Dr Kelly Neff, The Lucid Planet
Even the most balanced and connected people go through periods of stress, difficulties and struggles. Here are some thoughts to remember when you’re going through tough times, from my perspective as a psychologist and also as someone who has had my fair share of ups and downs. I hope it helps!
1. You Are Loved
If you feel like you are wading through darkness right now, the first thing I want to tell you is that YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Even if it feels like you are completely alone, you are not. You are loved, and there ARE people in this world who love and care about you.
I don’t even know you, and I love you because you are part of my human family. The same spark of light that animates me also animates you and every other living creature. Someone told me once that Namaste means “the light within me recognizes the light within you” – and even if you do not feel that light within yourself right now, it is still there and the people around you can recognize it.
Now is the time to connect with the people who love you, even if you feel resistance or trepidation about reaching out. Maintaining these human connections is really important for your well-being. For example, a recent survey showed that not staying in touch with friends and family is one of the top five regrets of the dying . Research in social psychology also shows that having close friends and a supportive social group is one of the strongest predictors of happiness.
So make some effort to reach out and spend some time with the people you love, right now. Send a message, or a text, pick up the phone to say I love you or arrange to meet for coffee or dinner. Do not be afraid to ask for help if you are having a hard time, your loved ones will understand.
2. Your Feelings are Here to Guide You
Often when we are going through a tough time, we desperately want OUT of it. We long to feel good, to get back to being connected or feeling like “ourselves” again. And because that balanced, happy part of us can feel so very far away, our continued longing to get back there just makes us feel WORSE.
Sometimes, surrendering is actually the best way out of the darkness. Instead of resisting the feelings you have, allow yourself to experience them. Sit with them, understand them, and nurture them. Our feelings are not coincidental impulses to be suppressed or ignored, but road-maps of our inner worlds, Divine tools here to help guide our thoughts and behaviors. So if you are feeling depressed, sad, angry, alone, frustrated, anxious, stressed, (etc), perhaps there is a reason WHY and you are supposed to go deep within yourself to explore that reason.
If this is sounding a little bit like Buddhist philosophy to you, it is because I am heavily inspired by the work of Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, in particular his beautiful book, True Love. In it, he discusses mindfully sitting with your anger and nurturing your anger as if it were a crying baby. This practice brings you into a state of present awareness and connection to your higher self, allowing you to process and work through the emotions from a place of love. Just dong this can make you feel better, because sometimes, the lack of connection and present awareness is what brought about the feelings of emotional pain. to begin with.
3. Life Isn’t ‘Easy’ for Anyone
One of the worst pitfalls comes when you believe that you have it tougher than everyone else. Facing life with “poor me” attitude or victim mentality does NOT serve you: It will not make you feel better, and it may alienate and isolate you from the very people whose support you are seeking. When we become victims in our lives, we tend to manifest events, people and situations that continue to reinforce how terrible everything has become.
The reality is, life isn’t “easy” for ANYONE! So many people go through all kinds of difficulties and struggles- We all have ups and downs. In other words, if we all threw our problems into a pile, you might be pretty quick to take yours back. Besides, this is NOT a competition about who has suffered more, or who has gotten a worse deal. This is about YOU and getting yourself out of the state you are in..
If you find that you are regularly comparing yourself to other people and then feeling bad about yourself or your life, just remember that the human mind is somewhat programmed to function like this. Indeed, according to social comparison theory in social psychology , it is our natural inclination to compare ourselves to other people and then derive our self esteem from these comparisons. However, I am a firm believer that once you become AWARE of a programmed behavior, through being present and mindful of the thinking pattern you can alter it when it emerges.
4. You are NOT Supposed to be Perfect
Sometimes, when we see other people with all these amazing accomplishments and abilities, it can make us feel pretty low (there’s that urge to make social comparisons rearing it’s ugly head again!). I can’t tell you how many times I have heard wonderfully brilliant, talented people beat themselves up and tell me that they are not good enough or that they don’t measure up. In my opinion, this is not true because NOBODY really has it all together or has everything figured out!
What I’m trying to say is that no matter how accomplished, talented and amazing we are… We all make mistakes! Sometimes we make a lot of mistakes, all the time! One could even argue that screwing up is what we humans do best. I have messed up so many times in my life, I am so far from perfect or having things together, and I love this about myself because I am a HUMAN! I personally believe that making mistakes and learning from them is one of the most important parts our human journey here on Earth.
So when you make mistakes, embrace them and learn from them. It doesn’t mean you are a bad person, or that you are unworthy of love, or that you don’t measure up. Nobody is going to hate you for messing up. In fact, according to the “pratfall effect” in social psychology, making mistakes can actually make you more likeable to other people! So forgive yourself and move on. You’re not perfect, and you’re not supposed to be perfect!
5. Smiles and Laughs are the Best Medicine
When you’re feeling down, the physical act of smiling and laughing can make you feel a lot better. Research conducted at the University of Michigan has shown that smiling can actually improve your mood, so long as it is a REAL smile and not a fake smile! What’s the difference? Well, both real and fake smiles involve the turning up of the corners of the mouth, but only real smiles ALSO involve the eye-socket as in, smiling from your EYES.
Why does smiling work to improve our moods? While scientists are not yet completely certain why the simple of act of smiling makes you feel happy, it has been suggested that smiling contracts the facial muscles, leading to more blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobes, which in turn triggers release of dopamine, one of the pleasure chemicals in the brain.
Laughter can also help improve your mood and alleviate anxiety and depression, especially laughter Yoga! So when things are tough, do something that makes you smile, whether you are watching something hilarious, reading something funny, hanging out with someone who cracks you up, or just making jokes to yourself. Whatever it is, don’t fake it: Just be real and let it flow naturally.
6. Gratitude is the Other Best Medicine
Research in the field of positive psychology has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier, less stressed and less depressed. A 2003 experimental study showed that when people were asked to express what they were grateful for every day, they experienced increases in mood and well-being.
Even in the toughest times in our lives, we can still always find something to be grateful for. Sometimes, we can find gratitude in the little things, like the beautiful crispness in the air, or the way the sun reflects off the clouds. Or we find it in a kind smile from a passing stranger, or the smell or taste of something delicious. Sometimes, we find gratitude in the larger things, like feeling the blessing of having friends, or a job, or a roof over our heads or food on the table. And sometimes, we can feel grateful just because we are lucky to be alive.
If you’re having a hard time finding your gratitude, there are lots of things you can do, including taking a few moments a day to really think and write about it in a journal, such as jotting down three positive things per day that you are grateful for. I’ve been seeing a lot of this happening on Facebook lately, called the Gratitude challenge, and it works! In a study when men and women were asked to write three letters of gratitude over a three-week period, they experienced increases in happiness and life-satisfaction, and decreases in depression.
7. It is Time to Get Real With Yourself
Sometimes, going through hard times can amplify and magnify all the problems and issues in our lives. One common theme I have noticed is that many times, when I am going through periods of darkness or struggle, I am forced to look into the mirror to examine my current state of existence. And sometimes, I do not like what I see.
When you are going through tough times, you are being gifted a wonderful opportunity to get very real with yourself and make important changes that can alter the course of your life. What are you doing that is not in alignment with your life goals and your highest self? What changes do you need to make in order to become the best version of yourself? Who are you and who are you becoming?
It is incredible how much power each of us has over our intentions, behaviors and reactions to situations. So if you see something about yourself that you don’t like, you can absolutely take power and change it. Indeed, the number ONE regret of the dying is that “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expect of me.”
Unlike those people, you still have time to make that change for the better. It is time step into your truth and honor your authentic dreams, goals and aspirations. Right now, you have nothing to lose and everything to live for by getting real with yourself. Never forget that no matter how bad it gets, you are always worthy of living a happy and fulfilling life.
Blessings, Light and Love to You!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Dr. Kelly Neff is a renowned psychologist, author, founder of The Lucid Planet and the host of the nationally syndicated new talk radio show, Lucid Planet Radio, airing Wednesday afternoons at 5pm ET. She has reached millions of people with her articles on psychology, transformation, and wellness, which have been featured on websites like The Mind Unleashed, Mind Body Green, My Tiny Secrets, and now, The Lucid Planet. Before she became a full-time author, Dr. Neff spent seven years as a psychology professor where she helped thousands of students learn about health, relationships, love and sexuality, and co-authored the groundbreaking manual in her field, Teaching Psychology Online. She has a B.A. in Psychology from Georgetown University and an M.A. and Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Claremont Graduate University. Dr. Neff is an avid participant in the visionary art, music and culture scene in her home state of Colorado and beyond. You might find her traveling the globe to give workshops, speeches and do research at transformational festivals. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter. Light and Love!