In September 2008, I emigrated with my family from Australia to the United Kingdom. We had been planning on emigrating for several years, but, thanks to incorrect information we received from immigration advisors at the time, we did not to apply for my visa until I was over eighteen. As a result, I was ineligible for the type of visa that most accurately reflected my immigration status, and in order for me to live in the United Kingdom with my family, I have had to seek out less accurate alternatives.
This was fine for a while. I started my university degree soon after emigrating, so I was able to live in the UK on a student visa for five years. I was then fortunate enough to find a post-graduate job with a company that had a licence to sponsor visas, and I worked with that company for the following three years. When that visa expired, the only visa for which I was eligible does not allow its holders to be employed by external companies. My alternative sources of income are nowhere near enough for me to live independently, so I have had to rely on my parents for financial security. I moved into my parents’ house in December 2016, and will continue to live with them until September 2018, when I can (finally) apply for the indefinite leave to remain in the United Kingdom and be allowed to seek employment again.
My story, while unusual in its specifics, reflects a reality that is all too common. Many of us find ourselves going through periods of time that could be described as ‘abnormal’, ‘less-than-ideal’, or ‘difficult’. Some of us might have long-term illnesses, ailments, or injuries. Some of us might be in financial difficulty. Some of us might have to live separately from our loved ones. Some of us might be going through a period of readjustment. Whatever the situation might be, when times are tough, it sometimes feels as though taking good care of ourselves is neither impossible or practical. But the truth is, taking care of ourselves is not only possible, it is essential for getting us through those difficult times as well as possible. Here are my seven tips for looking after yourself during difficult times.
Acknowledge that your situation is difficult.
Some people say that the best thing you can do when things don’t look good is to stay positive, no matter what. While I can understand the motivation behind this way of thinking (after all, who would not want to be positive all the time?), I do not think that it is healthy. As unpleasant as negative emotions are, they are just as important a part of the human experience as positive emotions, and they need to be felt. When a situation is rubbish, we need to give ourselves permission to acknowledge that the situation is rubbish, and to feel all of the negative emotions (anger, sadness, grief, fear, etc.) that come with it. Once the situation has been acknowledged, it will be easier to accept it and start to think about what can be done to make the situation more bearable.
Embrace the things that you can (still) do.
Difficult times are often such because they involve the inability to do things that we were able to do before. A broken leg, for example, makes for a difficult time because it prevents a person from being able to walk as freely as before. In my case, I am currently not allowed to work for a company; something I have always been able to do until now. But even though some things are not possible during these difficult times, there are still plenty of things that we can still do. I, for instance, can still do the other things that made up my previous life, like writing, going out, seeing friends, art, crochet, and cooking. When I think about and do those things, it reminds me that my current life is not actually all that different from my previous life, and that gives me some much-needed peace of mind.
Work out a routine.
Sometimes, one major source of hardship during difficult times is an abrupt change in lifestyle, where one goes from being busy and on the run all the time to having to stay at home, day in day out, with very little to do. That sudden lack of structure and daily to-do list can be jarring, and it certainly was for me. My mental health took a bad turn after moving back with my parents, and I noticed that I generally felt more like my previous, happier, self, on days when I had to stick to some sort of schedule. So I started to develop a routine, based around a handful of things that I wanted to get done every week (running on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, waking up at the same time every day, feeding the cats at 5pm, etc.) As a routine it was nothing demanding, but it was enough to make me feel more grounded, more in-control, and happier about my situation.
Look after your physical body as best you can.
My previous points have been primarily focused on mental health and well-being, but difficult situations can make a serious impact on our physical bodies as well, and not only when the situation concerns our physical bodies. My situation has nothing to do with my body, but the sudden lifestyle changes have affected my physical health nonetheless. This is not ideal, because difficult times are difficult enough without additional strain being added to our bodies. In order to combat these negative effects, take the time to look after your body – to exercise it, to feed it nutritious foods, to rest it thoroughly, to hydrate it and to keep it clean. Keeping my body in as good a condition as possible has not only helped my physical health; it has also given me additional strength and confidence in my ability to get through this difficult time.
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Set unrelated goals.
I find that I am at my happiest when I have something for which to aim. When I was a child, I would set myself academic goals (do well in this test, get into that university, achieve this class of degree). As I settled into my adult life, setting goals fell by the wayside as other things took priority. It was not until I found myself in my current situation that I remembered how much joy I got from having goals. So I got back into my old habit and set myself academic goals, fitness goals, and creative goals. Having something to aim for, and seeing the progress I am making, gives me a sense of accomplishment while also distracting me from my difficult situation.
Watch out for loneliness.
Loneliness is frequently felt among people going through difficult times, and I find it a particularly difficult part of my current situation. Being at home by myself, in an area that is far away from most of the people I know, is lonely, and loneliness can be a dangerous emotion to feel long-term. If you feel loneliness start to creep in, I implore you to reach out to your loved ones. Spend time with your family. Arrange to meet up with friends, or, if leaving the house is not possible, ask your friends to come to you. If physical meet-ups are not possible, utilise the greatness of modern technology and give a loved one a Skype call. Small actions like these will help to keep loneliness at bay.
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Ask for help when you need/want it.
Some of us, myself included, like to be independent and take care of everything ourselves. We take great pride in our independence, and pride is a difficult thing to sacrifice. But sometimes it is not possible, or even particularly desirable, to do difficult tasks alone, especially when we are going through difficult times and are able to do fewer things than before. Being vulnerable, and admitting that we need or want help, might seem weak and pathetic, but it really is not. It is an incredibly brave thing to do. Understanding your limits and not trying to push yourself beyond them is one of the best things you can do to look after yourself.
Most of us will go through difficult periods, and when those times hit, looking after ourselves often becomes an afterthought at best. However, I believe that taking some time to check in and monitor our own well-beings is not only important; it is essential for being able to better manage our less-than-ideal situations.
[Featured Image: A person with long light hair. They are crying. Their hand is on their shoulder. The photo is gray scale.]