9 WAYS TO HAVE YOUR OWN BACK IN HARD TIMES
Our expert guide on surviving tough moments
RESET YOUR STRESS RESPONSE
Not so cool, calm and collected as you’d like? The reality is that your default reaction when things don’t go well will impact how quickly you overcome life’s hurdles. Here’s how to identify your coping style, and the best ways to adapt in order to meet challenges a little more easily.
In an emotional emergency, you like to take action and avoid dwelling on your feelings. ‘You’ll need to address them at some point, or they’ll build up,’ warns Dr Carla Marie Manly, psychologist and author of Joy From Fear (Familius, £15.49).
A better way to deal
Make expressing yourself, not fixing yourself, your first step. If you’re feeling low and need help unpacking that, talk to someone who you feel you don’t need to be strong for. Sometimes, the strongest move is to feel first and act later.
You turn inwards for answers (going for a run, having a long bath) and take time to reach clarity. This can be a great way to develop understanding, according to Dr Manly, provided you don’t get stuck in an emotional spiral with no plan at the end. A better way to deal
Replace one not-especially productive self-care act (blasting out Lizzo in the bath, for instance) with one that addresses your problem, such as booking a therapy appointment or arranging catch-ups with friends you’ve not seen in a while.
You tend to stick your head in the sand, telling yourself, and perhaps others, too, not to make a fuss. You don’t want to acknowledge – much less resolve – difficult, messy emotions. But while this might be a good short-term strategy, it’s not a long-term salve.
A better way to deal
The key to escaping an avoidant state is to imagine being in your current position for ever. Ask yourself: ‘Is ignoring this going to get me what I want in the future?’ Use this realisation to galvanise yourself – the time to start moving forwards is now.
MAKE TIME FOR FEELGOOD HABITS
Tap into one of these happiness habits for a fast track to instant joy.
2 MINS Replay the best part of your day
Former news anchor Dan Harris had a panic attack live on Good Morning America, leading him on a quest for happiness that resulted in his bestselling book 10% Happier (Yellow Kite, £9.99). Before bed, Harris says he thinks of one good thing that happened that day – a quick trick to help you fall asleep on a positive note.
5 MINS Go to your safe haven
‘Think about a moment when you felt comfortable and relaxed, and float back there,’ says trauma specialist Dr Laurie Nadel. It could be on the beach or your best friend’s sofa, but spending a few minutes mentally returning there can help to restore a sense of security.
10 MINS Read your self-esteem file
When someone gives you positive feedback, or you do something that makes you feel proud, add it to a list or a journal. ‘It’s compelling to see this hard evidence that you’re good, valuable and making a difference,’ says Dr Emily Anhalt, a workplace emotional fitness consultant.
15 MINS Diarise worry time
‘Schedule a time in your calendar when you’re allowed to feel stressed or overwhelmed,’ says Dr Anhalt. ‘When that slot is over, move on. That frees up your mind to experience the positive thoughts coming your way.’ It sounds counterintuitive, but it works.
30 MINS Sweat it out
Exercise can have a transformative effect on your mind; even half an hour can make a difference. Low-intensity aerobic exercise – 30 to 35 minutes, three to five days a week – has been shown to deliver a significant improvement in mood, according to a study by the Mental Health Foundation.
60 MINS Make time for fun
Play is an undervalued pillar of emotional fitness; it’s about letting yourself think outside of what feels possible or logical. If the activities that normally constitute play time are unavailable right now, find something else – it may be Frisbee in the garden or Scrabble. It all counts.
‘PLAY LETS YOU THINK OUTSIDE WHAT FEELS POSSIBLE’
DON’T COMPARE YOUR PAIN Remember, how you deal with pain is not a competition. ‘We become afraid to talk about losses that feel less significant compared with those of others,’ says Lori Gottlieb, psychotherapist and author of Maybe You Should Talk To Someone (Scribe, £16.99). ‘But when you ignore those feelings, they’ll come out in other ways, such as short-temperedness or wasting hours online – whatever numbs the pain.’ Rather than telling yourself to toughen up, show yourself the compassion you’d have for a beloved friend. ‘If someone said to you, “I’m really sad that I couldn’t have a big birthday party for my 30th this year,” you’d commiserate with them,’ says Gottlieb. ‘You need to respond with that compassion for yourself.’ Sure, cultivate gratitude for the things that make you happy, but also try to acknowledge the sadness, frustration and crushing disappointment you feel, to stop it weighing you down.
‘As a Black woman, I’d never felt more uneasy than I did last summer, when several Black Americans were killed by police or citizens within a short period, and those events sparked passionate protests worldwide,’ explains writer and editor Alexis Jones. ‘I felt drained, not only from advocating, but also just from reading the news. But I knew I wasn’t the only one feeling that way. I learned that taking time for yourself is vital – making sure you have the emotional reserves that allow you to show up is as important as advocating for Black lives and the anti-racism movement.’
To build resilience in the face of racial trauma…
● ‘Make time for joy. It’s also a form of resistance,’ says Dr Candice Hargons, founding director of the Center for Healing Racial Trauma in the US. ‘I personally find happiness in meditation and cooking.’
● Engage at your capacity. Do what you can handle at any time to support a cause. Need a break? ‘Take a day to write about or sit with your feelings,’ says Yolo Akili Robinson, founder and executive director of the Black Emotional and Mental Health Collective (BEAM).
● Connect with a professional trained in racial trauma. Use The Black, African and Asian Therapy Network (baatn.org.uk) to find therapists in your area who meet your needs. If money is tight, ask your therapist what low-cost options they offer.
REWRITE YOUR THOUGHTS
‘Declutter your mind so it becomes a room you want to spend time in,’ says Jay Shetty, a former Buddhist monk, host of the
On Purpose podcast and author of
Think Like A Monk: Train Your Mind For Peace And Purpose Every Day (Harpercollins, £14.99). ‘Spot the thought patterns you don’t like, stop and reflect on why, and then rewrite them in such a way that serves you better,’ says Shetty. Here’s how to take it for a test run…
SPOT: ‘I’M LONELY.’
Stop Think about your word choice and the connotations. For this example, consider how time alone needn’t mean isolation and distance. Instead, it can be synonymous with strength and reflection, and give you time to look inwards so you can offer more to both yourself and others afterwards.
Swap ‘This is a period of solitude and I’ll come out of it with better self-awareness.’
LEARN TRICKS TO WAKE UP AND GO TO BED HAPPIER
IN THE MORNING… MOVE 1
Stretch your body and notice where you feel discomfort (noting what’s in your head, too). Repeat for two minutes. Take deep breaths and sit with any discomfort for a few beats.
Focus on one piece of insight that can be your prompt for the sort of day you want to have. This could be a quote, a mantra, a podcast clip or a page from a book.
Express thankfulness. Send someone an appreciative text or voice note. Convey your feelings with words that are specific, not generic – it’ll mean more, and you’ll also feel better.
IN THE EVENING… MOVE 1
Have a moment of stillness with yourself. Feel your mind wandering in a negative direction? That’s okay, go with it.
As you’re brushing your teeth, give mental thanks for a situation that unfolded the way you wanted it to that day.
Reflect on one thing that went wrong and unpack the part you played in it. Accepting responsibility helps build agency.
TAKE A LITTLE BREATHER
Three of the Red team give their tried-and-tested ways to unplug:
‘To calm and centre myself, I use this breathing technique that I learned on a meditation retreat. As you breathe in, imagine your breath looping around your body. I visualise it going over the top of my head, washing down my back and legs, coming around my feet and up again, until I release it. I use this a lot in bed, to relax myself before sleep, but also at stressful moments throughout my day.’ Alexandra Friend, senior beauty editor
‘To help myself unplug, I do something creative with my kids – colouring, building Lego or modelling with Play-doh. It removes me from the all-encompassing stresses of my day job and allows my mind to wander elsewhere. I find it satisfying to be doing something vaguely artistic, but that doesn’t have any expectations attached to it.’ Sarah Tomczak, editor
‘I love playing the same albums on repeat – I find it so comforting and soothing getting lost in songs I’m so familiar with. At the moment, I’m rotating between Taylor Swift’s Folklore and Evermore albums – I play them while I cook and when I’m on my daily walks, and find they help me enter a deep state of mindlessness.’
Arielle Tchiprout, features writer
PRACTISE GETTING UNSTUCK Dr Angela Duckworth, psychologist and author of Grit: The Power Of Passion And Perseverance (Ebury, £9.99) offers advice on how to rediscover your drive.
Q How can you inject passion into your career when you feel stagnant or have had a setback? A I think people are happiest when in pursuit of a meaningful goal. Think back to endeavours that made you feel great, and ask yourself why. Did you like the sense of teamwork? Or working with your hands? Then find a new way to get to that feeling.
Q Is it okay to escape from real life into ridiculous TV when you’re feeling low?
A Many behaviours are responses to stress, and it’s important to acknowledge that many of our coping mechanisms are perfectly healthy. So, it’s okay to recognise that you’re not feeling great, and then enjoy watching that funny TV show. It’s tough to forge ahead if you ignore self-care.
Q It’s easy to feel guilty about taking time for yourself – any advice?
A There’s no such thing as too much selfcompassion. In fact, when people feel cared for, that’s when they take care of others. You’ll have heard it before, but it bears repeating: you can’t make a difference if your own cup is empty.
SPREAD THE LOVE Research has shown that practising loving kindness meditation has real health benefits, such as boosting your resilience and even helping to reduce chronic pain. To try it, bring to mind someone you’re indifferent to (let’s say, the delivery person). Wish them well in your head with a series of phrases: ‘may you be safe, happy and healthy’, for example. Then sit back and bask in the warm wishes.
‘The practice is designed to help you pay attention differently,’ says Sharon Salzberg, veteran Buddhist meditation teacher and author of several books on the topic. ‘You’ll naturally notice more awareness and connection when you see that person again,’ she explains. ‘And there’s no need to force a special feeling.’
The sense of connection and kindness for others will eventually start to translate into how you feel about yourself, too.