What to do when life keeps giving you lemons

What to do when life keeps giving you lemons

We all know the adage: When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.

And you know what? It’s a nice trite thought for trite times. The days where the cat throws up as you’re heading out the door and then the car won’t start and as you’re heading back in the house you rip your dress. The days where you can look back and laugh at the sheer ridiculousness of it all.

But sometimes, life throws lemons at you so hard they splatter when they hit. Ain’t nobody making lemonade from that.

So what do you do when you look back over many months and realise you’ve been in ‘survival mode’ for some time? In a constant state of ‘one foot in front of the other/just keep swimming’?

Well I’m not going to pretend I have all the answers but here’s what’s helped me and others I know come out the other side after experiencing hard times of our own.

1. Get rid of as many commitments as you can

Us human beings are almost too resilient for our own good. The amount of stress and strain we can cope with when pushed, it’s stupefying. But please, take it from someone who has to get all the way to breaking point before she makes changes – just because we can push that far doesn’t mean we should.

Instead, when you see breaking point on the horizon, stop, assess all your commitments, and starting dumping the ones you can.

Note, I haven’t said ‘prioritise things and then get rid of the ones that are the lowest priority.’ If you’re in a position where you’re really struggling, it’s really hard to prioritise anything. So make things simple for yourself – get rid of the things that are easiest to get rid of. And the best place to start is usually with the people who are most likely to understand.

The kids might have to limit themselves to one after school activity per term. The local library you’ve been helping at for years might just have to do without you for a little while. You may have to skip the weekly family dinner once or twice a month.

Lightening our load works in two ways. One, it gives us space to breathe so that when we have to cope with the latest contingency life has thrown at us, we’re better able to do so. Two, it gives us fewer areas in which contingencies can arise.

2. Spread the load

When life is one shitty thing after another, most of us internalise it because we don’t want to be a downer when around our family and friends. So we put on a happy face and soldier on. But if there is one thing experience has taught me, a problem shared is a problem halved. It really is. And you don’t have to be a downer, just be honest.

I have a friend who’s battled depression her whole adult life. Some periods in her life it gets the better of her and her response to ‘how are you going?’ at those times is a very matter-of-fact: ‘look, I’m really struggling right now.’ 

During those times I try to ease any pressure or demands I might be putting on her and I also make sure to let her know I’m thinking about her.

If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of kindness from a friend who’s looking out for you, you know what a difference it can make. Having people in your corner, ready to fight the good fight with you is a wonderful feeling when times are tough.

3. Make sure you’re still doing your ‘thing’

During the crappest period of my life, one of the things that helped keep my head above water was writing. And not just because writing is something I love to do. More because my ‘thing’ in life is helping people bring order to their lives.

Every time I wrote and published a blog post, there was a hugely tangible sense of satisfaction and happiness that went with it. Every blog post I wrote helped me as much as it helped the people reading them.

So what’s your thing? The thing that makes you ‘buzzy’; makes you feel really ‘alive’?

Is it performing? Is it being creative? Is it connecting people? Is it meeting new people? Is it plating up a beautiful meal?

Whatever your thing is, you need to make sure you’re getting some of it on a very regular basis. Because even if life is GREAT, if your ‘thing’ is absent, you will struggle.

That makes it even more important when life is NOT great.

4. Get yourself a serotonin boost

Serotonin is:

“a chemical created by the human body … regarded by some researchers as a chemical that is responsible for maintaining mood balance …” [source]

There are a couple of things you can do to quickly and easily give yourself a much-needed serotonin boost:

  1. Practice random acts of kindness: Now this may seem like it goes against my suggestion of dropping commitments, but really, acts of kindness do not need to be big things. They can be as little as catching the eye of the frazzled mum trying to wrangle her screaming toddler, and just giving her a knowing smile.
  2. Get out in the sunshine and move your body: Ok, so sunshine may not always be in ready supply, but in short, our bodies crave natural light during the day. So even getting outside on a cloudy day beats the fluorescent light we get indoors. Combine this light with an aerobic activity like running/walking/cycling/swimming and you’re looking at a highly effective, and probably much needed little mood boost.

5. Get a dose of someone else’s reality

Comparisons are odious but you know what? Sometimes they provide a neat little reality check too. Something I used to do when I was feeling particularly low was flick through the newspapers and weigh up my problems against the problems other people were having. Basically I was looking to see if there was anyone in the paper I was keen to swap problems with.

And as trite as it sounds, I never did find someone. That’s because …

6. Know you can always cope with your ‘now’

What’s your track record for coping with what life has thrown at you to date? It’s 100% right? Pretty impressive.

Now, as someone has pointed out to me before, ‘coping’ is no way to live. And they are totally right. But sometimes, you do just have to keep putting that one foot in front of the other and …

7. Know life will get better

Oh boy, this is a hard one to hang your hat on when the hits just keep on coming. But if I can promise you one thing, it is this:

Life gets better.

I absolutely promise it does.

I’ve seen friends go through the most horrendous of times and come out the other side. I’ve seen people suffer way more than their fair share of life’s shit, and come out the other side.

Life is hard.

Being a person is hard.

We’re all just doing the best job we can and every challenge we face down and throw back at life, it really does make us stronger and more resilient for the next time.

Have you been some really rough times? Do you have anything to add to the list above?