Wright Foundation | April 23, 2019

Finding Your Inner Strength During Difficult Times

Inside each of us lies a vast reserve of personal power and inner strength. Yet, this light source is hard to tap into when we’re facing setbacks and challenges.

Going through a tough time? Finding inner strength to cope is a challenge. Here’s how to tap into your personal power.

If you’re going through a rough time, here’s how to dip into your inner strength reserves and summon up the power to deal with whatever life throws your way.

Remember You Possess Power and Inner Strength

When the world drags us down, it’s tough to find our inner strength to keep going. We may feel stressed out and frazzled, wondering how to take another moment of the situation at hand. We see articles all the time bemoaning the effects of stress in our lives and suggesting ways to mitigate our stressors.

One interesting thing about stress is that we often think of it as negative. We think it raises our blood pressure, detracts from our health, and makes us feel terrible. We see stress as scary or bad and we want to avoid it.

The truth is, researchers are finding out it’s not so much the stress that has a negative impact on our health and mindset. It’s our attitude toward stress. If we think stress is bad, it becomes bad and unmanageable. We have a harder time dealing with it. If we shift our viewpoint and see stress as an indicator of a challenge or even an opportunity, we can gear up for it and prepare for the task. It may actually become stimulating for us.

Now, I’m not saying it’s easy to shift our perspective on stress. Sometimes stress feels…well, stressful. But if we start to incrementally shift our idea of stress, we may start to use it as an opportunity for change. We need enough stress to help us learn and grow, but we don’t need too much to where we’re flooded or overwhelmed by stress to where we can’t cope. But if we don’t have any stress, we become complacent.

When you’re under stress, look at your attitude towards it. It’s about shifting your idea to “Okay, game on!” Rather than “game over.”

When you experience a stressful situation, the amygdala kicks in. This area of our brain is the part that regulates our emotions and flight or fight response. We often think of it as our primal or “lizard brain.”

When we’re feeling stressed out, our amygdala is working hard to keep us safe. Imagine back in the caveman days when an alarming situation meant life or death. Unfortunately, an email from our boss triggers a similar response in today’s day and age. We’re ready to run away from a saber-toothed tiger at any moment.

During these moments of stress, it’s not uncommon for our inner voice of doubt to kick in, telling us what a terrible job we’re doing, we’re an imposter, everything is going wrong, or we never do anything right. Stress triggers our mistaken beliefs about ourselves: “I can’t handle this,” “I’m not okay,” or “The world has it out for me.” We may think “Bad things always happen to me,” or “I’m not enough to deal with this situation.” These are the negative thoughts that sabotage us leave us feeling powerless under our circumstances and color our reaction.

In truth, no matter the stressful situation, we can access our reserve of personal power. This means adjusting the way we’re looking at the situation. Instead of seeing it as a disaster, what if we reframe it as a learning opportunity? What if we remind ourselves of all the times we’ve tapped into our inner strength in the past and overcome stressors to triumph?

Researchers are finding self-efficacy is important for each of us to develop. This is different from self-confidence or self-esteem. It’s really the belief of “I can handle this.”

Now it’s okay to think, “I don’t know how this is going to turn out.” In fact, it’s normal and healthy to even feel scared. But when we acknowledge our feelings of fear, we name it to tame it, and it becomes less powerful. From there we can affirm, “I’m enough. I’m sufficient. I can do this. I’ve handled difficult situations before. I’m scared, but it doesn’t mean I can’t figure this out.”

We start to tap into our own Little Engine that Could and think, “I think I can,” instead of thinking we can’t.

Even if we’re faced with something painful or seemingly insurmountable like a loss or betrayal, we can still come out stronger after. Give ourselves time to grieve and experience the hurt, sadness, or fear. Then, once we’ve experienced the emotions, what if we look at the challenge as a chance to reaffirm our inner strength?

Practice Self-Compassion

If a friend was going through a rough time, what would you tell them? Chances are you’d encourage them to take care of themselves. You’d offer to cook them a meal, take care of an errand, or simply act as a listening ear.

Yet, when it comes to caring for ourselves, many of us don’t extend the same courtesy. It’s important when you’re going through a difficult time to find moments to be mindful, nourish yourself, and practice self-compassion.

This doesn’t mean falling into soft addictions to avoid emotions or painful situations. We can’t ditch work for a spa day every time the office gets stressful, but we can take a quiet break, a few minutes to ourselves to regroup, refresh, and reconnect.

This may mean finding mindful moments, like while you’re in the car listening to uplifting music. It could mean savoring a delicious cup of hot tea or coffee. It may mean reading a poem, listening to a podcast, or viewing a beautiful piece of art while you enjoy your lunch.

Find little moments throughout your day to re-center yourself and reconnect with your inner strength and power.

This may also mean finding moments to explore and experience your emotions. If you feel compelled to cry, laugh, or scream, find moments throughout the day where you allow yourself to mindfully and fully experience the range of emotions you’re feeling.

Examine stinking thinking patterns: What are the thoughts we’re having that are disempowering?

Stinking thinking includes thoughts like “I’m not enough,” or “I can’t handle this.” When we examine those thoughts, we start to look at what’s going on underneath them. Oftentimes we’ll discover we’re feeling scared or even angry.

From there, ask yourself, “What kind of thoughts could I have instead?” What are empowering thoughts you can shift to instead of allowing stinking thinking to take over?

“I’m worthy.”

“I’m capable.”

“This is uncomfortable, but I can handle it.”

Even affirming ourselves aloud, so we hear it. Or saying it in the third person— “You can do it, Judith!”—works well sometimes. Because the truth is, we’re actually able to be more compassionate to others than we are to ourselves. So, when we cheer ourselves on like a friend, chances are we’ll be more enthusiastic and encouraging.

It’s Okay to Feel Not Okay

When we’re going through a tough time, many of us feel pressure to put on a brave face, keep a stiff upper lip, and otherwise brace ourselves to hide our emotions. Sometimes in life, unexpected and even tragic, painful experiences happen. When these moments occur, it’s natural to feel bad.

Allowing yourself to fully experience and express your emotions is a bit frightening at first but take a cue from young children. When a child feels sadness, hurt, frustration, or disappointment, what do they do? They may cry, rage, throw themselves on the floor, and sob. While this may seem dramatic to adults, what happens when the tantrum is over?

The child typically picks themselves up and moves forward. Most of the time, they don’t dwell in regret, sadness, and despair. Instead, they fully allow themselves to experience the depth of their emotions and express them.

As adults, we may tamp down our emotions and hold them in until we’re ready to implode or explode. Suddenly we’re yelling at the dog, another car on the road, or our spouse, not because of anything he or she did, but because we’ve displaced our emotions and haven’t allowed ourselves to really dig in and let them wash over us.

As we’ve learned, there’re no emotions that are bad or wrong. This is especially true when something upsetting happens in our life. All of our emotions are part of our humanity—the full range of our human experience.

Allowing ourselves to really feel our feelings is powerful. It’s also power-generating.

So, allow yourself to really feel your emotions. Examine the learning opportunity presented by each of life’s challenges, and when you find yourself saying, “I don’t know if I can do this,” instead shift to your inner cheerleader.

“I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.”

As we start to tap into our personal power, finding our inner strength becomes less challenging. The power to deal with life’s situations and frustrations is within each of us. We are far more powerful than we may give ourselves credit for!

For more on discovering your personal power, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training weekend, where we’ll explore ways for finding your inner strength and cheering yourself on to conquer the next challenge!

The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.