Recently I saw “Sully,” the film adaptation about a modern day hero. In 2009, U.S. Airways pilot Chesley Sullenberger landed his plane on New York’s Hudson River in order to save the flight’s passengers and crew. Everyone was saved.
If I was in charge of the media, I’d put more stories about heroes on the front page. Further, I’d feature ordinary people doing extraordinary things, such as living with chronic illness. People who confront illness and fight for the best possible outcome are courageous.
How do we keep ourselves going through hard times? What are the characteristics that impel some people to overcome major obstacles while others experience defeat? How do we stay motivated when our bodies want to crash or drown rather than be saved?
Personally, I rely on people in order to stay motivated, because I can’t do it alone. Although I am solely responsible for my health, I am not clever enough to do what it takes to stay healthy. Family, friends, and my community supply me with insights and suggestions that I wouldn’t see if left to my own devices.
Along with their help, I employ a few tricks. When I am filled with self-pity, I remind myself that “pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.” This usually gets me out of myself, but if it doesn’t, I may use another slogan, “This too will pass.” Here are some more tips to help survive challenging times:
- Distract yourself. Try movies, comedy, music, friends, fantasy, audiobooks, podcasts, etc.
- Increase your endorphin level. Exercise, sex, humor, or caring for a pet will increase your body’s natural “feel good” hormones.
- Spend time outside. Nature can be incredibly soothing, even if you live in an urban area.
- Use positive self-talk. Tell yourself, “This will get better.” Instead of saying, “I can’t,” try saying, “I will,” even if you don’t know how you will. Repeat this even if you do not believe it.
- Employ self-soothing measures. Light candles, listen to music, watch sports on TV, savor a favorite food, take a nap, soak in the tub, play a video games, pray
- Practice visualization. Imagine yourself laughing, getting things done, and feeling happy. If you have any doubts about the power of visualization, just imagine eating a lemon and notice what happens to your salivary glands.
- Help someone else. Do volunteer work, practice random acts of kindness, clean up trash in your neighborhood, help others in a support group.
- Try to eliminate or reduce the amount of worry in your life. Worrying will not solve tomorrow’s problems and depletes today’s strength. If you find yourself worrying a great deal, try creating “worry-free” times. My goal is to not let worry interfere with sleep or driving. If I find myself worrying at those times, I tell myself I can worry all I want tomorrow. I go for a walk and allow myself to think as much as I want about the situation. This takes practice, but is very effective.
- Make emergency plans for difficult times. This is most effective when done while you are in a good mood. Make a list of what would cheer you up if you were feeling lousy. Example: ask friends for help, read stories about those who have overcome major obstacles, take a day off from responsibilities
Sometimes, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get out of a downward spiral. If you are depressed and/or having suicidal or other self-destructive thoughts, seek professional help. If you do not know how to find help, call your local mental health department or crisis hotline. Getting help takes courage, and in my mind, people who ask for help are the bravest of all.