What to Do When Life Is Really Hard

There are times when life is really hard, when it feels like everything is falling apart, like things couldn’t possibly get any worse, until they do. How are you supposed to handle that? How are you supposed to even begin to make your way out of a mess like that?

Start by asking yourself just this question:

Am I in immediate physical danger?

If the answer is “Yes,” then your body has a special emergency response system designed to get you quickly to safety. It’s your stress response, what we commonly refer to as, “fight-flight-or freeze.” Your brain, your heart rate, your blood flow, your senses – everything in your body is immediately directed to help you fight for your life, run to safety, or hide.

But this emergency response system is only helpful when the answer to the question is “Yes.” If the danger is not physical, not immediate, or not directed towards you, then “fight-flight-or freeze” actually causes much more harm than good. It can lead to long-term physical and mental health complications – from heart disease, diabetes and infertility to depression, anxiety, and sleep deprivation. But most importantly, it cuts you off from the very source of solutions that you need when life is really hard.

Before I tell you about that source, I want you to understand that the answer to the question is almost always, “No.”

Am I in immediate physical danger?

In our current age, the dangers we face are mostly emotional, not physical. A broken heart hurts brutally. The stress of work pushes us to the brink. But these typically are not physical dangers, and the stress response will only get in the way of a solution.

Am I in immediate physical danger?

You might think, “I don’t know how I’m going to pay my bills at the end of the month, so I’m not going to have anywhere to live or anything to eat.” But the danger is not immediate. It’s in a future that does not yet exist. Again, the stress response is only going to get in the way of your accessing a solution.

Am I in immediate physical danger?

Perhaps your loved one is sick. Or you’re distressed hearing about people suffering in another part of the world. But if the danger is not happening to your body, again, the stress response won’t help.

You see, when we slip into “fight-flight-or freeze,” the higher parts of our brain shut down. Because they take a bit longer to process information, our body relies in an emergency on the more instinctive parts of our brain to get us to safety as quickly as possible. But those higher parts are exactly what we need to access solutions. They are what allow us to feel inspired, regulated, and creative. In fact, we need them not only to be “on,” but to be in control, to lead the way.

“Am I in immediate physical danger?” – It is so important to see the answer because if we are not personally in danger that is physical and immediate, our stress response will only cut us off from the source of solutions.

Once we realize this, we can very gently begin to bring ourselves out of the stress response and into a more regulated state, where those higher aspects of our selves can step back into control. When we are really triggered, it can feel almost impossible to sit down and meditate, or to start any calming activity. But we can listen to a meditation while walking outside, working on a puzzle, or taking a bath. The important part is to ease into it lightly, letting go of the need to make something happen.

Hummingbird with flower

Because in the exact moment that we do, we shift back into alignment, love takes over, and the solutions that we need begin to appear. I have seen this happen so many times, that I can promise you it is true. The Universe flows with love and nourishment. As soon as we begin to disentangle ourselves, it is right here for us. 

So, now you know what do to do when life is really hard. Ask yourself: Am I in immediate physical danger? If the answer is “yes,” get yourself to safety. If the answer is “no,” which is most likely the case, don’t try to answer any more questions or to look for any more solutions while your stress response is activated.

Take a slow breath with a long exhale. Then very gently begin a meditation or an activity that brings you peace. As soon as you are aligned again, the answers will come.

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