Sometimes life just happens. You can have the best intentions and daily practices but things seem to happen which are often out of your control. This is more true than ever in our current global situation. 

When I look back on my life to date and how I have handled situations which have thrown me off balance, I realise they often felt totally overwhelming at the time and like there was no way out from them. I felt trapped and didn’t think life would ever feel good again. However, I now know that it is these moments which have helped to define who I am today.

Going through upheaval and change is exhausting both physically and emotionally. Our bodies tend to adopt the ‘fight or flight’ response and it can seem like many of our normal cognitive functions aren’t working as they do regularly.

As you go through whatever the situation may be, taking care of yourself can seem almost impossible but this is when you need to the most. I know in past situations I have just wanted to curl in a ball and sleep through everything, or escape through mind numbing activities such as drinking, watching endless TV and, at certain times, eating. However, these things offer only temporary relief and ultimately you feel worse.

When something comes up which is out of my control I am learning to allow myself to go through whatever it is I am going through. Feel any pain, rage, sadness and whatever else may be coming up as well as care for myself in as simple a way as possible, as my usual practices can often feel too much. Here are some simple things which have helped me in different situations.

1) Breathing

So simple and so powerful, yet so easily forgotten. Taking long, deep breaths into your entire body regularly will help you to get out of the fight or flight response and allow your body to relax. Breathing will help to calm you no matter what is going on around you.

2) Staying present

It’s easy to let the mind wander, and replay certain situations or scenarios, or even try to predict the future. Instead (and this is definitely easier said than done) bringing your attention back to the present moment really helps, as ultimately we can’t change the past or predict the future, so thinking about it can lead to unnecessary thoughts which can often spiral negatively. Try focusing on something small such as observing an object – all it’s different colours, textures, shapes. Then move on to something else. The more you do this the easier it gets.

3) Being kind to yourself

It’s so easy to want to blame or berate yourself for what is happening. Our minds try to come up with reasons for how it might be our fault, how we might be to blame. If only we had done something differently. Also being kind to yourself by acknowledging you need to take care of yourself first and foremost. Perhaps you need to say no to certain things for the time being that you would normally do, or ask for help? Do what you need to do to be kind to yourself.


4) Looking after your basic needs as best as you can 

Food, water and sleep are essential to everyone and so easily forgotten when things get thrown. I know that eating is the last thing on my mind if I am going through heartbreak, whereas in another situation where I lost a job all I wanted to do was eat. Remembering to nourish your body in any way possible and get sleep when you can will help with how you handle the situation enormously. Even a small amount of sleep deprivation and dehydration can impair your normal body and brain functions. If it’s hard to manage, go for little and often with both sleep and nourishment and ideally eat the most nourishing food possible.


5) Finding an outlet for release 

Often life does not or cannot return to what it was before and you need to learn to live with a new normal. It can feel hard, uncomfortable and even scary, but learning to adapt and accept this new reality is a part of life. Having an outlet to express what you are feeling will help you to reach a place of inner peace and/or acceptance faster. Some things which can help are physical exercise or movement, counselling, journaling or another creative expression. Finding something which is within your time and budget allowances and that you feel able to do.

As mentioned earlier I do also think it’s important to allow yourself to feel what you are going through. Acknowledging that there is something happening and it’s okay to feel what you are feeling. Then adding in some simple practices to help you care for yourself whilst you are in this situation.

In the face of challenges that are outside of our control, I hope these simple practices help.

Further reading

5 self-care tips for highly sensitive people

Self-care for when you're overwhelmed

Therapist advice for dealing with health anxiety

Dealing with feelings of hopelessness