Dealing with Hard Times

two hands holding pieces of paper in them one reads Good News the other reads Bad News

5 strategies for changing your thought pattern 

Life often involves being confronted with unfortunate events.  While many things in life occur outside of our control, with practice we can learn to nearly always control how we react to events.  

I consider using a 5-pronged approach in counseling my patients about how to deal with unwelcome news, all of which involve changing their thought pattern.  Rather than thinking about difficult situations in ways that cause anxiety or sadness, e.g., thinking that there is no way for things to improve, people can learn to think in ways that promote hope and resilience.  Depending on the nature of an unfortunate event, use of only some of the strategies described may be appropriate. 

Practice Self-Kindness 

On an airplane we are taught to first put an oxygen mask on ourselves before helping others, because without our ability to breathe properly we cannot be of help to anyone.  Similarly, when dealing with unfortunate events it is important that we treat ourselves kindly, which helps us function better. 

Self-kindness can be accomplished in a brief time span.  A deep slow inhalation, while expanding our abdomen as we inhale, followed by a brief breath hold, and then a slow exhalation can be very calming.  Learning how to use hypnosis to trigger a relaxation response can also be very helpful.   Eating a favorite snack or hugging a loved one can help lift spirits.    

Keep Things in Perspective 

Thinking of a bad event through different or long-term perspectives can help us cope better. 

Some people believe they are usually at fault in some way during difficult situations.  When they are prompted to think how one of their friends might view similar events it can make it easier to recognize the events may have nothing to do with them.  For example, someone could think that a car accident is related to their poor driving, and not think about the possibility that another driver made a mistake. 

Sometimes, people overreact to certain events.  A few quotes can be helpful in this setting. 

Asking the subconscious for guidance during a challenging time can provide an additional calming perspective. 

For individuals who are spiritual, finding meaning in the event can be very helpful.  For example, “By learning to cope with difficult events, many people can become spiritually stronger.” 

Find the Silver Linings 

“In most cases, there are always positive aspects to a bad event,” I tell my patients.  Focusing on those aspects can help cope. 

For example, if a teenager receives a poor test grade, they can learn from what they did wrong and do better with their next test. 

I challenge my patients, “Even death can have good aspects.  Can you think of some?”  Answers might include that the deceased person is no longer suffering.  Or, that we can focus on all the contributions to our lives made by the person we lost.  Spiritually minded people might talk about how that the person who died has now entered their next phase of existence and find solace in being able to commune with that spirit in their mind. 

Embrace the Challenge 

The key to overcoming difficult situations is to embrace the challenge.  Avoiding the difficulty postpones the mental processing that may be required to move forward.  Further, avoidance sends an underlying message that the difficulty is too much to handle, and thus it can appear even more insurmountable.  I tell my patients, “Learn to be comfortable with being uncomfortable.” 

Fortunately, each of us possesses a toolkit that can help us face our challenges.  These tools include: 

Look for an Open Door 

Alexander Graham Bell said, “When one door closes another door opens; but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us.” 

After we work though dealing with a bad event we can begin to move forward.  Identification of the silver linings resulting from an event can often help us reframe our thinking, which allows us to see doors that have opened to us.   For example, a 15-year-old lamented that he was small because he had been born very prematurely and weighed just a little over a pound at birth.  After some self-reflection he realized that there are advantages to being small, such as being able to get into small spaces and being able to go under people while playing basketball.  Thereafter, he felt good about himself.  

Using positive self-talk is yet another way to identify a new path.  For example, rather than saying that, “I will always feel the loss of my loved one,” people might tell themselves, “I want to remember my loved one through continuing the work that was important to them during the rest of my life.” 

Takeaway 

Through learning how to change our thought patterns we can learn how to deal better with bad events. 

About Center Point Medicine 

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Author
Profile Photo or Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP Ran D. Anbar, MD Ran D. Anbar, MD, FAAP, is board certified in both pediatric pulmonology and general pediatrics, offering hypnosis and counseling services at Center Point Medicine in La Jolla, California, and Syracuse, New York. Dr. Anbar is also a fellow and approved consultant of the American Society of Clinical Hypnosis. Dr. Anbar is a leader in clinical hypnosis, and his 20 years of experience have allowed him to successfully treat over 5,000 children. He also served as a professor of pediatrics and medicine and the director of pediatric pulmonology at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, New York, for 21 years.

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