In my twenties I had to move back to my parents when a relationship went wrong and I was left with debts and a poorly paid job that meant I couldn’t pay the rent.
I never thought that was going to happen.
Moving back ‘home’, I mean. I felt embarrassed and ashamed but at the same time it was a huge relief, and I was able to start rebuilding my life in a way that I perhaps wouldn’t have done if I’d tried to brave it out on my own. Which is what I would have tried to do if someone hadn’t helped me see beyond the pain and hurt pride so that I could stop re-running the whole disaster in my head.
Now I’m in my fifties I’d like to think I’m more skilled at dealing with the rollercoaster of life – that I’m better at handling my emotions and recognising what’s going on when I get angry/upset/shut down – but the truth is that when trouble comes along it can still take me by surprise.
So how do we learn to weather the ups and downs?
We all face unexpected challenges at different times in our lives. At midlife it can seem that a whole bunch of them arrive in the space of a few years for us to cope with – but it really doesn’t have to be a crisis when there are ways we can learn to bounce back much more quickly.
Here are some suggestions to help you build resilience and deal with unexpected life events when they arise:
When times are tough I turn to keeping a journal because it helps me get things straight in my head and offload some of the troublesome thoughts, so I was interested to read that research suggests expressive writing for just 20 minutes a day can really support us in tough times.
In their book Opening Up by Writing It Down the authors explain how expressive writing can help. For me it also helps me see those recurring patterns of thinking that can keep me stuck.
So why not try it? Just write freely about whatever is troubling you and keep it up for at least 3 weeks to reap the benefits of a more positive and engaged attitude to life.
- Be kind to yourself
Yes, it’s that self-compassion thing again. Try to be your own best friend and show yourself some love! It would be a great time to start a meditation or mindfulness practice to support yourself – find the thing that works for you and do it every day, even just for 5 minutes.
Sharing our anxieties and fears with others is also part of that process so we don’t suffer on our own (see also number 4 below).
- Act differently
Try not to do what you’ve always done. We tend to fall back on old ways of thinking and behaving when we feel under pressure but repeating old patterns just gets us more of the same and leaves us asking why we’re back in this place again: “I should have learnt by now … “ we say to ourselves.
It’s a bit like taking a deep breath and waiting rather than reacting when we feel angry. Instead of getting in a panic and rushing to ‘do’ why not take time before you take action. Of course, if you’re an inveterate procrastinator or hesitator then ‘doing’ may be just the thing – don’t put off taking some action.
Trust your gut instinct. Either way ask yourself what you can do differently this time.
- Ask for help
I can remember how hard it was to pick up the phone and tell my parents what had happened. Later on in life it can feel even more difficult to ask for help but people who do actually build better resilience: not only is it healthier to have the setbacks in the first place, if we let others help us we recover better than if we try to deal with things on our own. Does that sound daft?
Some people do seem to cope better with setbacks or failure. Research has shown that we don’t cope well with setbacks if we haven’t had a few already. And by midlife we may feel we’ve had our share – relationships ending, jobs lost, loved ones dying and illness creeping up on us.
Who can you reach out to when you need support?
In case you were wondering …
it turned out that the 6 months I lived at home were really important for a number of different reasons: I took control of my finances, I started out on a new career path, I made some fantastic friends who are still in my life AND I got my Wednesday Teatime Jane nickname!