How to Stay Centered When You’re Struggling
When you’re not in a good place, it’s hard to stay centered.
“Staying centered” is an internal experience of feeling calm and confident within yourself. It’s a feeling of deep trust in one’s abilities or intuition.
Maybe there has been a recent loss or disappointment that’s been hard to shake. Even though you have a support system, you might worry that you’ll be a “Debbie downer” with friends and family. So you stay silent…but that doesn’t help.
Here are some quick tips to help you stay centered when life gets tough instead of sinking into isolation.
#1 Pretending Everything is Fine Rarely Works
At first, you might ignore the pain hoping it’ll go away on its own. By not sharing what’s really going on, it’s hard to stay present. Putting on a happy face takes a lot of energy. Pretending that “everything is fine” makes you feel more isolated and alone.
A quick side note: there are times when pretending you’re okay can work. It’s referred to as “fake it til you make it” in recovery circles. Basically, by looking at the bright side and making a concentrated effort to connect with loved ones you can develop gratitude.
On the other hand, it doesn’t work when you’re sitting on a pile of pain and anger that won’t go away. When something is really upsetting “faking it” will probably make you feel more lonely.
It’s important to not dismiss painful feelings. Over time, this creates a pattern of self-neglect that hurts you in relationships. Without realizing it, you are sending the message that your feelings don’t matter and that’s not what you want. Everyone needs their feelings to be heard!
#2 Don’t Minimize How You Feel
Managing feelings is critical for emotional health. For instance, when a person denies feeling sad, he becomes emotionally stuck. Bottling up these feelings makes them grow not dissipate. In other words, you can’t heal what you don’t express. Trust that there is a valid reason you are hurting. Painful emotions like anger, fear and resentment are signals to you that something needs attention.
Here are some questions to identify difficult feelings or situations that need healing:
Are you hurt about something that happened but can’t let it go?
Do you have trouble handling criticism or negativity from others?
Is there a specific want need or boundary that you’re afraid to speak up about?
Are you grieving a loss that needs support?
Are you comparing yourself to others instead of accepting yourself?
Is there a particular issue that needs healing?
In terms of getting support, don’t assume that sharing honestly will bring others down. In fact, what if sharing your pain opens the door for someone to share theirs?
#3 Being Honest Builds Connection
Being honest is a vital part of building healthy relationships. When people can’t share their experiences openly, it’s harder to connect. You start to feel like you’re the only one suffering. Instead, make a conscious effort to share what’s happening with you. This will help you feel more connected and could spark healing for someone else.
When you risk being vulnerable, it's an invitation to connect on a deeper level. You realize that you’re not the only one hurting. By being honest, you are giving others permission to share their own challenges. Being authentic creates the space for emotional intimacy to occur.
Conversely, when people hide their pain, they hide their true selves. The chance to develop deeper connections doesn’t happen. Sharing emotions can create a bridge that binds us together.
#4 How to Embrace Anger and Hurt
In order to stay centered, it’s important to manage the challenging feelings too. Anger isn’t an easy one to acknowledge but stuffing it creates a lot of internal stress and separation in relationship. It’s difficult to maintain open communication when you’re pretending not to be upset.
To manage anger effectively, identify the signs early before they escalate into destructive anger. Denied feelings come back with a vengeance. When the early warning signs of anger are ignored, you will be more likely to struggle with explosive anger or resentments that linger.
Here are a few early signs of anger:
Rapid heart-rate and sweating
Muscle tension or feeling anxious
Negative thinking or assuming the worst
Using profanity, blame and criticism
Feeling increasingly stressed or irritable
Not speaking up in order to keep the peace
Once you’ve identified the anger, the next step is to acknowledge the hurt or disappointment that’s usually underneath it. Getting the right tools to take care of yourself emotionally makes a huge difference.
Let’s start with this one simple yet effective exercise that I recommend a lot.
#5 An Exercise for Handling Difficult Feelings
Journal writing is a great tool for expressing private thoughts. You can vent intense feelings without hurting anyone. Consider this an exercise in “brain dumping” to express what’s bothering you without having to worry about how someone else will react. Even if what comes out in the writing doesn’t make sense, trust the process, it works. For more on how writing works read The Secret of Why Journal Writing Works.
A word of caution: don’t take the written words too seriously. In the heat of the moment, thoughts can get pretty ugly. That’s why this type of writing needs to be private.
Another great tool is writing a letter to the person you are having difficulty with. Say whatever you need to because you will never send it. The first drafts are for your eyes only to gain clarity on what action, if any, you should take.
Third, look at your own behavior in the situation. This is the most challenging part because you may think you haven’t done anything, but keep an open mind. Consider something you could have said or done before, during or in reaction to what happened. It could be something subtle like showing disapproval or omitting the truth when it could have helped.
#6 Find Healthy Outlets that Work
To manage difficult emotions you need to find outlets that work for you. Whether it's hitting the gym or reading a good book, find ways to practice consistent self-care. Introverts often need quiet time away from people. Reading a good book or spending time alone in nature can be replenishing. Extroverts need connection and activity. Knowing what comforts you goes a long way in being able to cope when times are tough.
Healthy outlets for handling difficult feelings include:
Talk things out with a trusted friend
Get some vigorous exercise
Prioritize quiet time or mediation
Turn to one’s faith for comfort
Keep connected with friends and family
Join a support group
Start a hobby or fulfill a dream
Volunteer for a worthy cause that you’re passionate about
Seek professional help if needed
Pretending to be happy when you’re not hurts you and creates separation. The longer feelings get denied, the harder it is to let them go and move forward.
Feeling connected to yourself and others depends on your ability to honor your own experience - no matter what you’re going through. This is the hallmark of self-care. By honoring what you need, you are inviting others to be authentic with you which can be transformative.
Keep in mind that it’s tough to feel joy when you can’t be yourself. Whether you’re going through a period of sadness or feeling alone, honoring where you’re at emotionally is the kindest form of self-love you can practice.