April 25, 2018

"You know what? Today’s going to be a good day" is the attitude we often start our day with—hoping that things will go according to plan, and run oh-so-smoothly because hey, that would make things a lot easier. And then, the day happens.

We spill coffee on our shirt, we hit unexpected traffic right on our way to that very important meeting, we say the wrong thing to a friend in a moment of frustration that leaves us in an awkward spot for a week. Crap happens.

While our days can be filled with many #blessed moments, our days are also filled with many #ohcrap moments: the daily frustrations that keep us on our toes.

Remember, crap is constant.

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It can show up in any corner of our lives: relationships, work, money, families and health, with a myriad of unpredictable twists on those themes. It can be sudden, leading to a devastating change in our circumstances, or it can be a slow burner, as in a deteriorating relationship or a chronic health problem. Or it can be the super-combo, when a long term difficulty plunges into crisis.

It can be something beyond our control or something we’ve done wrong, leading to shame, guilt, and a long trail of remorse.

It’s every psychologist’s dream that people are emotionally armed for these tough times; that kids were taught coping strategies at school; that everyone has a resilience toolkit to dip into for help.

But research shows we actually underestimate our ability to cope. Just like the immune system that helps us beat a cold, we all have a "mental immune system" that helps us handle tough stuff, too—we just tend to forget it's there.

Here are tips to flex your "coping with crap" skills:

1. Shut the front door (and the back door too).

You need time to yourself to grasp what has happened. Shock and raw emotion throw us—and a common early reaction is to deny or avoid thinking about what has happened. This can lead us to shut down, to go into “helpless” mode when we have things we need to do.

The quicker we can acknowledge (but not yet accept) the truth, the sooner we can begin to shuffle forward. But don’t isolate yourself for too long—that will make things worse.

2. Give yourself permission to cry or get mad.

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You’re allowed to feel pain, express feelings, and show vulnerability. It’s normal and healthy. If you’re not the tearful type at least allow yourself to identify and name what you are feeling: sadness, rage, fear, devastation—or murderous thoughts of revenge.

3. Slowly recenter.

Being able to accept your emotions so you can acknowledge them is important.

Tears are good. Your emotions will swing, clash and change—that’s okay just beware of letting them immobilize you.

4. Name your people.

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Write down two lists. (1) The people you need to look after and (2) those you can fully trust to support you. This will help you organise your thinking and priorities—and know when to say “yes” and “no”—when your head is full and the tasks are piling up.

5. Do a daily high five.

Focus on what you CAN do. Make a list of five things you need to do now, or quickly. Your daily list should not contain more than five items or you’ll feel overwhelmed. Then pick the most important thing on the list and tackle it methodically.

6. Say yes to the lasagna.

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Ask for (or least accept) offers of support. Friends, family, and colleagues are often willing but they don’t know what to say or what to do. You will help yourself—as well as them—by asking for what you need, even something tiny, or at least allowing them to be there for you.

Trust your ability to push through whatever today throws your way.

A version of this article originally appeared on Medium.


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