Life has a way of throwing us curveballs. Life happens, catching us off guard and knocking us down hard on our backsides. Sigh. It isn’t fun! In fact, sometimes the throes of this life can be overwhelming. How do you keep a positive attitude when life throws a curveball? Coping becomes a real challenge.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote, “Time is lost when we have not lived a full human life, time unenriched by experience, creative endeavour, enjoyment, and suffering.” That leads us to point #1 – Expect Suffering. Don’t live in fear of it or sabotage life to create it. But realistically, we are all going to suffer/go through times of suffering. If we expect it as part of the human experience and see value in it as a shaping force, it becomes less of a dread.

You can’t choose your circumstances but Point #2 – You Can Choose Your Attitude. How you view life is crucial and ultimately determines how you will feel about it. We see this time and time again where a person has survived unthinkable things and yet they are smiling and content. They have reached the developmental stage of integrity vs. despair. We also see the flip side of this when someone is just plain cranky and mean — they are living out the ‘despair’ part. Often this brings about a victim mentality. You may experience a victimization but you don’t have to stay there. Move from victim to survivor to conqueror.

Point #3 –  Focus on What You Can Change.  Too often we spend our time thinking about what we wish was different. “If only…” becomes a mantra that fuels feelings of disillusionment and regret. Rather than focusing on what you can’t change, expend your energy doing what you can. It’s a lot like the Serenity Prayer, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Point #4 – One Step at a Time/Day at a Time.  When life goes sideways we can move swiftly to overwhelm when we look around and see the enormity of what is going on. In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), we teach a skill called ‘forest vs. the tree.’ The idea behind it is to deal with one tree at a time, not getting overwhelmed and paralyzed by the forest. One tree is do-able. That is all you need to do is take it one tree — one thing — one minute, one hour, one day at a time. You can do one minute of anything.
Point #5 – Don’t Let Anxiety Drive.  Feelings of anxiety are likely to come and that’s okay. They are just feelings! There is a difference between having feelings of anxiety come and go vs. becoming anxious or fearful and letting that dictate your choices. Acknowledge what you are feeling and why — validate those emotions rather than stuffing them or camping out in them. The biggest piece of anxiety that can trip people up is the stress of not knowing. Quite often when things go sideways we are faced, at least initially, with unknowns. We hate unknowns! Not knowing is hard — especially if we are used to being in control. If the next step is an unknown, just validate it ‘I don’t know…and I hate that…not going to know UNTIL…’ Fight the urge to assume, guess, speculate, make stuff up, etc. It’s an unknown. And you aren’t going to know more until the next thing happens.
Breathe. Breathing is good. Take one step at a time. Coping doesn’t mean it looks great or easy. Coping can be messy. Lean into your support system — ask for help and receive it. Guard your thoughts and refocus them on things that are positive, effective and helpful.
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