It’s easier to thrive when things are going well. It’s much harder to flourish in times of challenge or despair. The past nine-months have been particularly challenging for many as alarming events have unfolded at a pace never experienced before, including multiple terrorist attacks, the plight of refugees, black lives cut short, and police officers murdered. Add to that the most divisive US Presidential election ever and at times it feels as though things are spinning out of control.
Donna Stoneham Ph.D. says, “We are facing a choice point in which we’ll either self-destruct or rise from the ashes of animosity and take the lead to create a better world. The choice we make has never been greater.”
Using her seven keys to thriving, Dr. Stoneham, executive coach and author of The Thriver’s Edge: Seven Keys to Transform the Way You Live, Love, and Lead, offers five ways to thrive and have some control in your life while in the midst of challenge, overwhelm or despair.
Tip # 1: Trust and Focus on the Good Things in Your Life
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by all the suffering and hatred in the world. Denying it isn’t the answer, but neither is shutting down or viewing the world through a distorted lens. Knowing who and what we can trust and relying on that when times are hard is critical to keeping the balance we need to flourish.
Make a list of the good things in your life that you trust. Especially note the people who love you. Let these people serve as a refuge when you feel despair or overwhelmed. Reach out to them. Talk a walk. Grab coffee. Connect to your network of support and use it as a lifeline. Continue to expand your network of trust by adding at least one person every few months through work or other activities you regularly engage in. Isolation erodes trust, so if you’re feeling lonely, reconnect with a friend. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the condition of the world, make a donation to a cause you believe in. Take a deep breath and think of what you’re grateful for. Maybe even say a prayer for those who need help. Focus on what’s good in the world, because there’s more good than bad when we allow ourselves to see it.
Tip #2: Cultivate Resilience for Turbulent Times
Think of resilience as a bank account that you can draw from. In order to have the resources you need when you need them most, keep adding to your account and keep it growing. Regular self-care practices and attitude adjustments are what keep your resilience account full. Cultivate resilience in the good times so you can draw on it when you need it most.
When times are challenging, it’s important to take extra good care of yourself, yet self-care often is sacrificed first. The best resilience practice when times are hard is to create a daily 10-minute Stress Free Zone. Do something every day for at least 10 minutes that you find nurturing and/or inspiring. This could be taking a walk in nature and really taking in the beauty you see around you. It might be a daily ritual of mindfulness meditation to focus on your breathing to clear your mind and open your heart. It might be taking a bubble-bath at the end of a long day when you usually shower in the morning. It could be reading a passage from a book that inspires you with a hot cup of tea. Put your 10-minute Stress Free Zone on the calendar and keep it sacred. Don’t let anything steal that time from you even if it means getting up ten minutes earlier or going to bed ten minutes later. When you take care of yourself, you have more to give others, so don’t feel guilty. You’re just replenishing your bank account so the good you have to offer can be spread around!
Tip # 3: Follow Your Inner Direction, Not the Pack
Sometimes the news coverage and the fears espoused by those around you can be too much. If everyone around you is negative or frightened, whatever the issue is, it generally isn’t helpful to join in. Too many people in the same boat will eventually cause it to sink.
If you find yourself becoming a media junkie, and the rhetoric feels overwhelming, stop yourself, turn off the news, hop off Twitter or Facebook and ask your intuition what you need to do right now to lift your mood. If you need to turn off the TV, then do it. If you need to read something that inspires you, then read that instead of the newspaper. If you need to express your frustration or fears in your journal, then do that. If you need to check in with someone you trust, pick up the phone. Just be mindful every day of whose boat you’re jumping into. Is the boat you’re in where you want to be mentally, emotionally and spiritually? If not, then what action do you need to take right now to get yourself to a more peaceful shore?
Tip # 4: Don’t Look at the World through a Soda Straw, Expand Your Possibilities
When you feel despair, challenged, or overwhelmed, it’s easy to feel constricted. It’s like looking at the world through a soda straw rather than as the vast panorama of expansiveness it is. It’s easy to get fixated on what’s broken rather than on what’s working. When you expand your perspective, you can see possibilities you’re unable to see in a constricted state and you have more options at your disposal.
When you’re feeling stressed, overwhelmed or in a state of despair, what does the soda straw you’re looking through allow you to see? What possibilities, if you expanded what you were willing to look at, might you see? Make a list of the limitations your current view of the issue imposes. Make a list of the possibilities that might be available if you allowed yourself to broaden your perspective. What actions do you need to take in order to see the glass as half-full, rather than half-empty? Are you willing to make that shift? What action could you take right now to help you do this? Who could help you if you asked for their support?
Tip # 5: Be Responsible: Do What You Can Do and Pay It Forward
When situations feel overwhelming or hopeless, it’s easy to feel helpless. Instead of collapsing into them, take those emotions and channel them for good. Sometimes even if we know we can’t fix something, it makes us feel better just to know we did our best to do our part. To paraphrase Mother Teresa, it’s not important that we do great things, but that we do small things with great love.
When you feel despair or overwhelm because of the state of the world, or even if you’re troubled by an issue that’s affecting your life close to home, what are one or two things you can do today to try and make it better? It might be signing a petition, calling your representative’s office, joining a march, writing a letter, setting a needed boundary or even having a difficult conversation with someone at home or at work. It might be writing a check for a cause you believe in, posting about the issue in social media, or writing a letter to the editor to draw attention to the cause. Maybe it’s looking inside yourself to see if there are any places where you still harbor a grudge or feel anger towards another that need to be released. We all need to be mindful about the kind of energy we’re contributing to the world. Are we filling the world with more compassion and care for others, or with more animosity or greed? Whatever you can do to seek to make the world a better place, take that action now and pay it forward. In challenging times, living on the thriver’s edge takes focus and practice and none of us accomplish it alone.