How to Remain Positive and Productive During Difficult Times

Times get tough, and I’m not just talking about right now. We’ve all been through difficult times in life, present party included. I’ve faced health issues, financial hardship, bankruptcy, potential foreclosure on my home, heartbreak, and loss. These are things that could’ve cause me to go into a massive tailspin and drop off the face of the earth. Thankfully, they didn’t.

When you’re going through one of life’s storms, or is some cases a tsunami generating earthquake/hurricane spawning tornado torrential downpour, you’re less inclined to engage with others and life in general. You want to go into complete shutdown mode, pull the covers over your head and call it a day. It can be next to impossible to motivate yourself to do anything. You lose your sense of self-esteem and confidence. You experience disappointment, guilt, shame, and often times depression. Sometimes, just the mere thought of getting out of bed in the morning can be painful.

When you go through a major context shift in life - divorce, job loss, financial hardship, global pandemic — the activities you used to enjoy become less enjoyable or desirable. This results in a viscous cycle of reduced activity and low mood. You start doing less, so you feel more isolated. Then you withdraw more, and have fewer opportunities of enjoyment or positive experiences. No one wants a Debbie Downer around, so you sink deeper into a depressive state, and the cycle exacerbates and continues.

The way to end this cycle, or avoiding it all together is to get back up and keep moving forward. Pick yourself up, take a deep breath, dust yourself off, and start all over again.

Yea, I know. Easier said than done, but here are some things that have personally worked for me when I’ve been down and out. I also took the liberty of asking some of my high achieving colleagues how they managed to forge ahead during an incredibly challenging time in life.

  1. Keep moving.

Don’t stop doing whatever it is you don’t feel like doing anymore just because something bad happened in life, be it going to the gym, hanging out with friends, going to work, your favorite hobby, etc. I totally understand when times get tough financially, you now can’t afford to do those things, but that doesn’t mean you should quit doing them altogether.

Not in the position to pay for a gym membership right now? Workout for free. Go for a hike, jog, ride a bike, or watch (and do) workout videos on YouTube. Many yoga and barre studios are offering classes on their web sites or Facebook pages for free or for super cheap. The yoga studio I used to go to pre-COVID offers classes for $5 per class.

Or, are your friends a sad reminder of your recent ex? Hang out with different people — people from work, school, or church. Volunteer, join social groups like a book club or dog walking group (if you have a dog), or start one of your own.

2. Detach from the situation

I know all to well just how difficult it is to NOT focus on the situation at hand when you’re going through a major, potentially life-altering crisis. If you’re experiencing significant financial hardship, it’s next to impossible to ignore the constant letters and phone calls from debt collectors. The amount of money in your bank account is very real. The lover who left or the one you lost is truly gone, and you’re left with the memories, their belongings, their scent, the social media posts with their new flame… (Hint: remove them from your social media pages, or at least unfollow them).

So how do you detach? Personally, I do so by focusing on the solution rather than the problem. I don’t identify with it as being a part of me. It’s a condition, not a trait, attribute, or character flaw. Sure, the situation might suck, but you don’t have to become the situation. Be realistic and keep things in perspective. Putting negative thoughts, focus or energy into it can only make it worse. There’s the old adage “don’t sweat the small stuff.” In the grand scheme of things, ultimately all things are small things because all things are transient. Remove the emotional involvement from the problem or situation so you can keep things in perspective and take a more pragmatic approach to it.

3. Be proactive

When a major shit storm hits in life, we have the tendency to be more reactive rather than proactive. These storms aren’t typically planned, so when they happen, we go into that emergency response fight or flight mode.

Rather than being reactive, which can cause a whole new set of problems, take a step back and breathe. Create a plan of action. Map out the steps you can take on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis to resolve the issue. Set goals around those steps. Focus on creating the solution rather than intensifying the problem.

4. Go within

And by this, I mean to reach into a deeper level of yourself, your spiritual/enlightened/divine self. You can do this by meditating, journaling, reminding yourself of your purpose in life. Read inspirational stories by people who’ve been way down in the dumps too and managed to crawl out and thrive. Seek out and focus on things that are far bigger than you and your transient, earthly problem. Give yourself some grace. Remind yourself that you’re ok, you’re safe, and everything has a funny way of sorting itself out.

5. Have an attitude of gratitude

It’s so much easier to be grateful for the positive, so how can you be grateful for the negative? How could I possibly have been grateful for losing my income and possibly my home? Easy. I had plenty of other things in life for which to be grateful — loving and supportive friends and family, a roof over my head, clothes on my back, food in the fridge, life experiences, business connections, certain intellectual capabilities…

It’s all about perspective. Things might not be great, but are they a little better than something else? There’s always the “it could be worse” scenario. Even the bad things in life can still be a gift. You learn from them. You grow because of them.

When you are constantly grateful, fear disappears and abundance appears. There are tons of inspirational quotes about gratitude, and all are true. You just have to remember that not all storms disrupt your life. Some come to clear your path.


Written by

Writer & NLP Certified Coach. I teach people how to realize their greatest potential and use their gifts to make a difference in the world. I also save animals.

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