By the time you have celebrated your 50th birthday, it's a pretty safe bet you have gotten several doses of unpleasant news. Perhaps someone broke your heart. Maybe you experienced an unwelcome health challenge. A child or a close friend or a parent may have died. Your business may have gone bankrupt, or you might have lost your job. Whatever it is, bad news can shake us to our core. But there are a variety of useful ways to weather even the roughest storms.
Like most of you, I've faced my fair share of challenges. I recently had my 70th birthday, and life has thrown me what often feels like more than my fair share of challenges. I've had to wrestle with death (my parents, of course, way too many cherished friends and my much-loved husband), divorce, unemployment, close to 30 years in a wheelchair because of multiple sclerosis and the sad realization that journalism had undergone seismic changes that adversely affected my career. There were far too many times when I felt like giving myself a full-blown pity party.
I'd love to be able to tell you that I breezed through all those challenges (not to mention the ones I didn't list) unscathed, but that would be a lie. What did help me survive, however, was a handy list of coping strategies that I have collected over the years. Today, I'd like to share them with you in case an unexpected dose of bad news happens to appear on your horizon. When things seem bleak, try to keep these tools in mind:
1. Don't hide. When bad things happen, it's natural to want to remain isolated. We don't want to answer other people's questions, even if they mean well. But sometimes just being visible to our community, our friends and our neighbors can send a hopeful and healing message to them — as well as ourselves.
2. Do one positive thing each day. While in the midst of bad news, try to dilute the (mental or physical) pain by doing something life-affirming. Even though you are in the midst of a painful situation, it really helps to do something — anything — for another person because it takes the focus off of the hurt that's in your heart.
3. Treat yourself like a friend. If someone you cared about were experiencing what you are going through, how would you try to help them? Turn that hypothetical act of kindness around, and reap the benefits of your own emotional generosity.
4. Practice optimism. Looking ahead with an upbeat frame of mind can pay big dividends. Nobody wants to be around a Debbie Downer because that person can drag everyone else's spirits down. The song "Tomorrow" from "Annie" is what I use as a musical Teflon shield whenever pessimism shows up.
5. Believe. I keep a small sign with this word next to my recliner to help me remember — in good times and in bad — that my thoughts have power. Henry Ford once said, "Whether you think you can or you think you can't, you're right." So why not believe that things will get better?
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.
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