In the mental health field, research has shifted from post-traumatic stress to post-traumatic growth. What we are learning is that there is a vast opportunity for growth from the ashes of despair. Also, growth is not only possible but optimal in the face of tough times.
It’s the difference between planting in sand and planting in rich organic soil. While you would never choose to go through hardship, you can develop your emotional resilience and bounce back faster with these ten suggestions for turning adversity into opportunities.
How to Turn Tough Times Into New Beginnings
1. Take care of yourself physically.
As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. When the unexpected happens and you aren’t sure of your next step, it’s always a good idea to nurture yourself. Even if your life is a swirling mess, you start the process of regrouping from within. Stay hydrated, exercise in ways that feel good, eat well, get adequate rest.
Avoid behaviors that dull your senses. Meet the change with a clear mind by avoiding cover-ups like alcohol and drugs. While this is most important after the fact, regular exercise can give you mental and physical stamina as well as a healthy dose of confidence that will go far in helping you turn a setback into a positive new beginning.
2. Express your emotions mindfully.
Follow up any emotional statement with “right now.” If you feel like crying, then by all means, cry. If you’re angry, express it! Saying, “I’m really mad right now” or, “I’m heartbroken right now,” is a gentle yet clear reminder that you are not stuck in that emotional state.
Wellness activist Kris Carr is fond of saying that her track record for surviving bad days is 100%! The same is true for you. This too shall pass. Emotions are energy and energy was meant to be expressed. By talking about it with a trusted friend, family member, or counselor you avoid getting stuck.
3. Be open. Don’t automatically say no.
Some people have a tendency to shut down and limit their experiences during tough times. The fact is though that some of our most amazing experiences are deeply rooted in tough times. Don’t believe me? Try to think of the most amazing moments in history.
Most weren’t just magically amazing, they were amazing because they grew from something tough, scary or sad. Staying aware of the opportunity hidden in the crisis will allow you to make the most of every struggle.
4. Be cautious. Don’t automatically say yes, either.
This is especially true if you are grieving. Sometimes we are so eager to feel better that we jump at the first sign of relief. While it’s normal to want to feel better, make sure that what you’re saying yes to is safe, healthy, and self-respectful.
5. Your options are wide open.
You don’t have the indulgence(or the burden)of boundaries. This can be scary, or you can see it as an opportunity to reassess your values. What is most important to you? Why? The more focus you give this question, the clearer you will be in deciding your new beginning.
If you don’t know your next step, try volunteering! This works for two reasons. First, giving back is a documented mood booster. Second, volunteering gives you the freedom and opportunity to try out new skills or expand on the ones that you already have. It doesn’t get any more win-win than that!
6. Understand the process of change.
We tend to prefer the known difficulty over the unknown possibility. This natural tendency for balance can keep us stuck in a situation longer than is ideal. In most tough times, there is a hardship, a difficulty, followed by a learning curve and then a bright outcome unfolds.
This isn’t just a storyline. This is life. Tough times aren’t an endpoint. They’re the beginning of becoming stronger. Turning a tough time into a new beginning inherently involves change.
Change can be scary, but it can also be thrilling. You have to let go of the rail if you want to get anywhere. Evolution always moves toward strength, so when you go through a tough time, the right choice is the one that makes you feel stronger and more enriched. Any action is a learning experience so resist the urge to get stuck overthinking your next step.
7. Assess your relationships.
Maybe you don’t need to drop anyone, but maybe you do. Maybe you need to add to your circle. For better or worse, we tend to stay in some sort of balance. Going through a tough time is often caused by tipping that balance and there is always some sort of adjustment in your inner circle—which is really more like a web. You have a choice.
Go back and settle for the way that it’s always been or grow. Growing is sometimes painful, and not just for you! Not everyone is going to love your new beginning. As long as you come to the situation with genuine and kind intentions, it’s important to allow and respect that everyone will go through their own experience.
8. Express gratitude.
Identify the good in your life. This is the simplest, yet most powerful action you can take when it comes to reframing a tough experience into a powerful new beginning.
Perspective is potent. By shifting your perspective from a focus on loss to an expression of gratitude for what you still have, your mind is primed to cultivate opportunities for thrilling new beginnings.
9. Flow, don’t resist.
Change doesn’t cause suffering, it’s our resistance to the change that causes suffering. Even if it’s a setback that enrages you or breaks your heart, acknowledge what happened and move on.
It is what it is, but it could be what it should be. While the circumstances are likely out of your control, you are in absolute control of the perspective you have on it. The sooner you let go of painful resistance, the sooner you can move on to a new chapter.
10. Embrace the possibilities.
Remember as a kid when you sat down at the art table with a fresh sheet of paper and a tray full of paints? You had the opportunity to create anything. Tough, unexpected times are the adult version of that. Life just gave you a clean page.
You can create anything. What will it be? When you go through any sort of loss: Whether it’s the loss of a significant relationship, job loss, or any other unexpected change, it’s important to see the hidden opportunity. What has happened in that loss is that you’ve created space. The choice is yours how you want to fill it.
Keep in mind that you don’t necessarily have to fill that gap with the same sort of thing. For example, if a relationship ends, it may be the perfect time to enjoy solo-travelling! Slow the pace, take time to regroup and redefine. Identify non-essential tasks and clear your schedule as much as possible.
As the great Dr. Suess put it, “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” You are painting a brilliant masterpiece. When life tells you to put down one brush, pick up the next one with gusto and create the life of your dreams!