Tips to Overcome Obstacles When Sh*t Hits the Fan
We all encounter unexpected hardship. Whether it’s a cancer diagnosis, divorce, sudden layoff, or some other wrench thrown into your life plan. It’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when. The question then becomes, how do you overcome obstacles in life? AKA, what do you do when the shit hits the fan?
In life’s dark moments, it can be tempting to just curl up into a ball, lash out in anger, or go get drunk. However, none of these really work to release the fear and anxiety we’re feeling.
The plain and simple fact is that problems must be faced in order to be overcome. The harder you work to avoid it, the louder your fear will yell. Believe me, I know.
Life is too short to allow our obstacles to get in the way of happiness. The life we planned may no longer seem possible, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find joy and meaning within our new normal.
So, how do you thrive after the diagnosis? What does love look like after the divorce? What do you do when suddenly, your life is no longer recognizable?
The most important thing to remember is that everyone hits obstacles, dear one. You’re not alone and, with the right tools, you have the power to transform your experience.
Why is it important to overcome obstacles?
Obstacles create emotions. The greater the obstacle, the stronger the emotions. It can be tempting to suppress or resist those emotions to overcome obstacles. Especially those that are considered “negative” like anger, grief or regret. You worry that those emotions will crush you if you let yourself feel them—but the opposite is actually true.
Think of your emotions like waves on the sea. Trying to hold back the waves would be painful, exhausting and futile. And that’s true biologically, not just metaphorically. When our mind identifies anything as a threat—even if it’s one of our own emotions that we’re scared to feel—our body is hardwired to shift us into a state of fight or flight, which releases a cascade of stress hormones.
This was a useful survival response when early humans were being chased by tigers. However, we don’t encounter too many tigers in our daily lives anymore. Unfortunately, our bodies don’t know that. Since no physical running away happens, those stress hormones don’t get used up—they just get stuck in our bodies causing all kinds of issues in our tissues.
No wonder so many of us are feeling sick, frazzled and burnt out! This state of chronic stress has a huge impact on both your body and your brain. So, unless we stop thinking about our own tough emotions as a threat, there is no way to stop the physical and mental fallout. It’s as if our stress response is stuck in a state of constant firing.
Our stress response.
The things that can trigger our stress response are ever-present. Uncomfortable feelings like fear and anxiety. An inability to self-soothe and emotionally regulate. And of course, the pressure you put on yourself to do everything perfectly, all the frickin’ time.
However, stress triggers extend beyond just tough emotions. They include external factors like chemicals in your food, pollution in your environment, and overwhelm at home or work. And let’s not forget the global pandemic we recently experienced.
When it’s triggered, our physical stress response looks something like this:
- Stress hormones flood our system.
- Our heart rate elevates.
- Digestion slows down.
- Circulation changes.
- Lung capacity changes.
And our mental stress response looks something like this:
- Lack of focus or concentration.
- Mental fatigue.
- Feeling irritated or frustrated.
- Difficulty making decisions.
And guess what? These biological responses happen even when the “threat” is only in our imaginations. Have you ever started sweating just thinking about giving that presentation at work? Got physically worked up after an imaginary conversation with your spouse? That’s your body responding to that scary thought with stress hormones—and all the kale in the world won’t help that.
What do we do to compensate?
Unfortunately, our usual methods of dealing with these stress triggers tend to be ineffective at best and, at worst, downright unhealthy. A few you may identify with include:
- Get up earlier and sleep less.
- Work harder to compensate.
- Beat ourselves up for imagined flaws.
- Give up altogether.
Instead of getting stuck in fear and unhealthy coping habits, you can prepare to better manage obstacles when they occur.
How can you prepare for obstacles?
We know we will experience obstacles. Rather than pretending we won’t or ignoring that we will, it’s a lot healthier to prepare. We can actually build mental and emotional fitness just like we build our biceps, with exercise and practice. Below are two exercises you can do every day to help strengthen your emotional resilience, stop the stress cycle and help us overcome obstacles.
Become more self-aware.
Practice noticing your emotional state and how you feel. Stop and name your feelings. Be specific. For example, I feel stressed right now. I feel calm. I’m scared. I’m happy. I feel insecure.
As you gain clarity about your feelings and current state of mind, you will feel less intimidated about confronting those emotions.
As much as feelings can yell when we don’t pay attention, they can also wriggle away on you too. We can misidentify our feelings, for example, thinking we’re accepting when really, we’re resentful (passive aggressive much?). It’s important to remember that our emotions don’t equal our identity. You’re not a resentful person, you’re just feeling resentful in the moment.
It’s OK to have feelings that we don’t want. Don’t judge your feelings; they serve a purpose and are there for a reason. Judging invalidates them. Which pisses them off and if your emotions are like mine, they can be vindictive.
Choose better behaviors.
Practice identifying healthy behaviors to engage in when tough emotions hit. It’s easy to numb them with less healthy behaviors. Hit the wine button. Put the cookie button on repeat. Press the shaming, self-flagellation button.
These default responses may soothe us temporarily, but they drain our energy and life-force in the long run. So, when the going gets tough, you need to develop go-to strategies to help you calm down and clear your mind.
When you are tempted to return to negative behaviors to cope with your feelings, practice replacing them with a healthy one. This can mean going for a walk, eating a carrot, calling your mom, or listening to a favorite piece of music. Whatever works for you, is what you should do.
What can you do in the moment to overcome obstacles?
Sometimes all the preparation in the world cannot prepare us adequately. When this happens, you need immediate help. I’ve learned from managing my own fear and anxiety that we can’t always solve the problems of the mind with the mind. Once we’re spinning out, we need to change our physical state to improve our emotional well-being.
Below are a few different physical approaches to bring your attention back to your body and the present moment. These techniques calm your nervous system and signal to your body that you are safe.
Inhale to four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, hold for four counts. Do this three times.
Put one hand on your heart and the other hand on your belly. Consciously shift your breath to your belly and notice how your hand rises and falls with your breath.
The goal is to get back into your body, so engage your body in movement. Take a brisk walk to the mailbox or around the block. Another option is to engage in gentle stretching exercises.
Sometimes we can’t move around, for example if we’re in a meeting at work. In this case, focus on a physical feeling, such as pressing your fingertips together, feeling the floor with your feet, or tracing your fingers.
Give your emotions a voice.
Resist the urge to sweep your strong emotions under the rug. Instead, stop what you’re doing and allow yourself to identify them. Literally name them. Only then can you work through them.
A little self love can go a long way. Release your negative self-talk (you are not stupid, fat, or ugly!) and replace them with simple, positive, uplifting statements. Try thinking: I love myself, I am enough.
One of the quickest ways to calm down in the face of an obstacle is to give yourself a break. No one is perfect, not even you, and that’s OK. Accept yourself fully no matter what.
Go to gratitude.
Chances are that whatever your obstacle is, it is not the only thing going on in your life. Take a moment to remember all the things that are right with your life.
Release your fear!
While we all encounter challenging situations, how we overcome obstacles can make all the difference. We can’t always get over something, but we can find peace. And remember dearest, you don’t have to do this alone! Join my community of wellness warriors. Or, if you need more in-depth professional help, don’t hesitate to find yourself a therapist—I have one!
Your turn: What is your go-to strategy for managing fear and anxiety in the moment?
Peace & release,
Leave a comment…