5 Strategies to Cope with Difficult Circumstances

Dear Reader:

Right now, you may feel surrounded by reminders of how you and every person you know and love, every person you will ever meet is vulnerable to an infinite number of possible health and economic threats, unknowns, and worries.

The possibility of becoming seriously ill, or a loved one becoming ill is distressing.

The chance of potentially not meeting your own needs or keeping up with the demands of normal life is unsettling. It can feel threatening. 

There are some circumstances in life you cannot change, regardless of how you feel about the situation, or how much you want it to return to normal.

It’s natural to feel frustrated, or at a loss about what to do next.

What you can do is learn to manage prolonged periods of difficulty, disruption, and uncertainty. I’ll tell you what worked for me and you can decide what parts might work for your too.

Strategy #1: Practice acceptance – keep pain from turning into suffering

Nearly a decade ago, I experienced a period of life where things seemed to go from bad to worse. It was a stage of life that ushered in a series of significant disruptions to the way I lived. While distressing and even painful at moments, this experience gave me a new understanding of myself.

Making sense of my experience was key to understanding changes in my body, thoughts, feelings, and habits. Reflecting on these internal signals can offer clues about the types of activities most likely to provide relief in challenging times. It also showed me what I was capable of overcoming. I still draw upon this well of experience when I find myself discouraged or tempted to underestimate my own ability to overcome a setback. 

Strategy #2: Focus on what is within your control – you cannot change the facts, even if you don’t like the facts

When things went from bad to worse, I was forced to examine my assumptions about my own power and control. I found it difficult to accept that forces beyond my control could profoundly affect outcomes and options. My sense of inner peace and security felt jeopardized, and my trust in the world was shaken. It took time for me to process and fully accept this new perspective. 

I learned that even the best of intentions and meticulous planning could not save me from the pain and discomfort of unexpected circumstances that naturally occur in ordinary life. Thankfully, I survived, but the experience changed my life, and there was no option for “going back to normal.” I could only go forward. Focusing on my control restored my hope and optimism, and I started planning for good things to happen.

 By accepting the things that are out of my hands, I learned that I could avert the exhausting cycle of becoming stuck in anger, bitterness, sadness, or unhappiness. Acceptance is a tool with the power to dissolve pain before it transforms into suffering. After the difficult period passed, I was left with hard-earned wisdom and new coping strategies. 

Strategy #3: Set goals and work toward milestones that generate a sense of accomplishment and achievement

Going through a difficult period of life can distort our sense of time. It can impact the way we plan for the future. That’s why it is so important to create goals and things to strive toward.

Mapping out the steps to achieve a goal is one half of the process. The second half is taking action. Sometimes taking effective action requires learning a new skill too. It’s all part of the process.

The pursuit of a new goal requires doing something different than what has been done before. It may involve a sense of struggle. It may bring a perspective shift. The changes are to be expected. The struggle and fresh insight serve a higher purpose. It breaks you out of pattern of thinking that keeps you anchored to past events beyond your control.

Looking back upon my own experience – I recognize it was only temporary period of life, but in the moment, the series of events felt prolonged. It was not limited to days, or weeks, or even months. It lasted years.

In the grand scheme of my lifetime, it may turn out that this period of time was relatively small. I recognize that wasn’t until life took on a new rhythm that I could appreciate the significant impact that grief and trauma had on my memories and sense of time. 

Strategy #4: Practice self-compassion and self-care – meditate, listen to music, immerse in guided imagery

It is normal to experience waves of sadness, disappointment, loneliness, grief, and anger in challenging times. Can anyone truly ever prepare for emotionally heavy significant losses? Even the most outwardly grounded and well-adjusted people experience periods of stress and setbacks. Do your part and let time take care of the rest.

Strategy #5: Do something with a tangible outcome – create art, cook, read, write, etc. 

Even when the future feels uncertain, and the world-at-large looks strangely changed and unfamiliar, it is possible to reclaim your peace of mind and restore a degree of dignity and manageability. Sometimes we have to create our own little bubble of normalcy. Get a hobby. Distract yourself. Take a walk. Take pictures. Find things that interest you.

“The only way to discover the limits of the possible is to go beyond them into the impossible.”

– Arthur C. Clarke, science fiction writer (“Profiles of the Future, 1977)

Coping with difficult circumstances is never a picnic. With a willingness to explore what works and what doesn’t, you can prioritize the things that help you preserve through hard times. You can develop your own set of strategies to reduce troubling thoughts, internal pressure, and the lingering feeling of being emotionally overwhelmed. You can create moments of joy, hope, and a deeper connection with yourself, the people who matter most to you.

Stay hopeful and take good care of yourself.