how to stay positive during tough times

taken during the longest, coldest, snowiest, hardest winter of my life
taken during the longest, coldest, snowiest, hardest winter of my life

A few years ago, when I was pregnant with my second daughter, I was down in the dumps for awhile.  Although I’ve been blessed with easy pregnancies, I had a hard time emotionally dealing with the sickness and fatigue of the first trimester.  But I spent some time thinking and praying about what I could do to keep myself on a more even keel, and came up with this list … which has served me well since then, during rainy days, long winters, and tough toddler phases 🙂

  1. Sleep enough – OK, so I’ll start by saying this is not always in our control; sleep deprivation is simply a reality of parenthood.  BUT, during some seasons of life, we really can work on this!  Choosing to go to bed early rather than watch TV; choosing to take a nap when the kids are napping instead of checking one more chore off the list.  Depending on your personality and the season of life you’re in, you may actually be more refreshed by enjoying a TV show, or by getting a chore done.  But personally, if I’m going through a tough time – especially if I find myself losing patience and snapping at my kids – it’s a sure sign that I need to choose sleep when I can.
  2. Pray every day – on the one hand, I need to be really disciplined about this – it’s easy to just toss up a 20-second prayer and say “OK, I prayed today” – and for me, that’s not enough.  It’s not deliberate, it’s not a sacrifice, and it doesn’t help me.  I need to make the time to sit down and do nothing else but pray.  On the other hand, I need to go easy on myself; if I can only sit down to pray for five minutes (like maybe because I need a nap!), so be it.  Read Scripture, read a devotional book or the biography of a holy person, write in a prayer journal – whatever soothes your soul.  God will meet you there.
  3. Eat healthy – I want to be very clear that this strategy does not preclude eating chocolate.  Just do it in moderation.  Whatever “eat healthy” means to you, whether you are Atkins or Paleo or Eat to Live or whatever, do it.  For me, this usually means taking a minute or two to make real food instead of having a granola bar or a bowl of cereal every time I get the munchies.  And drinking lots of water, and maybe eating a little dark chocolate.
  4. Praise & worship music – Listen to it or sing it, either way will work.  Singing praise to God is a great way to fight back against the enemy!  It’s also just a great way to “fake it til you make it.”  Just keep praising God until you actually feel like praising God 🙂
  5. Limit computer use – I have more to say on this some other time, but the short version is, the Internet is not going to satisfy you.  Call your mom, call a friend, have an actual conversation.  If you’re just bored, pick up an actual book that you truly want to read.  Don’t open the computer.
  6. Watch what I’m reading & listening to – When I’m feeling down, I can’t handle reading sad books, especially true ones, even if they are well done.  And although I love NPR, sometimes I get overly frustrated by certain aspects of it that I usually tolerate.  I know myself, and I know these things are true for me, so I limit myself.  I seek out good literature that won’t make me sad, and I listen to more music, or to Catholic radio.
  7. Exercise – I feel better overall when I go out for a run regularly.  Part of this is being able to drop the kids off at the gym childcare and have peace & quiet while I run 🙂  If I don’t have energy for a run, or if the kids have colds and can’t go to childcare, I make it a priority to take the kids out for walks.
  8. See other people – People other than my immediate family, that is 😉  During winter I can easily go days without seeing anyone but my husband and kids.  I need more than that!  I need friendship, like Christine was talking about in her last post.  It’s also easy, when I’m feeling sick & tired, or if I’m going through a tough time, to tell myself I’m just not up to visiting someone or having someone over … but seriously, no one ever got less depressed staying home & not seeing any friends!
  9. Pay attention to the to-do list – It is QUITE possible, as I think we all know, to get too attached to the to-do’s; but personally, I’ve found that giving up on it can also be a downfall.  There are lots of seasons of motherhood when I’m not able to do everything on my to-do list, and I’m tempted to just give it up.  But I get lost if I don’t have a clear vision of what I’m supposed to be doing.  It helps me to have some purpose, if I can keep in mind if I get a chance I need to put some laundry in.  It also really helps me to review my list and say Lord, I can’t do all this.  Please help me see clearly what I need to do today.
  10. Find things to look forward to – Sure, it’s helpful to take one day at a time, but it’s also helpful to think, I’m going out with my husband this weekend!  Or I’ll get to see some friends at the kids’ playgroup on Wednesday!  If you can look forward to something like a vacation so you can also spend some time planning (i.e. distracting yourself with something positive), all the better.
  11. Think about someone else – I can get really mired down in me, me, me, poor me.  It helps a lot to start thinking instead about visiting an elderly relative, or offering up my own “sufferings” for people who really need prayers.

I hope you don’t need them, but if you do, I hope some of these ideas are helpful for you 🙂  And I’d love to hear YOUR ideas and strategies too.  Come Lord Jesus, help us to maintain Your peace and joy during tough times!

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8 thoughts on “how to stay positive during tough times

  1. Sheila, you really nailed this! I can relate to each experience you describe. And what a great list! When I’m feeling anxious/desperate/grumpy/selfish, I’ve learned I need to stop myself, sometimes physically and always mentally, and ask myself what is really bugging me. What was the first thought that started this downward spiral? Or, what is the main fear behind all my little worries? For instance, I stomp about the house sweeping for the 5th time in a day and worry about choking hazards, ant infestations, lost time doing something more important , how soar my muscles feel, etc. Usually in my hiding place in the kitchen, I finally stop and force myself to think straight. All these anxieties stem from just one thing, usually. Something like I’m all in a dither because under the surface I’ve been thinking that sweeping the floor again means we’ll never get to the grocery store to buy anything on our list, and not even milk, which we are out of, and for that mater what’s the use in eating healthy, because we don’t have time, etc. When I can identify the seed thing that’s causing me trouble, I can then either troubleshoot to make sure that thing gets taken care of (get ourselves off to the store post haste, send my husband, etc.), or reject it as a non-priority or an unhelpful thought and move on, starting up a praise song – just like you suggest! – and thanking God for dustpans.

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    1. Yes! Thinking through it to find the source is super helpful! I often find a lie at the source of my fears or anxieties. During one time when I was very stressed out about my lack of free time – because Maggie wanted to be nursed & held constantly – I finally realized one source of anxiety was the thought “My husband will be disappointed in me if the house isn’t clean.” Once I realized that and denied it, poof! Life became lots easier.

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  2. Great list Sheila! Thanks. The perfect thing to read and be reminded of during middle of the night/early morning feeds. Actually this whole blog has been a great encouragement so keep up the great work sisters!

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    1. I’m so glad you’re enjoying the blog! And I’ll keep you in my prayers whenever I happen to be awake during the late/early hours. God bless you!

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  3. Excellent post! Seeing other people is hugely important. I would put that at Number One. But I agree with everything else you said. Hope your tough times are few.

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    1. super late reply … it’s funny, Mary, in an effort to trim some words I cut out the sentence “This is essential, it should be closer to number one!” The list isn’t exactly in order of importance, it was just as things occurred to me the first time I jotted down the list. Praise God, yes, not too many tough times 🙂

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