11 of Life's Most Difficult Situations and How to Handle Them

We tend to view life as a series of events that are controllable and within boundaries that we mold. But with time we start realizing the truth about life: Change is inevitable. Life throws us challenges that are tough to get through. These curveballs sometimes stress us out way more than they should. But the truth is that when we are equipped to overcome change, we learn the most about ourselves. Learning about ourselves promotes growth. Growth is the best part about being human, because we develop into a new and different (and hopefully better) person. In the following slides, you’ll read about some typical changes that most people experience in life and how you can best equip yourself to deal with life’s major challenges.

1. Hitting a Milestone Age

Adults go through significant developmental changes during the aging process, according to psychologist Daniel Levinson’s Seasons of a Man’s Life theory. Between the ages of 22 and 28, adults start making choices about their lifestyle, friends and job. Personality blooms and we become who we want to be in society. Next, the 30-year-old transition takes place. We start to slow down and structure our lives, finding routine and balance in the day-to-day grind. Between ages 33 and 40 we find ourselves becoming a part of society and sinking in to the greater good of our culture as a whole. Most adults find themselves settled during this phase. The midlife transition (40 to 45 years old) happens next. This phase typically makes people question direction and meaning in life. Middle adulthood (45 to 50) can create the most stress as we find ourselves looking at years we’ve lived versus years we have left and what is on the bucket list before retirement. Regardless of the age at which you find yourself, it’s important to recognize that each of these developmental changes has the ability to increase stress. As humans, we have a hard time dealing with change, and these developmental milestones create changes throughout our lifespans. When you find yourself in transition, remember that you are in change. Enjoy the process, taking full advantage of all that your current life stage has to offer, and ride out the wave of life.

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2. Changing Friendships

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Social connection and having friends by your side to laugh with, experience life with and love with is a necessary component of life. The human connection has been found to be as important as food and shelter for an overall healthy life. Friends, however, come and go. Some people are put in your life for a short time, like a teammate or college fraternity brother, and some weather the storms and stay forever. There is a healthy place of acceptance in human relationships, and sometimes letting go of people in order to continue making space for new growth is something you have to do. While this change is hard, acceptance and letting go is a process in life that sometimes teaches us how to become more adaptable. When you find that the time is up on a friendship, don’t be afraid to let go of that hand you’ve been holding. By letting go, you open yourself up for new opportunities and people that may fit your needs in friendship more than those that no longer help you grow as a person.

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3. Transitioning Out of the Spotlight

Fame, as most of us know, is fleeting. Take athletes, for example. Most highly successful athletes played sports during their youth and adolescence. Many even get the opportunity to play in college, making their four years at university full of team participation, goals, motivation and determination. When coming out of this phase (whether you’re an athlete or not), it’s completely normal to go through sadness, feelings of loss and a period of transition. Your self-identity is altered because a large component of who you once were is taken away. It’s important to understand that the skills and attributes that made you successful in your sport, career or hobby can be utilized elsewhere. With any self-identity shift, it’s completely understandable to have feelings of sadness or even depression that are paired with this big life change. Make sure to find activities that make you feel the same way your sport or job made you feel. Whether it’s an office sports league, singing karaoke at your favorite bar or volunteering to run the next fundraiser at your kid’s school, you need to find activities that provide the satisfaction you once had but that don’t call for you to be the center of attention. This decreases the difficulty of this change and helps you rebalance yourself.

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4. Moving to a New Place

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Whether you are moving to a house down the street or a city across the country, the impact of moving is the same. Moving is stressful because there is so much unknown. The simplest tasks, such as grocery shopping and getting gas, become daunting because it’s all new, and navigating newness can raise your level of discomfort. Instead of looking at a move as a scary change, embrace the challenges. You have the opportunity to learn about yourself and grow the most when you are uncomfortable. Look at this move as a way to add a whole new city map’s worth of knowledge to your knowledge bank. You get the chance to try out new restaurants, explore new places and find yourself. Enjoy it, and realize that the changes are only temporary -- you’ll soon become accustomed to and feel settled in your new city and home.

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5. Starting a New Job

Job transitions are difficult. Even if you were the one to leave your company or a recruiter found and pursued you, anxiety and stress about being “the new guy” always hangs on the coattails of this type of change. In the work setting, social systems are already established with who is in charge, personalities that are in sync and people’s boundaries that have already been established. It’s hard to be the new kid on the block for these reasons alone. But while navigating the components of what your new job entails, you also get to become a piece of the puzzle that is your new work environment. So enjoy this process. Because with time there will be a new “new kid,” and you’ll have found your place in the system that fits just right.

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6. Getting Injured

Injury is a difficult change to overcome at any age. Regardless of how or where you get injured, all bets are off with regard to your daily routine at the gym from that moment forward. In working with brain-injury patients in the rehabilitation setting, it’s common to see frustration in the body’s ability to get back to normal. A lot of the patients end up frustrated because their recovery and physical abilities do not progress as quickly as they want them to. However, it’s important to recognize performance that’s slow and steady during recovery. Obviously, listening to your body is the most important component of recovery from injury. Many of my patients will keep a journal to track their recovery process, because on the bad days when you are held back by that knee that isn’t letting you walk as long or the shoulder that’s still causing pain, you can pull out your performance journal. Sometimes having evidence of the progress you have already made is motivation to keep moving forward in recovery.

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7. Losing a Lot of Weight

Most weight loss occurs over a slow period of time. Weight loss requires change of thought, change of behavior and change of expectation in order to be successful. In the psychology field, change is attributed to a theory called the Stages of Change Model. It states that people operate within five stages of change -- pre-contemplation, contemplation, action, maintenance and relapse. In each of these stages, people transform slowly from ignoring what they want to change to preparing for change and then taking action toward change. With weight loss, regardless of whether it’s pregnancy weight, that pesky holiday weight or the last five to 10 pounds that you haven’t been able shed, it’s best to recognize that you have control of the changes you need to make. Once you establish control and feel like you’re in charge of your thoughts, your body will slowly follow. You will likely see yourself progressively making changes as you turn your thoughts from “I can’t do this” to “A little bit at a time.” Also, it’s easier to stick with your weight-loss goals when you use positive self-talk. So keep phrases like “I rock” and “I’m great” rolling around in your head.

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8. Making Room in Your Family

Adding to your family is something that happens to most people during their lives. Whether it be through birth, marriage, in-laws or close friends who get adopted in, most family units get add-ins. Sometimes it’s very exciting to be adding a new brother or sister to your clan, but other times you find yourself not so thrilled about future in-laws. When you’re worried about the addition of another family member, think about where this is coming from. We all worry that we’ll get lost in the shuffle of life, and we’re all looking for a place to belong. You can take control of this situation by adding chairs, creating space and making special time with your new addition so that you build a personal relationship. This creates a space that is still yours and makes the other person feel wanted and needed too. Don’t worry, you belong, so make some elbow room at the dinner table and recognize that although this is a change, it can still be a good thing.

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9. Getting Older

Aging is the continual process of change and letting go. Gray hair, wrinkles, weight gain and a slower pace of life make it challenging to accept the position that the aging process puts us in. It’s no secret that everyone transitions through aging, but how you age makes all the difference in the world. Aging is something that humans can’t control. However, there are some parts that you can control. For example, saving retirement money, planning exciting trips and making goals that are obtainable and easy all help the aging process. Oftentimes, people have planned their entire lives around retirement only to find that a stroke or physical illness changes the future visions and expectations they had. You never know what life is going to throw at you, so take chances. It’s important to recognize that things don’t necessarily get easier and that the best time to do anything is now.

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10. Changing Roles in Life

Changing roles in life is tricky. Some adjust from being single to married, changing the identity of being a self to a unit of two. Some adjust to becoming parents, gaining new names like mom and dad. And still others take on the role of caretaker to their aging parents, the very people who once took care of them. These role transitions are always difficult. If any mother has told you that this was not a difficult shift, she’s not divulging every part of the transition that people go through to become parents. Even the best relationships produce changes in our lives as we shift from focusing on ourselves to focusing outward. Be easy on yourself as you gain new responsibilities in life. Take time out for you, and don’t allow yourself to feel guilty if you need a coffee break away from your new boyfriend or a grocery store trip without your kids. Time apart from intimate relationships makes you appreciate the people in your life more and gives you back some of the independence you may have lost due to this new role in your life.

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11. Dealing With the Death of a Loved One

Death and the grieving process is one of the most difficult experiences we go through in life. Everyone at some point will lose a parent, spouse, friend or family member. The grief-and-loss model offers five stages that we go through after the death of a loved one. These stages -- denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance -- can happen simultaneously or separately. They don’t necessarily happen to everyone, but they are important to note as you go through the experience of losing someone special. Everyone handles grief and loss differently, which is why you may have a hard time with this process while your family members or friends may react differently than you do. Be loving to yourself, and find a good therapist with whom to discuss your loss. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. The process looks different for everyone; some people find it easy to stay connected with others and, some need to grieve alone. The most important thing to do is to authentically feel exactly the way you do in the moment you do as much as you do. The pain will be incredibly difficult, but being true to your feelings during this loss enables you to love yourself as you are.

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What Do YOU Think?

Have you ever experienced any of these difficult situations? How did you get through them? Does any of this advice ring true in your own experience? Or are you currently going through one of these situations? Maybe someone you know is. Will you put any of this advice into practice or share it with friends in similar situations? What other situations and advice would you add to this list? Share your thoughts, stories and suggestions in the comments section below!

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