Find the Light at the End of the Tunnel

You may feel lost or hopeless, like nothing will ever go right ever again. Maybe a major relationship ended, you suffered a loss, or you feel completely alone. While it’s easy to think things won’t ever change, the reality is that your emotional pain will not last forever. Hang in through the storm and you may just see a rainbow.


Anticipating a Positive Future

  1. Stay connected. Surround yourself with people whom you admire and enjoy being near. Be with happy people that naturally maintain a positive attitude.[1] Especially if you are struggling yourself, make an effort to stay away from people who tend to be pessimistic or critical. Instead, be with people who laugh easily, smile frequently, and make you feel good.
    • Spend quality time with people in ways that allow for real relationship building.[2] Instead of TV nights, make a game night, or instead of going to a movie, go hiking together. Choose activities that allow you to make great memories together and enjoy each others company.
    • Stay in touch with those you care about.
  2. Engage in therapy. The tension and overwhelm from life’s difficulties can often be too much for one person to handle. A therapist can help you gain a different perspective and cope more effectively while in the midst of a crisis, helping you changing your life for the better.[3]
  3. Find solutions. Once you are receiving some support through family, friends, and/or a therapist, you may begin to feel that a positive future is possible and within your means. Maybe you can’t magically “solve” everything, but you may be able to take steps to help alleviate some of the problems you’re experiencing. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with work, school and family, consider taking a day off to sort through your life. If you feel emotionally fragile, take some time for yourself to sort things out. Problem solving means lessening the distance between your desired state and your current state.[4] You can’t make your problems disappear, but you can minimize them.
    • Totally buried in junk in your house but too tired or busy to deal with it? Hire some help.
    • Find a way to give each task a ‘due date’, and do each one in order.
    • For more tips on how to problem solve, check out How to Solve a Problem.
  4. Make plans for the life you want to have. Find the light at the end of the tunnel by creating it. Imagine yourself several years from now, when your current situation is a distant memory. What does your typical Tuesday look like? What are you doing, and who do you see in your life? Where do you live? What kind of job do you have? What are you doing for your enjoyment? Now that you have that future image of yourself, take steps to make it a reality.[5]
    • If you see yourself in a different career, start taking the steps to make that happen. Go back to school or start to gain new skills. Nothing is beyond your abilities, and it’s never too late to start something new if it means you’re living your happiness.
  5. Add happiness to your life. You don’t need loads of money or nice things to be rich. Happiness is most often found in the small things, or the moments when you “stop and smell the roses.”[6] When you feel like your spirit is down, it’s an especially good time to find happiness in the small things: a sale at the grocery store, an especially delicious cookie, or a bright sunny day. Allow yourself to smile at anything that stands out to you.
    • Think about the things in your life that bring you joy (playing with your kids, volunteering, playing badminton) and determine to do more what brings happiness. Play with your dog, dance around in your room, sing at the top of your lungs in the car.
    • Adding happiness to your life can also mean taking unhappiness out. This can include staying away from people who upset you, destroying your credit card, learning to cook so you can avoid junk food, no longer watching TV or reading the news, and so on.
  6. Be optimist. Positive thinking helps you to live a happy, more stress-free life.[7] This means looking for the good behind the bad and being grateful for the things that are going right in your life. You may be very critical about restaurants, manners or movies, but don’t allow yourself to bring this attitude to all aspects of your life.
    • Don’t allow yourself to polarize your thinking when you see elements of your life as “all good” or “all bad”.[7] Remember that almost every situation has shades of gray and very few things exist in black and white. if you find yourself blaming yourself for losing your job or being in a difficult financial situation, remember that lots of factors influence an outcome. And no, you are never a total failure.
    • If you catch yourself having bleak or critical thoughts, stop yourself and decide whether you want to create a new one or replace it with another one. You can replace your moaning about the terrible weather by a reflection about the necessity of water for the plants and the soothing thought that it doesn't rain every day.”
  7. Take breaks. Make taking regular breaks a priority and part of your lifestyle. This can be a weekend getaway or an afternoon hike into the mountains. If you feel bound by time, take a mental break by distracting yourself from your problems with a simple book.[8]
    • Taking a break or finding distractions doesn’t mean running away from your problems. Find activities you enjoy and go do them! This can also include taking a bath, keeping a journal or playing music.
    • One break isn't going to do too much — you need to make finding time for self-care and enjoyment a habit of everyday life. This will help you to continue and move forward, even when things are tough.
  8. Fake it. The term “fake it 'til you make it” can apply in many situations, even when you’re feeling hopeless. If in your mind you think things can only worse, don’t be surprised if that happens. Don’t allow a bad self-fulfilling prophecy to creep in and ruin your day; instead, train your mind to experience success and happiness as if you were living them now. The more you believe you are capable, the more capable you will be.[9]
    • Expect that all will work out well.
    • Think of a good self-fulfilling prophecy, such as there's no way you could mess anything up or that the situation will work out for your benefit.

Accepting Your Present State

  1. Accept the situation. While you may not like your present situation, you can accept what you cannot control. You can’t, for instance, send magically money into your bank account or a lover back into your life, but you can accept that it is part of your reality. While practicing acceptance isn’t easy, it allows you to diffuse stress and live more peacefully.[10]
    • When things aren’t going your way, take a few breaths and say to yourself that you are accepting what's happening, even if you do not like it.
    • You can practice acceptance in all parts of your life, not just when in the thick of hard times. Practice acceptance when sitting in traffic knowing that you will be late to your appointment, when the kids are sick and are screaming, or when you’re disappointed in your school grade.
  2. Control what you can master. While most events are out of your control, do take care of what is within your power. If you feel like everything in your life is out of control and you can’t seem to get a foothold, take a pause. Recognize what you can actually master and resolve to control it. And even if you cannot control the situation, you can control your reaction.
    • Write a list of all of your stressors, then recognize which problems have a solution. You may be out of groceries, which can be solved by going to the market (or asking a friend to help you out).
    • Don’t depend on people to make your decisions for you, assuming that they know better for you.[11] It’s your life and only you are responsible for your decisions.
  3. Realize that suffering is optional. While emotional pain is inevitable and a part of every person’s human experience, there is no need to suffer. Suffering is a mindset based on ruminating thoughts (living in the past), blaming other people, or telling yourself how miserable you and the situation are. You can’t glide through life without experiencing pain, but you can learn to decrease your suffering.[10]
    • This doesn’t mean ignoring your feelings or pretending they don’t exist; it’s about changing how you think about your situation. Instead of believing that you are so unlucky, say that you aren't happy about the situation but able to control and accept it, and not feel sorry for yourself.
    • While you may be in an incredible amount of emotional pain due to the end of a friendship or a natural disaster, don’t see yourself as a victim. Remind that tragedies happen (in various degrees) to each person throughout their lifetimes. The same is true for you.
  4. Use this time to learn more about yourself. The good times do not reveal our true inner depths; that's the job of the bad times. Do you like what is being revealed? If not, it can be a very constructive time of life when you pinpoint parts of your character that you'd like to work on and improve.
    • Take a step back and observe how you respond to people and situations while you’re in this difficult time. Are you more snappy with people, or do you use your pain as an excuse to not get tasks done? Or do you see yourself rising to the occasion and doing whatever you can do push through? Don’t judge these actions, but see them for what they are and as a reflection of how you handle yourself in difficult situations.
    • Observe what new aspects of yourself emerge during this hard time, both good and bad.
  5. Practice compassion. When struggling through a difficult time, you may find most of your focus on yourself and your needs. When you feel compassion toward another, you allow yourself to experience more happiness, feel less lonely and less stressed.[12] Even if you feel down, choose to treat others with kindness and respect and offer your help, even if you feel they do not deserve it.
    • Remember that you are not the only person in pain that needs help.
    • Lend help when you can to someone in need. Help someone carry groceries, offer to make dinner for your stressed spouse, or be extra patient with your child’s difficult homework.
    • If there’s a screaming child on the airplane, take a breath and remind yourself that it is upset and that the parents are probably frustrated or embarrassed. Instead of expressing your upset, ask if there is anything you can do to help.
  6. Be grateful. Even if you’re looking for the light at the end of the tunnel, take a moment and enjoy the tunnel. It can be easy to put your focus onto what you don’t have or what you want, but also remember that you can enjoy what you have now. Gratefulness allows you to see beyond the bad experience.[13]
    • Express gratitude daily. Give thanks for the little things, such as a short line at the grocery store, a walk with your dog, or even the absence of your smoke alarm beeping. There’s always something to be thankful for daily.
  7. Laugh and have fun. Find ways to make yourself laugh or at least smile. This can include watching animal clips, surrounding yourself with positive, happy people, or going to a comedy show. Laughing helps relax your whole body and improves your mood and benefits your mind too.[14]
    • You don’t have to go out of your way to find laughing stuff. Watch humorous TV shows or video clips. Play with a pet or offer to babysit your niece. Host a game night with friends.

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Sources and Citations