When the Going Gets Tough…7 Important Tips to Surviving Life’s Most Difficult Challenges

You’ve had those days, or even weeks, when everything goes wrong. As the saying so pessimistically goes, “when it rains, it pours.”

Once in a while, it’s a deluge: the kids are sick, the company downsizes and you’re out of a job, you argue with your partner, the hot water heater leaks all over the basement, you wonder how you’re going to pay the rent.

Other times the flood is so intense you feel you may drown: that lump becomes a breast cancer diagnosis, the baby so eagerly anticipated is stillborn, the argument becomes a request for a divorce, a random car accident takes the life of someone you love.

This is life in all its rawness. The challenges seem insurmountable, the pain too much to bear. You feel you’ve hit your limit–you can’t take anymore–and you wonder whether you can go on.

So what can you do? How do you survive these most difficult life experiences?

Call out the Support Team.

If you don’t have one, start building one now. These are the people you know you can count on. Tell them, as best as you are able, what you need.

Your support team can have several members. It may include a person to cry with or vent to, another you can simply sit and spend time with, and another whose task is to help you manage all the incoming information that your overloaded brain can’t take in. Your team may include a neighbor to care for your pets, a co-worker to run interference with job tasks, or someone to set up a Meal Wheel that others can contribute to.

Don’t forget to include your spiritual guides. Ask for guidance, comfort, and peace. Feel their loving presence around you.

Let yourself be nurtured, nourished, and cared for.

Let Go of “Why.”

You will likely ask the question, “Why did this happen?” “Why me?” But you will not find the answer in this highly emotionally time, so don’t allow yourself to stay here long.

Asking “why” is a form of resistance, and you will notice the resulting tension as your body constricts, your breath quickens, your muscles (including your heart) clamp down, and your distress increases.

From a limited and pain-filled perspective, you may never understand why. It just is. You breathe through it. You feel through it. You go moment by moment through it. Maybe later–much later–you can revisit “why” and find some answer that makes sense. Not now.

Be Present to Your Feelings

Your feelings may be a jumbled up mess. Emotions move like waves, at times calm and mild, other times intense and powerful. They can change rapidly, for no apparent reason. Feelings often defy logic. Whatever you feel, it’s OK. Sadness, anger, loneliness, fear, despair, doubt, laughter, peace–each emotion has merit. Your feelings are giving you feedback about your experience, sending you messages that need to be recognized and attended to.

The painful emotions are difficult, and you may want to avoid them or push them aside. Doing so will not make them go away. They will return in some form or another until they are worked through. Find a pace that you can manage. Face them as you can. Release them through tears, words, and movement.

Sort out Have-To vs. Should.

When life is in crisis, there are certain tasks that still have to be attended to. Delegate what you can. Run what is left through the filter of ‘Have-To’ vs. ‘Should.’ Yes, maybe I should get my newsletter out as scheduled. Maybe I should finish that work project–it wouldn’t take that long. I really should go to my niece’s dance recital or championship sporting event.

‘Shoulds’ add unnecessary pressure at a time when stress is high enough. It is important to manage your energy so that you have what you need to accomplish the tasks that must be done. Do what you have to and let go of the rest. People will understand. You don’t always have to be capable, attentive, and on-task.

Practice Ultimate Self-Care.

Take care of yourself as best you can–physically, mentally, and emotionally. While you may not feel hungry, you still need to eat healthy, nourishing foods. Sleep may be elusive, yet your body needs rest. Do what you can to manage your run-away mind. Talk with friends. Look for diversions and creative outlets. Stay grounded. Spend time outdoors.

As best as you are able, ask for what you need, whether it be companionship, space to be alone for a while, or help with a project that is overwhelming. Think about how you would treat a friend going through a similar experience, and treat yourself with that level of compassion.

Find Space for Silence

When your inner world is in turmoil, it is reflected in your outer world. Busywork keeps your mind too active for your heart to feel. That’s an easy escape for a while, but it is illusionary. Create a quiet space in your outer world, and allow yourself to just be. Doing so, you make room for true serenity to settle in.

In silence, you can hear your soul, your higher self, your wise self. Listen. This innate guidance system can help you find your way forward.

Look for the Good

Even when life is darkest, we must keep our eyes on the light. What we pay attention to expands, so as you can, turn your attention to the positive. Amidst the difficulty, notice kindness. Look for the good. Express gratitude. Allow joy.

It is through life’s most difficult moments that we are transformed. Like the phoenix, we rise from the ashes. Forever altered, with a wisdom forged by fire, we more deeply treasure simple pleasures, the gifts of love and relationship, and the profound beauty that life offers. We go on.


“Don’t give up! It’s not over. The universe is balanced. Every set-back bears with it the seeds of a come-back.”
~Steve Maraboli