No matter how much we take care of our responsibilities, nurture our relationships and work hard to develop a number of Plan Bs, we still occasionally find ourselves in the midst of a difficult time.

Whatever the form of that struggle, it is rarely pleasant. Even a disruption of our normal schedule or a bout with a common cold can make us feel out of control and out of sorts.

Although there is often no way to escape the problem completely, there are things we can do to ease our discomfort and even learn from the situation. Most trials we face hold a lesson for us.

 
 

Indian leader Mahatma Gandhi saw the value in learning to meet our challenges head-on. “Adversity,” he said, “is the mother of progress.” So, instead of falling apart or obsessing non-stop, there are several positive ways we can cope with our struggles.

Do or Say What You Can

Although you probably can’t eliminate the problem entirely, there are usually at least a couple of things you can do or say.

If it’s a problem in your family, you can talk to the people involved, offer help, and provide some support. If it’s a health difficulty, you can follow the advice of your doctor, ask for a second opinion, and be sure you’re taking care of yourself as much as possible.

Whether the situation calls for a hard conversation or a change in habits, do what is possible and don’t put it off. Take care of what you can, and then you have to do the hardest thing imaginable: let go of the rest.

Move on and Don’t Allow It to Take Over Your Life

Not obsessing over a difficult problem is one of our toughest challenges. If we’re worried about something, it seems natural to just keep rolling it around in our heads until we come up with a solution.

However, taking that approach can be as frustrating and difficult as trying to untangle a knot of delicate chains. If you’re concerned about something that is outside of your control, a better option is to practice letting it go.

This doesn’t mean ignoring it the issue or being rash about taking care of yourself. It means consciously reminding yourself to keep moving forward.

Do Something for Someone Else

One way to move past our own challenges is to focus on someone else. If I’m having a tough day, as much as I want to wallow in it, I feel much better if I give a friend a hand with a project or run an errand for someone who can’t do it herself.

It gets your mind off of your own worries and it helps someone else in the process.

Anything that changes our perspective can also change our thought pattern. So, before we know it, we’re no longer thinking of the same old topic. If we have a tendency to get stuck on our challenges, being prepared ahead of time can also help.

Make a List of Healthy Distractions

If I’m having a bad day, it’s often hard to come up with ways to make myself feel better and move on to something more positive.

Still, I’ve found that if I keep a ‘Distraction List’ handy, it makes the transition easier and more natural. Maybe I’ll jot down some movies I want to see, books I want to read, art exhibits I want to visit, whatever.

I’ve even occasionally kept a ‘Fun Box’ filled with little pieces of paper that remind me of things that I know will distract me. “Go for a walk,” “play with the dogs,” “make that recipe you’ve been putting off,” are all good reminders for me and serve as perfect distractions.

Even though this may not always work, it can be a big motivator in getting me outside of myself and my worries. Usually, once I’ve stopped racing down the path of destructive thoughts, I feel better about whatever had me upset in the first place. It all has to do with where we stand.

Keep Things in Perspective

Sometimes, if my thoughts go unchecked, I can make them into much bigger and more serious dilemmas than they really are.

This doesn’t mean that I’m just being dramatic about everything I’m worried about, but many concerns seem much larger and more intense if I keep reviewing them in the same unhelpful way.

The amount of energy and time we give to things we can’t control is up to us. It’s probably impossible to imagine that the next time you face a difficulty you can just let it go and move on, but it’s worth a try with many of our mind’s meanderings.

We don’t have to dwell for days on things that cause us pain and anxiety. We can develop some techniques to help us move on to a healthier and more productive state of mind.

As statesman Winston Churchill once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” Not a bad idea, even if the war we’re trying to win is inside ourselves.

What are some of your best distractions when you want to change your perspective? What can you do to help someone else when you need to get your mind off your own troubles? What are your secrets for letting things go when you need to? Please share your thoughts and insights below!

Ginny McReynolds is a longtime writer. She holds an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from Goucher College, and writes about communication, retirement, reinvention, self-concept and creativity in The Washington Post, Curve magazine, and Together.guide. Please visit her blog called Finally Time for This: A Beginner’s Guide to the Second Act of Life.

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