“The mind can go in a thousand directions, but on this beautiful path, I walk in peace. With each step, the wind blows. With each step, a flower blooms.” ~Thich Nhat Nanh
It’s easy to feel peaceful and positive when the sun is shining and life is going your way. It’s a different matter when you’re alone, afraid, sick, or so tired you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
As a three-time cancer survivor, I know something about getting through difficult times. I know what it’s like to feel exhausted and hopeless, but I’ve also learned it’s possible to find moments of peace and light under the most difficult of circumstances. You can too.
Here are six techniques that help me find the light when things are tough. I hope they bring you the same sense of peace and ease they bring me.
1. Stop pretending everything’s okay.
If things aren’t going well, acknowledge it.
Stop judging yourself for feeling tired, anxious, or miserable. Instead of yelling at yourself for not being upbeat in the face of trauma or trouble, speak to yourself with the same understanding and respect you’d use to support your friends and family.
Tell yourself you have every right to feel the way you do right now, but that feelings are like the tide. They come and go. And while things are tough today, you’re tough, too. You’ve been through hard times before. You’ll get through this, and tomorrow will be a better day.
2. Give yourself the gift of living one hour at a time.
When I was going through chemo for breast cancer, I was afraid I wouldn’t have the strength to make it through the six long months of treatment. And then I came across the idea of living my life hour by hour, and that changed everything.
Here’s how it works:
Let’s say it’s 1:15 PM where you are. All you have to do is focus on doing the best you can until 2:00 PM. That’s it. You don’t have to worry about what’s for dinner tomorrow night. You certainly aren’t going to worry about that appointment you have next Tuesday, or how you’re going to replace your old car.
You just have to make it through this one hour, secure in the knowledge that the next hour, and all the hours after that will take care of themselves.
It sounds simple, but living this way has seen me through some really tough days. Go ahead, give it a try, and see how this one change can make this tough time easier.
3. Focus on loving yourself.
This is a time to treat your body and spirit with fierce, loving self-care.
- Listen to your body and give it what it needs to stay healthy.
- Make sure you get enough rest. Go to bed early. Take a nap.
- Take an afternoon off and do something that soothes your heart. Go for a walk in the woods, head to the beach, or read a good book.
- Eat as well as you can, but don’t beat yourself up if you don’t get all your vegetables, or eat an extra piece of fudge.
- Move in ways that feel good to your body. And move as often as possible. Even a ten-minute walk or some gentle stretching can improve your mood.
- Support your health and your spirit with loving words and actions throughout your day.
- Remind yourself all day long of how many reasons and ways you have to love yourself.
My favorite way to care for myself when things are tough is to take a warm bath or shower. I love taking time alone to nurture my body and spirit. I love to relax and let the water wash away my cares and worries. For me, bathing is the perfect way to end a tough day.
4. Get busy.
Don’t just sit around worrying, do something. Even if you don’t have a lot of energy, you can still find something small to do to make your life better.
Clean out a drawer, or a closet. Read something. Learn something. Start a project, finish a project. Knit, tinker, build, garden, write, explore, give, share.
I like to go for a walk or head to the kitchen to cook something, but it doesn’t matter what you do. What matters is that you take one small action to get you back on the road to feeling better.
5. Be grateful.
Take some time every day to focus on all the wonderful things you already have in your life.
Even though you may feel you have nothing to be grateful for, I promise you, you are surrounded by an abundance of miracles. The trick is to seek out the little luxuries in your day, the moments of unexpected joy, the color, sound, and beauty of the world around you. Find them and then to celebrate them all with a full heart.
As you go through your day, look for things that feel good. Revel in things like the warmth and comfort of a quilt around your shoulders, the beat of your favorite music, the splendor of the morning sky, the juicy sweetness of a crisp apple.
See how many of these incredible things you can find. Make it a game to find more of those things today than you did yesterday. Play the game with people around you and see how this one simple activity changes your life.
If you’re still having trouble coming up with the good things in your life, complete these phrases:
I enjoy seeing…
I enjoy hearing….
I enjoy doing….
I enjoy knowing….
I enjoy being with….
I’m so glad about….
I’m so glad I can….
I’m grateful for…
I’m looking forward to…
When you start looking for, and talking about, things you’re grateful for, you’ll begin to welcome more of those wonderful things into your life.
6. Look up and breathe.
Finally, when you’re anxious, depressed, or at your wit’s end, all you have to do to instantly feel better is look up. Simply raise your gaze to the sky or ceiling or whatever is over your head. Take a moment to feel a connection to the universe.
Then draw a breath deep into your belly. As you continue to breathe deeply, feel a sense of relaxation begin in your shoulders and work its way down your spine. Feel your muscles soften as a sense of ease fills your body.
With your next inhale, repeat the phrase, “I now fill my body with peace and light.” As you exhale, feel your body soften and relax as you repeat to yourself, “I let go of the weight of fear and worry.”
Repeat until you are completely relaxed. Then take that sense of peace into your day, knowing you can repeat this technique as many times as you wish to bring this sense of peace into your heart, no matter what is going on around you.
It may not be possible to avoid the dark days in life, but it’s always possible to bring some light into that darkness and peace into your soul, by choosing acceptance, gratitude, focus, and love.
About Wendy Leeds
Wendy Leeds is a psychotherapist and a cancer survivor. She knows what it’s like to face anxiety and trauma, and she’s working on a book to share her experience and expertise. Her CD, Creating A Calm Day is available on Amazon. Wendy offers the gift of her B.E.A.R. technique for handling panic on her website, wendyleeds.com. Join Wendy on Facebook at @WendyLeedsKeepingCalm.