Getting through hard times
Those who know me are aware that I have been going through the most difficult time of my life. Given my history, that is really saying something. It has been a whole series of things that I don’t want to get into describing. I would like to share a few coping techniques that I have found useful.
First, enjoy every positive thing you can find. Are you having a great breakfast? Enjoy the taste of the food, the sensation of the hot tea. Be one with the moment. Did you have a nice moment at work? Savor it. Is the sun shining with a nice breeze? Just acknowledge to yourself it’s a beautiful day. I try to play with my triplet two year old toddlers every night. They will play with dad no matter what else is going on in life. Toddlers don’t know or care about the big picture.
I try also to remind myself that this stressful moment is going to pass, and that the majority of stuff works itself out sooner or later. You can’t afford to pay the bill? OK, well, you might lose the object or service. And your life will go on without it just fine. Somebody is yelling at you? Take a deep breath, to yourself. Eventually, quicker than you think, they will stop and the moment will be over. And it will just be an unpleasant moment in the past.
Try to ask yourself what the worst case scenario is. Many times, it is just some emotional consequence that can be dealt with as opposed to a real threat. Try not to think either about the mistakes of the past or the possible future. And for God’s sake, don’t contemplate the big picture. Just get through today. If that is even too much, how about getting through this moment?
I have found talking to supportive people to be very helpful. They are useful for keeping things in perspective and for just listening. Try not to be alone, if you can help it. That doesn’t work well for me.
Creative activities seem to help. I am doing a lot of cooking now. Before this crisis, I never lifted a finger to feed myself. Now I really enjoy shopping for groceries and preparing my own food. It is very much a creative act. You have a whole grocery store in front of you with thousands of ingredients that can be prepared in millions of ways. So, given the time and skill constraints, what’s for lunch? I can’t imagine going back to eating out at restaurants. Now I have a little kitchen in my office, and I make myself lunch every day. It’s a nice break from the stress of the day, saves me a buck or two, and probably helps my waistline. Between not eating or sleeping, exercise, and improving my diet when I do eat, I have lost a whopping forty pounds!
Avoid intoxicants. They just cause new problems to deal with.
Exercise provides me with a sense of achievement. If nothing else goes right, at least I can work out and feel good about accomplishing that. In the same vein, I am really into playing music. I am currently working on learning the cello. It has a nice sad and mellow sound that is not too painful to hear a lot. Music therapy seems to work for me, and I feel less down after playing for an hour.
A lot of these techniques are really Buddhist principles brought to life. Living in the now, trying not to be attached to various outcomes, finding beauty in action: these techniques have helped people for thousands of years. And you don’t have to be a Buddhist to use them: stress reduction is stress reduction, no matter what you believe in.
Speaking of religious issues, I think belief is a core component of the ability to mentally survive difficult times. I pray every day now. I try my best to just put all my troubles in the hands of the Almighty and ask Him to just deal with them, because I can’t. If you believe God can do anything, then you can believe He can help you if he wants. And I don’t even pray for solutions anymore, just survival. Just getting to tomorrow is good enough for me at this point.
Last but not least, if things get really bad, go get help. There are lots of professionals ready and willing to help you, if you just ask.
I hope these tips help somebody else going through a difficult period in their life.