Your Guide for Getting Through Tough TimesBy Jessica Cassity
All of us experience heartache and loss. Relationships end. Lives are taken too soon. Dreams crumble. No one is immune to these personal setbacks, and while there is no timeline for grief or heartache, there are things you can do to move forward.
The strategies to keep you moving through hard times—rather than getting stuck in negative thoughts or feelings of depression—are often the same acts that bring about happiness. It's at the times when happiness seems like a distant memory that the tools used to improve mood can be the most beneficial.
In fact, research shows that the more you use these techniques before a crisis, increasing your overall positivity during relatively good times, the better you'll fare when life gets hard, since positivity creates a buffer against depression. This is your guide to bouncing back.
Set Your Sights on the Future
While living in the present is often described as one of the keys to happiness, when the present is full of doubt, hurt, confusion, and sadness, it's okay to imagine a time when things will be different. Part of that involves creating a picture of what your day-to-day life will be like—for instance, imagining yourself cooking dinner for a group of friends.
The other component involves new hopes and dreams for your future, such as making time to finish that degree program you started or planning a family reunion. Setting goals like these allows people to be more positive during times of grief. It also predicted better recovery 12 months after a loss, according to a study from the University of Chicago. By focusing on ways to be happy in the future, you'll automatically have more to live for in the present.
Channel Positive Memories
In the immediate aftermath of a loss, blocking out thoughts associated with the painful event—such as memories of the person you lost—can be an appropriate coping mechanism. But as you move through your grief, research suggests there may be more merit to creating a positive connection and catalog of memories. A study performed at the Pacific Graduate School of Psychology tracked the role of maintaining a bond with the departed among widows who had lost husbands either four months prior or more than two years prior. In the group who had suffered the loss more recently, regularly thinking about their husbands, remembering the good times, or having an internal dialogue with their former partner made them feel worse. But among those who'd had more time to adjust to the loss, those same thoughts made them feel better.
Remember to Laugh
Studies show that laughter reduces stress and eases symptoms of depression. It's no wonder then that staying in good humor is a valuable way to get through the grieving process. Six months after suffering a loss, people who had more laughter in their lives experienced less grief and depression than those who remained solemn, according to a study from the Omega Journal of Death and Dying. The source of the laughter is irrelevant: whether you get your kicks from watching movies, joking with friends, or watching dogs at a local dog park, whatever makes you smile—or better yet, laugh—will bring more positive emotions into your life, helping you to crowd out the other feelings.
As some psychology researchers say, the best way to stop being depressed is to stop acting like a depressed person. It may sound harsh, but that means no more moping around, and no more sweatpants and endless bowls of ice cream. Finding ways to stay engaged in your life and active in the pursuits that make you happy is one way to begin working through loss and restoring the life you had before. If you've been declining invitations, accept the next one that comes your way. If you like sports, set a phone reminder to watch a game. If painting is one of your favorite past-times, get out your brushes and get to work. You may not feel ready to get out and live like you used to—and that's totally normal—but the only way to ease back in to a satisfying routine is to keep trying. If you're hesitant, try setting a time limit, such as “I can leave after 30 minutes,” or “I only have to work on this project for 5 minutes.” Chances are once you start, you may have a better time than you thought.
Jessica Cassity writes about health, fitness, and happiness for publications including Self, Shape, Health, Women's Health, and Family Circle magazines. Her first book, Better Each Day: 365 Expert Tips for a Healthier, Happier You was published in 2011.
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