How To Keep Going In Tough Times
Are you having a tough time in your life? If so, this is for you.
That’s right, I’ve written these words for you. Because when I was going through some tough times in my life, it was books, videos, and articles like the one I’m about to share with you that helped pull me out from the depth of fear and dread. And I hope my words can do the same for you. Or at the very least offer you some comfort.
But before we go any further, I want you to take a deep breath in right now, pause for a second at the top of the breath, and then let it out with a long exhale.
I want you to breathe like this for the duration of this article—and if you can, for at least 5 minutes every day hereon after. Even if you don’t remember anything else from this article, that’s okay—as long as you remember to take deeper, fuller breaths. Because you need your breath in order to get through whatever you’re going through.
And now, if you’re ready, Let us begin with 5 things to remember as we go through a difficult time in our life. These simple yet profound reminders will help put us in the right mindset to face life’s many hurdles—however big or small they may be.
This post contains affiliate links, meaning, at no additional cost to you, I will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase. Read the full (warning: it’s boring) disclosure here.
5 Things to Remember When Times Are Tough
1. You’re Not Helpless
When life’s not going well, it’s natural to feel that you have no control over your fate—like you’re a tiny prey in the jaws of a towering predator, or a piece of floating kelp in a tidal storm.
I used to feel that way too. I used to think there was nothing I could do to make my days better. There was a period of time when I literally wasted away in a hospital bed—I did nothing except stare at the ceiling all day or watch the Food Network to pass the time (no offense to the Food Network). When people encouraged me to get out of the bed, I thought “what’s the point?”
After a month of living in the hospital like this, I became so weak I could barely walk down from one end of a street to another before losing my breath. I needed a shot of Benadryl to make me sleep every night. And the worst part was the anxiety—no matter how hard I tried to distract myself I couldn’t tear my eyes—and my thoughts—away from the clock.
It’s only been 5 minutes? When can I get out of here?!
I did, eventually, get out of the hospital. But barely two years later, I was in the hospital again for an extended period of time. Except this time, I had a completely different experience.
I was active—I did a lot of productive things like walking, reading, and drawing. I stopped watching the clock and felt a steady flow of peace within me. And my mood was noticeably better. I felt, in every way, healthier and happier even though I was dealing with every cancer patient’s nightmare—relapse—and the treatment regimen was tougher than anything I had encountered before.
So what caused this change?
I stopped believing I was helpless.
When you stop believing you are powerless and focus on each and every little thing you can do, everything around you changes even though the objective reality hasn’t changed at all.
The next time you think “I’m powerless”, “I have no control over anything”, or “there’s nothing I can do”, remember to challenge these thoughts. Ask yourself: “What’s within my power to change?”
And trust me, there is always something if you dig deep enough.
2. Life is a Sine Wave
Life is not a straight line between two dots, but a sine wave with many crests and troughs.
There are times in our lives when joy comes easily—when everything just seems to fall in line and run smoothly like a well-oiled machine. These are the crests.
There are also times in our lives when one thing after another falls off the rails, and nothing goes according to plan. These are the times when we’d have to work a little harder to find our smile—the troughs.
And if there’s one thing I learned in math class about the nature of a sine wave, it’s this: What goes up must come down, and similarly, what comes down must go up. Unfortunately, we can’t ride on the peak of a crest forever in our lives, but the good news is that on the other hand, we won’t always be at the bottom of a trough either.
This was one of the things I kept reminding myself during those years when I battled cancer.
I admit, I didn’t believe it wholeheartedly at first—it was just something everyone who’d been living for much, much longer than me kept saying was true. And so it was with a dose of post-teenage skepticism that I took their word. But I’m glad I did—because they were right.
It’s been 13 years since my first diagnosis, and in this period of time I’ve had a few ups and downs—and I see clearly now that life really is a sine wave where no crest or trough lasts forever.
So even though times may be hard right now, and the darkness may have fallen around you for so long that you might be starting to wonder if dawn would ever break, you must trust in the nature of life’s sine wave.
What comes down must go up.
Things will get better.
3. Worrying Won’t Solve Anything
Is my life always going to be like this? When am I going to get out of this rut? What if things don’t get better?
Are thoughts like these spinning in your head?
If you’re constantly ruminating about what hasn’t happened yet, it’s time to slow down and take notice. Excessive worrying is not just a nuisance—it can take a real toll on your body and mind.
So what can you do about it? You know the worrying has got to stop, but it’s soooo hard to not worry when you’re going through a tough time in your life. (I can see you nodding!)
First, remember the fact that worrying won’t actually solve anything. If we could make our problems disappear every time we worried, we wouldn’t have any problems to face. So you have two choices: You could worry away every minute of your waking hours (like I did once upon a time) and get nothing in return except more anxiety and frustration, or you could spend all that time and energy on finding things you can do to improve the situation.
Now if you’re ready to stop worrying, head over to my article “3 Questions That Will Help Worry Less”.
4. It’s Okay to Cry
It seems like as a society, we’ve made a pariah out of negative emotions such as fear or sadness. Everywhere I turn these days, I see mottos like “good vibes only” or “just stay positive”, as if negative feelings are this terrible, evil enemy we must expel from our minds with the utmost tenacity.
I can’t disagree more.
One of the best lessons I learned about human nature is that the more we try to run away from an emotion or pretend it doesn’t exist, the more it will come back to haunt us. Kind of like the villains in my favourite 90’s slasher movies. The best way to deal with an emotion—whether positive or negative—is to accept it, experience it, and let it go.
So if you feel like you need a good cry because you’re having the worst day, week, month, or even year of your life, don’t hold yourself back.
There’s nothing to be ashamed of. You’re not weak. On the contrary, being in tune with your emotions and being able to appropriately express them are signs of wisdom and personal strength.
Not to mention, crying can benefit your mind and body. Shedding tears not only helps release toxins, it can reduce stress and pain. It’s no wonder I always feel a sense of lightness and peace after a good cry—like the calm after a storm.
And crying doesn’t mean you’re admitting defeat. I know because I’ve cried many, many times during the tough times in my life, and it didn’t make me any less of a fighter. In fact, it made me stronger. I let myself acknowledge and feel my emotions when they come, and then I let them go. Without the burden of repressed emotions, my spirit is light and I’m able to go further.
I cry. I breathe. And then I carry on.
And here’s how to have a good cry when you need it.
5. You’re Not Alone
There are, and there will be, moments when you feel like nobody cares. That’s simply not true. Remember, no matter what you’re going through, you’re not alone.
All you need to do is reach out and say: “I need help.”
I know someone, I’ll call her Lindsay, who recently went through a difficult series of operations on her neck. Lindsay said one of the toughest parts about the whole thing was asking for help. Lindsay took pride in being extremely self-reliant and hated the idea of relying on others for basic things like getting the groceries, cleaning up the house, and doing the laundry.
And who could she depend on? She lived alone. Her father, the only family she has, lived in another country and they weren’t really close. And because she was so independent—almost to a fault—she didn’t have that many friends.
But Lindsay was amazed at how a friend, not a particularly close one before her ordeal, stepped up to Lindsay’s call for help. This woman did everything from bringing her food to driving Lindsay to and from hospital appointments, and more. She took a genuine interest in Lindsay’s wellbeing and devoted much of her time and energy to Lindsay’s care, even when Lindsay didn’t ask her to. And through this experience, they were able to get to know each other on a deeper level and develop a stronger bond.
Lindsay’s story reminds us that kindness is never too far away, and that we’re not as alone we may believe we are. Somebody does care. Somebody will listen. And somebody is going to be by your side. All you need to do is reach out, and you will find a hand.
I know that getting through dark times will take more than just a few reminders, so now I’m going to show you a few actionable things you can do to better cope.
6 Things You Can Do to Cope With Tough Times
1. Pay Attention to the Good Moments
Ever notice how one small negative event—like encountering a rude driver on your commute home—can ruin your otherwise amazing day?
Turns out we’re naturally wired to focus more on the negative. This is why many things seem to go wrong when we’re in a low period in our life, and it feels like we just can’t catch a break.
So what can we do about it? Negative experiences, as we all know, are kind of unavoidable.
According to neuropsychologist Dr. Rick Hanson, we need to make a deliberate effort to notice the positive moments in our daily lives. Spending an extra 30 seconds of our time to appreciate a positive experience will help make the experience “sink into” our brain, and this seemingly trivial habit—over time—will lead to a greater sense of happiness. To learn more about this concept, check out his book “Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence”.
Can you exercise your way out of a tough time in your life? In reality, no. But you will feel better. Science shows that exercise is beneficial for not just our body, but also for our mind.
Now here are some creative ways to incorporate exercise into your daily life.
3. Stick to a Consistent Routine
I used to hate the idea of living a life with regimented and consistent routines, until routines saved me from anxiety and depression during the toughest periods of my life. Who knew simple things like making the bed every morning, taking a walk around the neighbourhood after lunch, or going to sleep at the same time every night could have such a powerful effect?
So if you’re going through a tough time, resist the urge to throw all your usual routines out the window. Instead, find a way to maintain consistent routines in your life. Doesn’t matter if the tasks seem mundane, repetitive, or insignificant. Do them enough times and you’ll feel their magic.
4. Practice Gratitude
I know, it’s not easy to feel thankful when we’re going through hard times, but it is precisely during these times when we need to count our blessings. Research shows that engaging in a gratitude practice can make us feel more optimistic, exercise more, and get sick less often.
Can’t think of things to be grateful for? Start this list.
5. Talk to Someone Who’s Been Through It
One of the best things we can do when we’re having a hard time is talk to someone who’s been through it.
Before I had my bone-marrow transplant in the summer of 2009, my hematologist decided to introduce me to a few other young patients who had gone through a transplant themselves. I remember one of them very well. Her name was Shirley, she was around my age and dealing with a serious Leukemia diagnosis, a slightly different kind of Leukemia than mine and much more aggressive. Shirley had just gone through a transplant and was staying in a hospital room a few doors down from mine.
We spent a lot of time together, talking about her recent transplant experience, and playing video games in her hospital room. Spending time with Shirley made me feel like I wasn’t the only bald girl who was confronting the possibility of death at the height of youth.
Shirley, along with the others I talked to, gave me plenty of valuable information about the transplant process from a patient’s perspective. They also gave me the hope and courage I needed to push through this difficult procedure and the many months of recovery that followed.
So if you’re struggling, please don’t seclude yourself. Find somebody who’s been through what you’re going through (or something similar), and ask if they’re willing to share their stories with you. Ask for their advice and words of encouragement. Most people are happy to share whatever information they can provide to help someone else who’s going through the same ordeal they had gone through.
6. Find a Creative Outlet
When was the last time you did something artsy and creative? If it’s been a while then it’s time to pick up that paint brush (or polaroid camera, or poetic pen, or colouring marker) again.
Because creative activities not only provide healthy distractions in a time of stress and uncertainty, they can also improve our brain function and our mental health.
Before you say “I don’t have a creative bone in my body”, check out this fun and quirky journal called “Wreck This Journal”. It promises to help you unleash your creative side with a series of unconventional prompts that sometimes involve shredding and destroying the pages. Mmm..exciting!
And that’s it for 11 things that will help you get through tough times in your life. But before I end this post, I want to leave you with some words of motivation.
10 Quotes to Inspire You During Tough Times
“The strongest steel is forged by the fires of hell.
― Sherrilyn Kenyon
“Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”
– Thich Nhat Hanh
“It is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the true strength of the brilliant light within ourselves that can never, ever, be dimmed.”
– Doe Zantamata
“Courage doesn’t always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day, saying, “I will try again tomorrow.”
– Mary Anne Radmacher
“When things are bad, we take comfort in the thought that they could always get worse. And when they are, we find hope in the thought that things are so bad they have to get better.”
– Malcolm S. Forbes
“Tough times never last, but tough people do.”
– Robert Schuller
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life. It goes on.”
– Robert Frost
“Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning how to dance in the rain.”
– Vivian Greene
“Once you choose hope, anything’s possible.”
– Christopher Reeve
“Why worry? If you’ve done the very best you can, worrying won’t make it any better.”
– Walt Disney
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