wise; we don’t automatically follow their advice.

I think this struck a chord with me as I’d never really not trusted my own thoughts, even when I knew they might not be right. It felt great to acknowledge they are not the absolute truth and I don’t have to always believe or follow them.

2. Distance yourself from the thought

Dr Harris talks a lot about the ‘observing self’ throughout the book and I’ve found this one of the easiest strategies to implement.

When you’re in a negativity spiral take a step back and observe the thought from afar.

So rather than “I’m hopeless at XYZ” turn the thought into “I’m having the thought that I am hopeless at XYZ”.

It gives the thought less power and lets you view it in a more detached way.

3. Name regular negative stories (or give them silly voices)

Identify your mind’s favourite stories, then give them names, such as the ‘loser!’ story, or the ‘my life sucks!’ story, or the ‘I can’t do it!’ story.

Again, in the spirit of detachment (or cognitive defusion as it’s known), this is a good device for thoughts that come up again and again. Rather than following them down the rabbit hole, name the story. “Oh yes, the ‘I’m lazy’ story is back, I remember this one”.

Dr Harris also suggests giving your negative thoughts a silly celebrity or character’s voice.

When I use this one I put the thoughts to Eddie Murphy’s voice circa Delirious or Raw in the 1980s, and I literally cannot take them seriously anymore.

DR RUSS HARRIS

4. Make room for negative thoughts

The book goes into this in far more depth, but the purpose of this insight is not to fight the thoughts (as clearly that rarely works and they always come back).

Rather than denying the thoughts, acknowledge they are there and although you don’t like the feeling, make room for it. It will likely come and go if you accept it.

Basically, expansion means making room for our feelings. If we give unpleasant feelings enough space, they no longer stretch us or strain us.

5. Ask yourself these questions

Lastly, although there are many questions you can ask yourself when in a negative thought spiral, my two favourites are:

  • Is the thought useful or helpful?
  • Does it help me be the person I want to be?

If the answer is no (and let’s be honest, it usually is), I make room for the thought, give it the Eddie Murphy treatment and can often move on with my day.

Have you read The Happiness Trap? What strategies do you use to help work through negative thinking?