Today was a frustrating day. You probably know the kind, where things do not go according to plan. We all have them. In my case, the day began when I came downstairs to find my husband’s tools spread over the kitchen and our beverage refrigerator half-removed from its location. We had just purchased a new one to replace this broken one, and the plan had been for my husband to simply roll out the old one before going to work. You can probably guess what happened next.
… The refrigerator wouldn’t come out.
After another half hour of pulling, he finally dislodged it. The problem seemed to have been that the feet were set at such a height when it was initially installed that it had gotten stuck under the countertop that had been laid upon it when the kitchen was built. The good news was that these feet are adjustable, so that we shouldn’t have a hard time inserting the new one arriving in a couple of hours. You can probably guess what happened next.
…The new refrigerator wouldn’t fit back in.
It turns out that the cabinets flanking the opening are just a hair too close. Perhaps the cabinets have swollen from the recent string of humid days, or maybe the new fridge is slightly wider than the old one. It is hard to tell. I put a call in to a local handyman to see if there is anything to be done, but so far, there has been no response. What could possibly make the situation worse? Perhaps you can guess.
… We are hosting a large party here in a week.
Yep, the reason we had gone ahead and spent the money on the new refrigerator was to be ready for the party. Instead of a new and improved fridge, I now have a giant black box sitting right in the middle of my kitchen. Not quite what I had in mind!
My initial reaction was a burst of frustration. How are people going to move around? Look how ridiculous this looks! What were we thinking buying a new appliance a week before a party? Once I calmed down, I walked across the room and turned on the news. Coverage of Hurricane Florence was on every channel. As often happens, my perspective was immediately snapped back into place. I imagined the many people living in the Carolinas who would be delighted if the only problem they had to deal with over the next week was figuring out what to do with a beverage fridge.
All of this got me thinking about the different ways in which life goes wrong. It seems that troubles confront us every day. Still, not all difficulties are equal. In fact, they tend to fall into a couple of categories:
Inconveniences -> the little things that make us want to scream:
- the driver who cuts us off
- the alarm clock failing to go off in the morning
- coffee that dribbles onto our shirt
- the vending machine being out of order when we are hungry
- our umbrella breaking during a rainstorm
Problems -> situations that are fixable, but will require time, money and energy:
- a car breakdown
- a failed job interview
- words spoken out of anger
- a broken limb
- a leaking hot water heater
- an ear infection
Disasters -> crises we can’t fix on our own:
- a natural disaster
- a chronic or terminal illness
- a fire or flood
- the death of a loved one
Unfortunately, it is impossible to live on this Earth and not face difficulties of all three kinds. Nonetheless, I have observed some habits that help us to be resilient in the face of challenges:
1. Putting the situation in perspective
People who cope well have cultivated the ability to see their obstacles for what they are. A little self-talk can be helpful in this regard. When we feel the anxiety rising, we can ask ourselves a few questions:
- Is this a problem or just an inconvenience?
- Am I frustrated or devastated?
- Is this serious enough that I should stop pretending that everything is ok?
- Is my reaction in alignment with the severity of the situation?
2. Aggressively protecting “breathing space” in our calendar
Everything is worse when we are pressed for time. I’ve heard it said that hurry and love are incompatible. The less margin we have in our day, the more likely we are to respond poorly in the face of issues, such as:
- exploding verbally
- mistreating loved ones
- making a bad situation worse
- failing to give deserved attention to pending serious threats
- pretending everything is fine when it is not
3. Nurturing of supportive communities
While independence is often needed, isolation tends to exacerbate troubles. Resilient people have:
- someone to vent to when small irritations arise
- a network to step in during emergencies and provide extra arms, legs, cars, financial assistance, etc.
- mentors to provide wisdom, guidance and spiritual support
- multi-generational relationships to offer experienced advice
4. Regularly thinking through possible scenarios and preparing accordingly
When we have back-ups in place, we tend to handle difficulties better. For example:
- maintaining a recent computer back-up in case of a computer meltdown
- having a printed presentation in the briefcase in case the digital version fails
- storing critical documents in a fire-safe box
- leaving early to allow for traffic
- keeping a change of clothes in the car in case the toddler soils himself on the ride to school
- investing in the flood and homeowner’s insurance
- making sure someone knows where we are and how to reach us at all times
Cultivating these habits won’t help us avoid rough times, but it may help us cope with them.
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What do you do to help you overcome difficult times?