There are times in life when it feels like one misfortune after another keeps coming your way. You might say or think thoughts like, “Life keeps knocking me down” or “Life keeps kicking me in the teeth” or “Bad things keep happening to me.” These thoughts may seem like simple, unfortunate, and unalterable truths, and they are unfortunate, but they are not simple or unalterable. You can learn how to cope with stress during hard times that feel like they just keep piling up and burying you.
It can feel true to think or say things like “Life keeps knocking me down” or “Bad things keep happening to me.” But other–better–things can be true, too.
When you think “bad things keep happening to me”, it implies a momentum of bad things that is bound to continue. Notice the present tense of “keep happening” and the implication that bad things will continue to happen. “Keep happening” is not a static phrase—it implies momentum and action and continuance, a never-ending flow of bad stuff. This feeds and reinforces emotions of fear, defeat, and hopelessness, which in turn feed depression and anxiety and increase your distress.
The other part of “bad things keep happening to me” you should look at is your position in this statement. In this wording, you are the direct object that an action is happening to—you have no action of your own. You are powerless, a victim of events out of your control. This feeds and reinforces emotions of powerlessness, hopelessness, and despair, which in turn feed depression and anxiety and increase your distress.
While it might help a little, it’s not enough to modify your statement by thinking or saying, “It feels like life keeps knocking me down” or “I feel like bad things keep happening.” “It” doesn’t feel. You feel. And you CAN change how you feel. The truest thought in this moment would be “I feel hopeless. I feel powerless. I am afraid.” Those are big and scary feelings, and you are unintentionally feeding them and helping them to grow with the words you choose. Here’s what you can do.
First, as we did in the previous paragraph, drill down and identify the core emotions you are feeling. “I feel hopeless. I feel powerless. I am afraid.” Then add “right now” or “for now” to those statements. “I feel hopeless right now.” “For now, I feel powerless.” “Right now I am afraid.” Do you see the difference? Do you feel it? It is just as true, MORE true, than your initial thought, but it is confined to this moment right now instead of spreading infinitely into the past and the future.
These feelings are still hard and scary, but they are less infinite and less consuming when put into this framework. They have limits. You are limiting their power over you.
Next, practice some different true statements. Don’t try to replace your original thought yet if it feels like too much, but add these thoughts to your mind’s repertoire as well:
The bad things happened.
I handled the bad things. I survived the bad things.
I keep surviving.
Ways I handled the bad things well include…
Before and after the bad things, these good things happened: ______.
I learned _____ from these bad things.
I am stronger now because I survived the bad things.
I am safe right now in this moment.
(If you are NOT safe, call for help now!)
Once you can feel the truth in these statements, consider writing them down and putting them someplace where you can see them as well as think them. It can also be powerful to record yourself saying them and then play it back for yourself. Now you are thinking them, seeing them, saying them, and hearing them. This gives these thoughts more power, and now they can begin to replace your original thought of “Life keeps knocking me down.”
When you are ready, add in some true affirmations acknowledging your own power and strength and the changing nature of life:
I’ve gotten through rough times before, and I can get through this, too.
One constant in life is change, and this situation will change, too.
These hard times are not permanent. It will get better.
I can handle hard times. I am strong.
I have good in my life.
I am a survivor.
Again, write these down, read them, say them, hear them, soak them up and see the truth in them. Believe them. It is hard to stay as afraid and powerless and helpless in the face of statements like these.
Keep doing these exercises as often as needed (it will take more than one session). There will come a day when your encounter a misfortune and your first thoughts will be, “Well, that happened. I survived it. I learned. Now I’m even stronger.” You will be more resilient and better able to handle life’s ups and downs without feeling hopeless, powerless, and afraid so much of the time. This, in turn, will decrease your future stress (and distress) in hard times and will help you see that it really can get better.
Lastly, but still really important–practice self-care! Nurture yourself and take care of the person who is getting you through life’s challenges. YOU.