Sam Holstein

How to Keep Your Head Up When Everything Sucks

How to Keep Your Head Up When Everything Sucks

My life has been difficult for a few years now. A decent portion of this difficulty is self-inflicted. I’ve been through things no one should have to go through and I’ve done things nobody should do. It feels like three months can’t go by without another crisis in my life. I’m working hard in therapy and have been for years now, but big life changes don’t happen quickly.

Here’s how I keep my head up when it feels like it’s all too much.

Give Yourself a Break From Worrying

I know what it feels like to have something terrifying looming over you. You made a mistake, a huge one, and the consequences are coming soon. You need to make rent but don’t know where you’re going to find the money. Your partner is out doing god knows what and you don’t know if he’s betraying you again. And there’s nothing you can do.

But if there’s nothing you can do, then worrying about it isn’t going to solve the problem. All you’re doing when you worry is making yourself miserable.

If there’s nothing more you can do, your number one priority is to take your mind off of what you’re worried about.

I know that’s easier said than done, but if you’re this worried, do whatever it takes. Turn on Netflix and binge for the next five hours, if you can. Listen to music. Buy and eat your favorite foods. When my mom is stressed, she cleans the house top to bottom.

You already know what your favorite things to do are. Go force yourself to do one of them. You’ll have calmed down and your worries will be easier to bear before you know it.

Problem Solve

Sometimes I’m not able to take my mind off my problems the way I would like. I turn on Netflix and settle into the couch, only to have compulsive thoughts about my problems every five minutes for the next hour and a half.

When that happens, I give up on distracting myself because my brain is telling me loud and clear that it wants to work on solving my problems.

So I do so. Usually, there’s nothing I can do in the short term, but I can always change my long-term prospects. I look for a book about my problem and I read it, hunting for new information that will change my perspective and teach me what I can do better in the future.

For instance, if you’re worried about money and you’re currently waiting on your paycheck to make ends meet, you can do something to solve your money problems in the long term. You can make a Mint account and look at your expenses and make sure you’re not spending money in ways that are ultimately destructive to your financial position. That doesn’t help your paycheck come more quickly now, but it helps you avoid this situation again in the future.

Or, if you’re crippled by depression and anxiety yet again, you can find a therapist and schedule your first appointment. That doesn’t fix your problems right now, but it sets you up for success in the future. (If you don’t have the money or insurance to do so, you can take the next step possible, such as applying for Medicaid or finding charities that provide free therapy).

Check the Facts

A lot of the distress from worrying comes from distress about the past or projections into the future. If we can focus on the facts of our situation, the here and now, we can avoid a lot of unnecessary suffering.

For instance, you might have the following worry:

My boyfriend is out late again→
He has been unhappy with me→
He must not be satisfied with me→
He’s out with a large group of friends at a bar→
He’s going to meet a chick who’s hotter than me→
He’s going to sleep with her tonight→
He’s going to lie to me about it to avoid the conflict→
He’s cheating on me!

OK. What are the actual facts?

  1. He’s out late
  2. He’s with friends
  3. He said he’s unhappy at home a few days ago during a conversation before bed

That’s all you know about this situation. You don’t know if they’re at a bar, you don’t know if that group of friends has “hot chicks,” and you don’t know he’s cheating on you.

Most life situations are more complex than that, but the same principle applies. If we focus only on what we know, we suffer less during tough times.

Remember Everything Will Be OK

A year or two ago, I realized an interesting fact about the passage of time. No matter what terrible thing I was facing or how intractable and difficult the problem seemed, the reality of the matter is that time keeps passing. Each minute ticks by, leaving the one before it behind. With the passing of those minutes goes the passing of your problems.

Got in a fight with a loved one? In a mere few days, that fight will be in the past. You will be happy again.

Going through a breakup or divorce? In a mere few months, this pain will be a figment of the past. You will be happy again.

Suffering the death of a loved one? In a mere few months, the acute grief will have passed. You will miss them — as you always will — but you will find happiness again, even after this.

My interpersonal life is a mess. I’m frequently in toxic fights with loved ones, and I’m frequently the cause of those toxic fights. I’m working hard in therapy, but I mess up a lot. When I do, the grief feels like it’s going to swallow me whole. Why can’t I figure this out? Why can’t I just be a decent person?

I get through it by reminding myself that no matter what bad thing I’ve done, it will be in the past soon enough. Either the person I hurt will cut me out of their life and we will both move on, or I will make it right with them and we will reconnect, and we will both move on. There’s no possible way for it not to be OK in the end.

These things are easier said than done. It feels insane to sit around and placate yourself with Netflix when your world is falling down around you. But that’s preferable to suffering or making the situation even worse.