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Sometimes we’re just not okay.
Life can throw a lot of crap onto our paths, and sometimes we’ll look around and realize that what we’re going through is really quite awful.
The thing is, few of us have the luxury of dropping everything and wallowing in a pit of despair, or handing off difficult things for someone else to deal with.
Instead, we have no choice but to keep on keeping on… even when we’re exhausted and feel like we have nothing left to give.
Fortunately, there are techniques we can use to help keep us going. Yeah, things might be a bit sh*t right now, but by putting some of the tips below into practice, we can have a say in how we respond, how we behave, and how we manage our emotions.
1. Achieve 3 things a day.
Try to achieve 3 things over the course of the day, depending on your current energy levels.
This can be as simple as brushing your teeth, changing your underpants, and having a cup of tea. Or, if you’re feeling more ambitious, brush your teeth, go for a walk, maybe eat a snack.
Doing a bit better than that mentally? Eat a decent meal, complete an item of work, reply to that email that’s been languishing in your inbox.
Write down the tasks you’ve chosen on a piece of paper and check them off as you achieve them. Believe it or not, simply seeing those “I got these DONE today” checkmarks can do wonders for your self-esteem.
2. Prioritize what’s necessary versus what can be backburnered.
Not everything has to be taken care of right this second. While you may be swamped with a ton of responsibilities, recognize that a lot of them can be set aside for the time being.
That doesn’t mean they should be neglected indefinitely. Rather, do what you’re capable of in the moment, prioritizing those things that absolutely must be sorted out now.
For example, making sure children and/or pets are fed and the rent is paid are top priorities. In contrast, the laundry can be put off until later. If it isn’t on fire or starving, it can wait a bit.
Basically, if you can take care of the things that are most pressing, you have breathing room to handle the other things.
3. Make time for activities that aren’t just obligations.
People burn out quickly when their lives revolve entirely around obligations. Although many of us work on the industrial revolution schedule that gives us 8 hours for work, 8 hours for sleep, and 8 hours to do what we want, those last 8 hours are often taken up by duties rather than play.
We often fill these “spare” minutes with the chores that are required for adult life to work efficiently. Like, “Oh, I have a few minutes free between preparing dinner and getting the kids to bed? I can totally wash some dishes or scrub the toilet.” Ugh.
In the same way that you set aside time for tasks like showering and sleeping, set aside time for activities you enjoy. In fact, for every 3 things that you have to do, make sure to do 1 thing you want to do.
Remember how we suggested that you try to achieve three a day? Once those have been achieved, what would make you happy to do next? Do you like to carve wooden objects while watching movies? Or reading quietly in bed?
Make time for the things you love so you can create more willpower to get other stuff done as needed.
4. Eliminate as many sources of stress and upset as possible.
Many people tolerate mistreatment far longer than they should out of a sense of obligation. In the same way that they’ll stay at a job they despise until it literally breaks them, they’ll also stay in poisonous relationships even though they know they should end them. Similarly, they might tolerate terrible behavior from relatives under the guise of obligation because “family.”
You’re not obligated to endure torture from anyone simply because you’re related to them. If you’re not “okay” because the people you’re related to are causing you real emotional and mental damage, then it’s okay to distance yourself from them.
If your job is destroying your will to live, book some time with a recruiter and make a firm action plan to get out of there and into another place of employment. Hell, if it’s an option, see if you can get some unemployment insurance for a mental health break while you take some time off to regroup.
You can go “no contact” with family members and/or friends who are making your life a living hell, and make alternate arrangements for dependents whom you can’t care for properly. For instance, if you have an elderly parent with dementia or a profoundly special needs child who needs more care than you’re capable of providing, there’s no shame in making arrangements for their care at a dedicated facility.
There will be trained (and well-rested!) staff members there who can tend them around the clock, and you’ll be able to work on getting your own mental health back on track.
5. Look for ways that you can ease the load on your shoulders.
Many people find themselves seriously overwhelmed because they take on too many things on their own. This is very common in so-called “nuclear families,” for example, when two adults are raising kids while also working to keep everyone fed and housed.
It’s less of an issue in multigenerational households where grandparents, aunts/uncles, cousins, etc. help with childcare, food preparation, and cleaning while parents work.
If your feeling overwhelmed by all the duties on your shoulders, find a way to delegate them.
Do you have kids who are old enough to do some chores on their own, rather than you doing everything for them? Then sort out some responsibilities for them to take on themselves.
For instance, school-age kids are perfectly capable of preparing their own lunches and setting their own clothes out for the next day, so those are a couple of tasks off your list.
Can you afford to have a cleaner come in once a week to do things like vacuuming and general cleaning and tidying? If so, definitely go down that route to lighten your workload a bit.
Otherwise, see what kind of arrangements you can sort out with extended family members. If you have parents or grandparents who can help with childcare, cooking, home maintenance etc. a couple of times a week, then you’ll have a bit more breathing room to work through your own stuff.
Alternatively, if you don’t have biological family around, then reach out to your social groups. A lot of people do cooperative parenting, and many churches and other places of worship can help out with support and respite care as well.
Depending on where you live, young people may have to put in X amount of volunteer hours in order to get their high school diplomas. Babysitting and housekeeping help often count in that regard, so ask around.
6. Make self-care a priority.
One of the best ways to keep on keeping on is to make sure that your own well is replenished. Everyone’s idea of self-care is going to be different, so we’re not going to give you a how-to section on that. You know what recharges your batteries best, so make sure that you set aside several hours a week to do exactly that.
This is different from the “do what you love” tip mentioned earlier. Sure, there may be some overlap in that you may get immense catharsis from pewpew’ing enemies in video games or knitting while watching terrible murder mystery shows, but hobbies often have a different effect on us than soul-deep self-care replenishment.
Book regular deep-tissue massages and saunas if your able to. Meditate outside in nature, away from devices and other people’s demands of you. Kick the crap out of a punch bag to release energetic buildup as catharsis. Do what you need to do to stay grounded.
7. Get enough sleep.
I cannot reinforce this strongly enough. You won’t be able to handle anything with grace if you aren’t sleeping properly.
Try to stick to a confirmed sleeping routine so you go to bed at the same time every night. Create a ritual around it if you can, where you do some relaxing yoga or have a bath and then read or journal for the last hour before bedtime rather than scrolling social media or watching TV.
If it relaxes you to listen to audiobooks, those can be effective at helping you to wind down for bed. Just choose gentle subject matter to listen to rather than anything too exciting. A narrator whose voice is regular and melodic reading to you about the rise and fall of the Roman empire is more likely to help put you to sleep than a passionate romantic novel, you know?
If you have trouble falling asleep, there’s nothing wrong with taking something that’ll help you get to dreamland effectively. You can aim for herbal nervine relaxants like passionflower, or ask your healthcare provider for a prescription.
Many people fall into “not okay” territory when their sleep is constantly interrupted. Sure, this is often par for the course when you have very small children, and in that case you need to just muddle through as best you can until they’re sleeping through the night.
If, however, you have the aforementioned dependents who are preventing you from being able to sleep, then it’s probably a good idea to make alternate arrangements. Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, and you’ll end up feeling resentful and angry with those who perpetually prevent you from being able to get the restful, healing sleep you so desperately need.
You won’t be able to do anyone any good (including yourself) if you have a total nervous breakdown from sleep deprivation. Take care of yourself first and then you’ll be able to help others.
8. Work on your stoicism.
Chances are that at least a few times in your life you’ve felt hungry but have decided not to eat in that moment. Similarly, you may have felt a bit cold or overheated, but chose to just tolerate that discomfort rather than changing clothes or grabbing a blanket.
Similarly, that kind of mindset can be applied to a lot of the things that trouble people on the daily. For example, let’s say you’re dealing with low self-esteem because someone keeps insulting you. You can choose not to let their hollow little words affect you.
Take a good look at the person who’s been putting you down and ask yourself why you care about their opinions. Why would their thoughts or words matter to you? Their put-downs and petty insults are reflections on them, not you. If and when you decide not to be affected by someone else’s stupidity, then their words won’t be able to touch you.
We live in an age where most people want to control the world around them so it doesn’t “trigger” their unwanted negative emotions. What’s far more useful in the long run is to work on controlling one’s own responses to these emotions. We are in control of our own thoughts and feelings – it’s a matter of learning to not listen to (and then let go of) those that don’t serve us.
Whenever a thought or a feeling comes up, determine whether it’s useful to you or not. If it isn’t, then take a deep breath and imagine encapsulating that emotion in a bubble. Then blow it away from you on your exhaled breath. You might need to breathe deeply and exhale forcefully a few times to get some distance on it, but envision it floating further and further away, each time you breathe out. Repeat as needed.
9. Lean into what’s going on and accept it rather than having an aversion to it.
This is also referred to with the phrase “what we resist, persists,” and refers to submitting to what’s going on rather than bracing or fighting against it. When we accept what’s going on and decide to flow along with it as best we can, it ceases to damage us quite so much.
This example might be overused, but think of it like you’ve fallen into a swiftly flowing river. If you try to thrash and fight against the current to get back to where you were before, you’ll get lungs full of water and you might even drown. In contrast, if you flow WITH the water, sure it’ll take you downstream a bit, but you can ride the current and make subtle adjustments until you reach a place near the shoreline where you can get out.
You can see this type of behavior in the Ninjitsu practice of becoming one with the landscape rather than opposing it. This requires mastering one’s thoughts and emotions through letting go of the idea that you can control the situation, and not worrying about what any negative consequences may entail. Whatever unfolds will unfold, and you’ll adapt as necessary instead of circling into “what if” spirals, worried and anxious about everything.
Once you become one with something, it’s no longer an adversary. Instead, you’ll find that you’re flowing along with it, and everything around you is a potential tool at your disposal rather than being against you.
You can recognize that where you want to be and what you want to be doing aren’t necessarily what’s happening right now… but the route you’re on might take you to where you need to be or what should be doing that’ll benefit you far more in the long run (even if you can’t see it right now).
10. Create a goal to look forward to, or a purpose to strive for.
One of the best ways to ensure that you keep moving forward even though things are crap right now is to have a reason to do so. Neurologist, psychologist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl had the idea that as long as people have a why in their lives, then they can endure anything.
Have you determined your life’s purpose? Or do you have a long-term goal in mind that you’re determined to reach, no matter what?
Then make that the target, and yourself the arrow.
Yeah, you’ll have to cut through some grossness en route to where you’re headed, but as long as you maintain your course, you’ll still get there.
Make some actionable goals that you can attain along the way so you give yourself some wins. Intersperse some small ones with some big ones: the smaller achievements will give you some peppy dopamine boosts and will help to propel you towards the bigger ones.
Let’s say you have a goal of completing a 5k run in 6 months’ time. You won’t be able to go from total couch potato to runner overnight, but you can set small goals. Can you walk 2km without a break? AMAZING! Reward yourself with something awesome like a meal you really like or an item you’ve been eyeing. How about alternating walking for 2 minutes, running for 30 seconds to cover the same 2km?
Then increase the running duration bit by bit, as well as the distance. Yeah, it’ll take you a little while to get there, but every time you hit your goal, you’ll realize just how capable you really are. Before you know it, you’ll be running that 5km and will have the achievement medal to be proud of.
11. Don’t subscribe to the cult of positivity, but do change things that you’re capable of adjusting.
The word “toxic” gets thrown out a lot lately as far as labelling different things goes, but are you familiar with the concept of “toxic positivity”?
Toxic positivity is the idea that people have to think positively and be cheerful all the bloody time. Kind of like the “good vibes only” crowd: not acknowledging that life can be really difficult and challenging at turns, and that periods of awesomeness are counterbalanced by periods of “dear God this is sh*t!”
So, we’ve established that we can’t control everything that goes on around us – what can we influence so they’re a bit healthier and brighter in our worlds?
There are solutions to pretty much every obstacle out there, especially when you realize that the only way out is through the mess.
It’s okay to not be okay.
In fact, chances are that there will be several periods in your life in which you’re pretty far from okay. The key is to minimize situations that contribute to the crap while empowering you with coping skills that can help you through it.
Eliminate situations, things, and people that are causing you more stress and grief than joy and hope. Create mantras and positive phrases that inspire you rather than making you feel like sh*t about yourself.
Most importantly, squeeze some fun and enjoyment into every single day. Even if it’s a soak in a hot bath or reading a few pages of a really good book. Life has a lot of beauty to offer us, even when we’re going through absolute hell.
Just stay present, be in this moment without dwelling on past hurts or future worries. All you have is right here and now, so choose how you want to feel, and take one step forward, through the shadowy muck, towards the light ahead.
Things will get better, and you got this.
Still not sure how to be okay when you’re not okay? Speak to a therapist today who can help you through things. Simply click here to connect with one of the experienced therapists on BetterHelp.com.
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