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How to Stay Positive in Challenging Times

By Rick Riddle

I’ve had my fair share of down times. There was the year I spent in Australia. I had to support two of us on a holiday working visa which at the time only allowed me to work for three months at a job. Obviously, no serious job would take me. We were dirt poor, behind on my rent and we didn’t have enough money to buy both bread and porridge. We had to choose the one or the other. On my birthday that year we had a barbeque (friends kindly pitched in with a few bites). We took a collective picture and sent it to my parents. A few hours later they sent me an email to tell me they’d put money in my bank account and to go eat something.

Moments like that can be trying – particularly because ever setback seems to hit you twice as hard, since you don’t have the space, mentally, emotionally, financially or temporally, to deal with it as you should. And so you’re quickly overwhelmed. The trick, of course, is to stay positive.

“Yeah,” Some of you might well be muttering, “Nice. But how do you actually do that?” Well it’s good I’m not a magician, because I’m going to reveal my trick!

And with a flourish and a bow he unweaves the rainbow and reveals trapdoor hidden inside. (Yeah, I’m not sure where that came from either.)

The Hot Cold Empathy Gap
Let’s start with something from psychology. The empathy gap is where we can’t imagine how an emotion will feel when we’re not feeling it.

  • This is why when you’re not hungry, you can’t understand why you would eat junk food (and yet you do)
  • It explains why we don’t understand why somebody’s shouting when they’re angry, even though we do the same
  • It’s why when we’re feeling miserable we want to stay at home, even though going out might make us feel better

And it works the way it does because though we’re quite good at abstract thinking and such, we’re just terrible at abstract ‘emotioning’ (It wasn’t a word, it is now). And it means that when we feel bad we often don’t take actions that would make us feel better, as we don’t believe they will.

So how do you use that information? It’s hard to, as even when you know it’s there, that doesn’t stop you from feeling the way you do (trust me on that one!), but just knowing it exists can help. That way, when your friends say “come out, we’ll talk and have a good time.” And all of your emotions scream ‘no’ you should ignore them and give it a true.

After all, if it’s not working, you can always go back home.

The opposite of depression
According to Peter Kramer, author of ‘Against Depression’ and ‘Listening to Prozac’ it isn’t happiness, but emotional resilience that is the opposite of depression, in that if you can absorb emotional shocks then you’re less likely to be swallowed by unhappiness. Instead you’ll deal with your problems and they are nothing more than a bump in the road that is quickly forgotten. Without emotional resilience, on the other hand, your happiness is brittle. That means a small upset will provoke a crash.

So how do you become emotionally resilient? Here we’ll list some examples, to help you work on this important mental facet and keep your happiness on track:

  • Get enough sleep – a tired brain is an irrational brain, which is more likely to ruminate and means you’ll be less able to regulate your emotions.
  • Eat right – Nicotine, sugar, white flour, caffeine, alcohol, and processed food are out. Instead try to eat more omage-3, whole grains, beans, protein, minerals, potatoes, vegetables and vitamins of the B-complex, as well as C, D, and E.
  • Exercise – exercise is vital to be mentally well-balanced.
  • Maintain good Relationships – Friends and loved ones offer a buffer against the world’s woes, as they can offer a way to release and rebalance.
  • Purpose – if you’ve got a reason to last, it’s going to be much easier to do so.
  • Gratitude – We have to remain gratuitous about the things in our life that matter. If we can do that we’ll do much better at staying positive.

It’s going to be a great story
And if all that doesn’t work, try this one: imagine how a few years from now you’ll be able to tell my story, how you learned, grew and became a better person during these days. Because let’s be clear about it, though the peaks equals living, it is the valleys that create the stories and – more importantly – form our character.

And its dark periods where we get to show if we’re soft and weak or if we’re right and proper and can stay upstanding and unbending. And if you do manage to pull it off, if you manage to stay true to your inner values, then for the rest of your life you can be proud of yourself and use that as a source of strength, where you can say “I stayed strong then, when it was truly bad. In comparison to that this is nothing!”

So, when the darkness threatens and the challenges beat against my chest, I imagine some years from now, when everything is fine again and people are sitting around listening in awe to my tale and how I stayed strong.

Doing that fills me with warmth, pride and it actually makes me want to be strong.

Because who doesn’t want to be the hero of their own tale?

Rick Riddle is a successful blogger and content manager at whose articles aim to help readers with self-development, personal finance and content management. Learn why discipline is important and how self-sufficiency can help you in reaching your goals. Connect with @rickrddl on Twitter.
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