Imagine this scenario: Your boss tells you the organization is downsizing their local office. If you want to stay on, you’ll have to relocate 400 miles away. What do you do?
Here’s what most people would do: shut down. Or get angry. Or maybe even feel hurt.
Even though these are natural responses, they can be counterproductive if you don’t know how to handle them the right way.
So the real question then becomes: what should you do? How can you handle surprise events and challenges in life so that you can grow from them and take each one as a learning opportunity?
At birth, we were given five tools with which to interact with our world: emotions, thoughts, intuition, speech, and actions.
When a difficult situation arises, and we’re unsure how to respond, we may become mired in our emotions. We’re overtaken by anger, sadness, or fear, which clouds good decision-making and effective problem solving.
It happens to everyone—in relationships, at work, and as a result of everyday assaults on our happiness and health.
But by learning to use these five remarkable instruments, we can neutralize sadness, anger, and fear, think clearly, make empowering decisions, communicate effectively, and take remedial action whenever challenges in life present themselves.
The Five Tools
Emotions, when you think about it, are nothing but pure energy in the body. And they’re bound to present themselves when challenges in life inevitably happen.
The fastest and healthiest way to release pent-up emotional energy that, when stifled, can lead to destructive thoughts, words, and actions, is to express emotions physically and constructively in a safe setting. Allow the pure sensation to move out of your body by crying, pounding, or shivering.
Instead of pulling inward and becoming rigid or confused, confront your emotions head on. Just let them out, in a healthy way, and not directed towards anyone you love.
Crying will miraculously get your stuck energy moving again. You can “make” yourself cry by watching a sad movie, for example, or by looking at old photos.
Express anger physically, by stomping, pounding a heavy bag, or screaming into a pillow. Make your entire body quiver, tremble, and shake to release the pent-up fear you feel…or else it will start to control you.
Related: 5 Reasons Why Your Emotional Intelligence Matters More Than Your IQ
During challenges in life, you may be tempted to think negatively. Instead of letting those pessimistic thoughts run rampant through your head, learn to replace destructive thoughts with new, more positive ones that are unequivocally true.
You do this by focusing on new thoughts or “truths” that are clear and simple statements of fact. Repeating truths that contradict your old thinking, and doing it with intention and persistence, interrupts destructive chatter and rewires your thought patterns.
For example, if the primary emotion you’re feeling is anger, a great truth to offset anger is, “People and things are the way they are, not the way I want them to be.” Replace panicked fear-based thoughts with constructive thoughts such as, “I can handle this. One thing at a time.”
Repeat your truth statements over and over, with vigor and desire, until the old thoughts give up and fade away. You’ll quickly feel a shift.
Related: The Incredible Power of Self Talk
Consulting this well of wisdom allows you to tap into your heart and find what’s indisputably true for you, at lightning speed. It’s an unfailing guide for making sound decisions: from simple things such as what you really want for a snack, to heavy hitters such as breaking up with your partner of ten years.
Using the first example, even if relocating is the only way to stay on with your company, you might know after consulting your gut that you can’t leave your aging parents and move, no matter how lucrative the offer. Tapping into your intuition helps you see the core reality of your situation clearly, leading the way to making the decision that’s right for you.
Related: Why You Should Follow Your Intuition (No Matter What)
The words and tone you use will either cause separation and fear or create connection and solutions. When you feel upset or off-center, communication skills often go out the window. You revert to talking about the other person or situation, using global generalizations, focusing on the negative, and not listening.
Going along with the example at hand, rather than accusing the company of being heartless, calmly talk with your boss about the implications this turn of events has for your situation, using statements of fact about you that are specific and focused on the positive. Then listen.
Related: How to Communicate Effectively
Counteract worn-out and harmful ways of behaving by taking a series of little doable action steps that nourish you daily and create a sense of forward, positive movement. These will empower you and lead you away from sadness, anger, and fear—and toward happiness.
Example: there are several possibilities to consider. You might offer to take a cut in pay, put in applications at other firms, start checking the classified ads, or consider job retraining. Make a list of steps and focus on what’s next.
For any problematic situation in which you find yourself feeling stuck, it’s helpful to use any one of the five tools. But for maximum results, cycle through all five. You can get through all of the challenges in life with these tools. They will not fail you.
Jude Bijou, MA, MFT, is a respected psychotherapist, professional educator, and workshop leader. Her award-winning book is Attitude Reconstruction: A Blueprint for Building a Better Life.
Photo by Silvia Sala