Danika sat in my office, dissolved in tears. Between sobs she uttered what I so often hear from patients: "I knew I couldn't take one more piece of bad news and then I got it."
Recently, Danika and her husband realized that they could no longer afford their home and were putting it on the market as a short sale. A few days later, Danika's husband Ray lost his job. Finally, on the afternoon of our appointment came the last straw: Danika and Ray's son Zach had been rejected by every college to which he had applied.
Bad things often appear to happen in quick succession. I don't know if this is reality or merely human perception. Most folks are apt to be quite resilient, but everyone has their breaking point. Here are some of the things we tend to think when everything goes wrong:
I must have done something wrong to deserve all of these problems.
I am being targeted for some reason.
Bad things only happen to me.
Life isn't fair.
I can't endure all of this.
My situation is hopeless.
Do any of these sound familiar? Unfortunately, these kinds of negative thoughts only add to our stress when life's circumstances go awry. But when we're in the throes of multiple setbacks, this fact is difficult to see.
So how do we begin to get back on our feet when repeated adversity strikes? Here are some of the ideas I shared with Danika and with many other folks over the years:
Remember the many other times you've faced adversity and worked your way through it. Write about those experiences. Once we've gotten past the bad times, we tend to lose sight of just how dire and hopeless they seemed. Writing about them helps us to remember this. It also helps us recall what we did to overcome seemingly insurmountable difficulties.
Think of and write about all of the things that are going well in your life now; take a moment to feel gratitude for them. It's hard to feel down or hopeless when feeling gratitude for one's blessings.
As much as possible, stick to the routines that help you stay balanced, such as a healthy diet, exercise and plenty of rest.
Don't isolate. When bad times befall us we often feel embarrassed about them. As a result, we tend to keep them to ourselves, which can allow our problems to fester and take on mammoth proportions. Talking with friends and family helps us to feel a sense of community, puts our problems in perspective, and may even result in potential solutions to our difficulties.
If you believe in a higher power, turn to it. Do whatever helps you stay in touch with this power. Praying, attending a house of worship, or spending time in nature are some of the ways we are reminded that there is a grander scheme in place.
Seek professional help if your problems continue to loom large. The objective and trained ear of a psychotherapist, financial advisor, attorney, physician or other professional may put your mind at ease or at least suggest a way forward.
Try to develop patience. Few problems are resolved overnight. After you've taken reasonable steps to resolve your issues, give these steps time to play out. Worrying further will not make progress occur any quicker and will only cause you distress.
Most importantly, don't remain paralyzed. Taking any of the steps above will help you feel better and as though you are gaining a modicum of healthy control over your troubles. Chances are good that before you know it your problems will become a thing of the past.