Even when you strive to keep your life simple, sometimes you can’t avoid everything getting turned upside down. Chances are, at some point you’re going to find yourself facing down difficult choices, where the wrong choice or the wrong answer could lead to poverty, loneliness, or even injury or death.
We all have challenges to overcome, and for those of us who suffer from mental illness, those challenges can often seem insurmountable. Depression and anxiety can make it difficult to make decisions at all, let alone decisions in our best interests. But you can make it through these challenges and come out stronger for them. Professor Jennice Vilhauer at PsychologyToday has four crucial pieces of advice that can help you push through the most difficult situations of your life.
1. Think before you act. It’s good to work out a plan before you respond to a crisis, but even if you aren’t planning, it’s best to take some time before responding to new information. Professor Vilhauer makes the distinction between “reactions”–which are immediate, and based on the emotions of the moment–and “responses,” which are thought out and presented in an appropriate timescale. While you’re making a plan:
2. Plan for the best outcome. This might seem counterintuitive to pessimists, and it is good to have backup plans in case things go wrong. But many people make the mistake of planning for failure, and never planning for success. In truth, the way we act often moves us subconsciously towards the outcome that seems the most likely or most certain. What would the world look like if everything turned out fine? What would you want to do next? These are important questions too.
3. Have a little faith. One of my parents’ favorite phrases when I was a kid was “almost died.” If I ran across the street and a car passed by ten seconds later, I “almost died.” If I flipped my canoe, I “almost died.” If I wasn’t looking and almost hit someone with my bike, I “almost killed” that person. I must have “almost died” a thousand times between the ages of 4 and 12–but I’m still here. Either I’m a miracle child, or “almost died” was just a way of saying that I put myself in slight danger.
If you’re standing at the edge of the cliff, the edge seems closer than when you’re standing the same distance from the edge of a sidewalk. Things always seem harder when the thought of failing is very scary. But the truth is that just because something is high-stakes doesn’t mean it’s beyond your capabilities. It’s just as easy to walk along a cliff as along a sidewalk.
Everyone faces down crises in their lives, and most of them pull through. That said:
4. Don’t assume that the “bad” outcome is the end of the world.
The truth is that everyone fails sometimes. The vast majority of people who lose their jobs get new jobs. The vast majority of people who get dumped are able to move on and find someone else. The vast majority of people who fail a class are still able to graduate. You can do the same.
Keeping things in perspective during times of great stress can be difficult. But you’ll be able to make the best choices if you can hold failure and success in your head at the same time. What would failure really look like? What would success really look like? If you can answer these questions, you can better understand the position you’re in now.