Baby Steps for When Things Are Hard

January 18, 2022

Listen. I know. It’s not easy to reverse those negative thoughts when they come up, even under the best of circumstances. But it takes a certain level of mental fortitude to change your thought pattern when things get hard in life. Can I just encourage you that you have it in you to do this? No matter what is going on in your life, you have the power to change things simply by changing your thoughts. You can change the way you think. Seriously.

Self care = coffee and Tootsie.

In this world you will have trouble…

We are literally promised to have trouble in life. No matter how hard you work or how “lucky” you are, eventually trouble will find you. But Jesus tells us to take heart because he has overcome the world. To “take heart” means to gain courage or confidence or to begin to feel encouraged or hopeful. Don’t miss this – it’s Jesus telling us how we should feel regardless of what is going on in the world or in our lives. And the very fact that he is telling us how to feel shows us that we must have the power to change our feelings. The Bible empowers us to take control of our thoughts and feelings, and directs us how to do that! If you’re looking for a roadmap to a positive mindset, just open your Bible.

I have been through some really awful things, and I’ve lived through really challenging times where I struggled to control my thoughts. As a young woman, I don’t think I would have believed you if you had told me that I could change my feelings. I remember being depressed about a particular event and feeling like there was literally no way I would ever be able to climb out of that pit. It wasn’t until a few years ago when I embarked on this journey to take control of my thoughts that I really started to do the work and make the changes.

In case you think I have it all figured out…

In no world do I want you to think that I have this all figured out or that I never struggle with negative thoughts. Recently I was going through a very challenging time where I was struggling with a really complicated and heartbreaking situation. It was also the holiday season. And my entire family had been diagnosed with covid. I was not operating at my peak self levels. I was snapping at my family, letting my routines and rhythms fall by the wayside, and was just generally radiating a vibe of grump and funk. My thoughts largely consisted of, “This isn’t fair. Everything is hard. I can’t do this.” etc. I actually hung out at this level for a few days until I was finally able to pull myself out of it. Because I have been working so hard to challenge my negative thoughts and change them to positive ones, I could see what was happening. But because of the seriousness of the situation I was dealing with, I found it really difficult to actually do what I needed to do to feel better.

So what did I do instead?

I couldn’t instantly pull myself out of this funk. I knew it had to be done, but it was a STRUGGLE. I also knew that an all-or-nothing mentality had not served me in the past, so rather than feeling guilty for not being able to feel joy in the midst of my suffering, I focused on what I could change. What small actions could I take that would help me to feel at least moderately better? First I assessed my situation and figured out what things on my plate had to go right away. Anything that felt too heavy or like it was pushing me over the edge had to go immediately. Next, I figured out what small action I could add into my day that would feel like self care. One day it was talking with a girlfriend. Another day I got to snuggle in my jammies in front of the Christmas tree with my cat on my lap and a cup of coffee. Another day was a breakfast date with my husband. Finally, I named what I was feeling and why I was feeling that way. By identifying my emotions and what specifically was bothering me, it shifted the power dynamic back so that I felt I had control to adjust what I was feeling. Processing our emotions out loud with a trusted friend/spouse, in prayer time, or even in a journal, is ultimately what enables us to move on from those heavy feelings.

Neuroplasticity saves the day!

The work of changing our thoughts is not easy. Sometimes it seems downright impossible. But even if you don’t believe in God, science itself proves that our brains are capable of changing. It’s called neuroplasticity and it’s the ability of the brain to form and reorganize synaptic connections, especially in response to learning or experience or following injury. Basically, it means the brain can change and adapt. For example, perhaps you constantly feel like you’ll never be good enough. By regularly having these thoughts, you’ve trained your brain to think that way! So you’ve created your own rut that you’re stuck in by allowing these thoughts to continue. But don’t worry – neuroplasticity will save the day! By forcing yourself to challenge that thought and flip it into something positive, you can actually climb your way out of the trench you’ve created and form a new pathway for your mind. I plan to delve deeper into this in a future post, but for now, just remember that you’re not stuck feeling any particular way. There’s always hope. And when things are really hard, just remember to subtract and add: Subtract (remove) anything taking up your time that feels too heavy at the moment and add something that will feel soothing to your soul. With these two small actions, you’ll have taken two steps in the direction that you want to go, despite the difficult circumstances you might be facing.

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