When faced with tough circumstances, you may think that you’re unprepared to deal with life’s inevitable challenges. But you don’t have to wave the white flag just yet.
Throughout my 14 years as a psychotherapist and while researching my book, 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do, I learned a few methods that can help anyone build their mental strength—especially in the trying times when you really need it.
1. Talk to yourself like a trusted friend
When you’re feeling stressed out, your inner dialogue may start predicting doom and gloom. But making catastrophic predictions will drain your mental strength fast.
Commit to talking to yourself like a trusted friend. Ask, “What would I say to a friend who had this problem?” and give yourself a realistic yet optimistic pep talk. Taking some of the emotion out of the equation will help you tackle your problems with renewed vigor.
2. Establish a helpful mantra
Harsh criticism and self-doubt waste precious brain power when you need it the most. Create a helpful mantra you can repeat to yourself to drown out the negativity. Whether you tell yourself, “I’m stronger than I think,” or you say, “I can handle feeling uncomfortable,” you’ll affirm your ability to deal with whatever challenge you face.
3. Recall previous hard times
Questioning your ability to deal with adversity wastes time and energy. So rather than continuing to tell yourself, “I’m not sure I can do this,” recall the tough times you’ve endured in the past. Reminding yourself that you’ve persevered before can give you the strength you need to step up to the plate.
4. Think about your future self
When you’re really worried about what’s going on today, think about how much this will matter in the future. Imagine yourself looking back on today one year, five years and 10 years down the road. While some upsetting events—like a job loss—may not be a big deal down the line, other events—like the loss of a loved one—will still affect you (but perhaps in a less catastrophic way). Imagining your future self can remind you that you’ll find a way to get through whatever tough times you’re facing right now.
5. Name your feelings
Rather than avoiding or suppressing your emotions, acknowledge how you’re feeling. Try to label your feelings, while keeping in mind that you may feel a wide variety of emotions all at the same time. Naming your fear, sadness or anxiety helps you make sense of your distress and instantly reduces the intensity of your emotions.
6. Find healthy coping skills
While you may be tempted to drown your sorrows with an extra glass of wine, temporarily escaping your emotions will only add more stress to your life. Look for healthy coping methods that will help you deal with adversity. Journaling, exercising, talking to friends and meditating are just some of the many positive exercises that can help you work through your emotions—rather than avoid them.
7. Take one small step
If you’re not sure what to do, find one small step you can take. Write a to-do list, make a phone call or fill out some paperwork. Break down your problems one step at a time, and push yourself to take action. No matter how small that step may seem, as long as you’re moving in the right direction, your productive behavior will help you build mental muscle.