Dealing With Difficult Times

To cope with adversity, take a page out of Winston Churchill’s book and keep going. Plus, find inspiration in others, invest in yourself, look for new opportunities — and make time for laughter

If you’re going through hell, keep going.

winston churchill

At age 15, Malala Yousafzai was shot in the face by the Taliban for advocating that girls deserve a full education. 

As she recovered from her injuries, she knew she had a choice: “I could live a quiet life or I could make the most of this new life I had been given. I determined to continue my fight until every girl could go to school.”

With her “new life,” Yousafzai founded the Malala Fund and, in 2014, became the youngest person ever to win the Nobel Peace Prize. This year, she graduated from Oxford University, earning a degree in philosophy, politics and economics.

Born into poverty to a single mother and later molested as a child and teen, Oprah Winfrey became pregnant at 14. She talked frequently about the pain of her upbringing on the talk show that made her famous, an openness that enabled others to feel comfortable discussing their own traumas. One of the few people on the planet so famous she’s identifiable by only her first name, she founded a magazine called simply “O,” as well as a production company and TV network. Winfrey’s won countless journalism, broadcast and humanitarian awards, and received the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

A longtime theater actor, Christopher Reeve was best known as the big-screen’s Superman when he was thrown from a horse in 1995. Left quadriplegic after the accident, Reeve eventually returned to acting and directing but also dedicated himself to lobbying on behalf of people with spinal cord injuries, founding what is now the Christopher & Dana Reeve Foundation and co-founding the Reeve-Irvine Research Center.

“Nothing of any consequence happens unless people get behind an idea,” said Reeve, who died in 2004. “It begins with an individual, and they share the idea with more individuals … and eventually it becomes a movement.”

You’ve probably heard those stories before. The tragedies that shaped the lives of Reeve, Winfrey and Yousafzai — and the impressive successes all three achieved afterward — are well-known. 

Although our trials and tribulations are less public, most of us have faced obstacles, setbacks and tragedies. We’ve suffered, and we’ve overcome. 

I think about people in my own life. Several years ago, a friend and former colleague came within hours of death after getting lost during a backcountry hike, spending days without food and water in the desert. She’d already survived partner abuse as an adolescent and spent most of her professional life as a newspaper reporter, covering horrific stories on the cops-and-courts beat. The combined traumas led to post-traumatic stress disorder. As part of her healing process, she made a career change — from journalism to elder care — and is writing a memoir to help others.

And then there’s a neighbor, who in midlife endured a series of job layoffs and a brutal divorce. For months, he didn’t have a place to live and couch surfed at friends’ houses. Not quite the life he’d planned for his 50s. But he re-invented himself. He started a new, successful career in real estate — and found a life partner. He’s happy and thriving. His story might be less dramatic, but his challenges were no less painful — or transformative.

Right now, many people are facing their own difficulties. I recently saw a T-shirt that gave 2020 a midyear performance review: “2020: Very bad. Would not recommend.” One star. Seems about right. It’s been rough, and we’ve got four months to go. (Seriously: We’re facing a virulent global pandemic and an economic crisis. In some places, there are murder hornets and locusts. What could befall us next? Sharknados?)

This year’s lows may seem particularly low, but as author and speaker Brian Tracy says, “Let’s make one thing clear at the beginning. Life is a continuous succession of both small and large problems. They never end. No sooner do you get control of one situation when you are hit by another. Life is a process of ‘two steps forward and one step back.’ ” 

(For many of us, this year feels more like “two steps forward and three steps back.”)

Yet even “when you become a great success, you simply exchange one type of problem for another,” Tracy continues in a blog post on his eponymous website. “Before, you had small problems with limited consequences; now you have large problems with enormous consequences. No matter how smart and clever and careful you are, you’ll face life struggles, challenges, difficulties, and sometimes heartbreaking adversities, every day, week and month of your life.”

The question then becomes: How will you deal with the tough times? Looking at the lives of others who’ve succeeded despite setbacks, whether they be celebrities or next-door neighbors, can be helpful. They have thrived and so can you. 

Here are 10 other suggestions for coping when life gets rough.


Give yourself credit. You may not have faced the particular hardship you’re dealing with right now, but if you’ve walked this Earth for even a couple of decades, you’ve already encountered plenty of challenges. And if you haven’t exactly risen to meet those challenges, you’ve at least learned from them. “The hardships and misfortunes you’ve been through can give you confidence that you’re capable of handling whatever comes your way. You’ve been in tough times before. How did you overcome adversity that time? What got you through? Your past experiences can help you find your inner strength and resilience,” writes Deep Patel, an Atlanta-based entrepreneur, marketer and author, in a September 2018 article for Entrepreneur.


Make peace with the situation. It’s important to spend some time assessing the events and decisions that led to the current problem — and, if necessary, to take responsibility for your role in those events and decisions. However, “moping around and feeling sorry for yourself will do you no good and can actually sabotage your ability to come up with solutions and next steps forward,” Patel says. Instead, he recommends, “Make peace with what happened. Accept the situation for what it is, and then move on.”


Ask questions. “In dealing with adversity effectively, your ability to ask questions is essential. As long as you are asking questions, you are expanding the range of options and possibilities that are open to you,” says Tracy, who is based in San Diego. “As long as you are asking questions, you are keeping your mind calm and cool and objective. You are not allowing yourself to get caught up emotionally, thereby shutting down large parts of your brain and your creative powers.” Ask questions of yourself, such as: What’s the worst that can happen, and how would I deal with that? Who can I turn to for help? What can I do today to improve the situation? “One of the smartest things you’ll ever do in facing any adversity is to ask yourself, ‘Who else may have had this problem, and what did he (or she) do?’ Ask around,” Tracy says. “Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re in a bind. …You’ll be amazed at the valuable advice that you can get from someone who has already experienced the difficulty that you’re going through.”


Turn to supportive colleagues, mentors and friends. During difficult times, it’s helpful to spend time with positive, reassuring people, who can serve as sounding boards and cheerleaders. Avoid pessimists and complainers. “Be selective with the people you surround yourself with. Indirectly they will affect your mood and your outlook. When you are in an emotional state of mind, it’s important to surround yourself with people who are supportive and encouraging,” says Tiffany Mason, owner of Mason Coaching and Consulting in Charlotte, North Carolina, in a July 2018 article for Psych Central. “… Overcoming adversity can be a challenge; when you have a supportive team helping you move forward, it’s much easier to accept yourself.”


Write through it. Whether you journal, keep a daily diary on your computer or jot notes on a legal pad, writing can assist you in working through problems. Mason suggests developing a regular habit of writing down your thoughts, which will give you clarity regarding your current situation and insight into possible solutions or pathways. “Whatever emotions, feelings or thoughts come to mind, jot it down,” she says. As an added benefit, “Years from now, you’ll be able to reflect and see just how much you have developed,” Mason notes. 


Invest in yourself. Difficult times can be draining and you may not feel like you have the energy for self-improvement. But just as surrounding yourself with positive people can be helpful, spending time reading (or listening to) positive messages, can boost motivation and provide inspiration. Mason suggests spending a few minutes every day with a self-help book or podcast — you can find one on virtually any aspect of your life you’d like to improve. Read a chapter each night before bed or listen to an episode while taking a walk. As Mason says, “It’s about starting that momentum moving forward rather than backward.”


Look for new opportunities. “Adversity often presents opportunities we might otherwise miss,” Patel says. “Now is your chance to dig deep and face this obstacle head-on. Hard times present you with the chance to change course, reinvent yourself or find an undiscovered bridge that will get you over this hurdle.” 


Keep a sense of humor. “(Laughter is) your body’s way of coping with stress, releasing tension and resetting your brain to be more positive. A good chuckle will release endorphins and dopamine, nature’s feel-good chemicals,” Patel says. “It might seem unthinkable to find anything funny when you’re struggling from one of life’s blows. But sometimes just stepping back and seeing the humor of the situation can help lighten your mood and allow you to move forward.” If laughter isn’t flowing freely, prompt it. End your day with a Netflix comedy special. Do something silly with the kids in the yard. Find a TikTok celebrity who makes you chuckle and watch a few clips.


Spend time outside. Going on a walk or just sitting outside can reduce stress and calm anxiety. “Taking the time to be outside is a way for you to nurture your being and allow yourself to take a deep breath and relax,” Mason says. “The sun and the air give you a sense of calmness during the face of adversity. Take about 10-20 minutes outside each day and find your stress level decreasing.”


Don’t give up. There are times that are so tough, we want to chuck it all and just walk away. Don’t, Patel says. “To overcome a crisis, you need to fully commit to finding a way forward. You must approach the problem determined and motivated. This will create a mindset where you look at adversity as something to be overcome and solved, not passively accepted,” he says. “Sometimes dilemmas and obstacles are a chance to create alternative paths, to dream bigger, to push forward and take even larger leaps.”

20 Quotes to Get You Through Tough Times in 2020

A hero is an ordinary individual who finds the strength to persevere and endure in spite of overwhelming obstacles.” 

Christopher Reeve

You have power over your mind — not outside events.
Realize this, and you will find strength.

Marcus aurelius

Turn your wounds into wisdom.

Oprah winfrey

Adversity causes some men to break; others to break records.

William arthur ward

We don’t develop courage by being happy every day. We develop it by surviving difficult times and challenging adversity.

barbara de angelis

You’ll never find a better sparring partner than adversity.

golda meir

One’s best success comes after their greatest disappointments.

henry ward beecher

My attitude is that if you push me towards something that you think is a weakness, then I will turn that perceived weakness into a strength.                            

michael jordan

Hardships often prepare ordinary people for an extraordinary destiny.                

C.s. lewis

Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you once thought you couldn’t.                                   

rikki rogers

Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.

st. francis of assisi

In times of stress or adversity, it’s always best to keep busy, to plow your anger and energy into something positive.

lee iacocca

An optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.

winston churchill

When adversity strikes, that’s when you have to be the most calm, take a step back, stay strong, stay grounded and press on.

ll cool j

Opportunities to find deeper powers within ourselves come when life seems most challenging.

joseph campbell

One who conquers the sea today is ready to conquer the
ocean tomorrow.            

matshona dhliwayo

You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.               

maya angelou

Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.

booker t. washington
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