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How to Recover from an Unexpected Loss

Updated on October 10, 2016
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Sadie teaches speaking and leadership skills to women who want to have a better relationship with others and with themselves.

Have you had a sudden and unexpected setback in life? An illness? Job loss? Break up or divorce? Here are some gentle tips for how to get back on your feet and learn to accept your new 'normal.'

Any one, at any time in life, can experience a sudden loss or disappointing setback.
Any one, at any time in life, can experience a sudden loss or disappointing setback.

When you experience a personal setback in life, your world can become confusing, disorienting, and downright exhausting. Getting through the day feels like it takes every ounce of energy you have and there seems to be no end in sight. Life was once normal and now it is not. But what can you do to get your life back on track when things don’t turn out the way you wanted them to?

A bump in the road can come in any shape or form: from an unexpected sudden illness to someone stealing your identity and wreaking havoc on your finances. Perhaps you have lost your job or a significant person you relied on has hurt and disappointed you. Here are ten things that you can do to start regaining a sense of order, balance, and harmony in your life.

1. Count your blessings. Do an inventory of all the wonderful things you have to be thankful for. Many psychologists believe that it is impossible for the brain to hang onto anxiety and gratitude simultaneously. Every minute of gratitude is a minute less of worry.

2. Be realistic. Be honest with yourself about how long you think it will take to overcome this setback. Consider building a recovery plan based on the Kaizen method to help you achieve your goals, one step at a time. By being honest and thoughtful about how long it will take you to get back on your feet, you're less likely to be discouraged by obstacles that pop up as you find your way on a new path.

3. Ask people you trust to help you move past your setback. What do you need to do to get past this unexpected hurdle in your life? While your friends and family can’t make your problems disappear overnight, there may be small ways for them to help you out so that you can focus on your own recovery.

  • Can family members help with childcare while you deal with financial institutions or attend medical appointments?
  • Can a friend come over and help you clean out a space (such as your ex’s closet) that may be emotionally hard for you to do on your own?
  • Would a weekend trip to see a favorite relative help you get away from your worries for a few days?

Be specific about what you need. Think carefully about who is available and then ask if those people can help. The more specific you can be, the more likely others will be to help you out. Sometimes friends and family feel helpless in the face of abstract challenges that they can’t control. That's why they may shy away from reaching out to you in your time of trouble. But if you can give them something specific that they can do for you, they're more likely to say, “Yes, I can do that!”

Is your life feeling a bit upside down right now? It will pass. Things will get better. Stay positive and you'll soon be back on track to your happy self.
Is your life feeling a bit upside down right now? It will pass. Things will get better. Stay positive and you'll soon be back on track to your happy self.


4. Hang out with people you admire. Sometimes when you experience a setback or challenge in life, you lose perspective and hope for what is possible. That’s why it is important to spend time with people you appreciate and whose goals are similar to your own. Think about who you admire in life and then honor them as an important role model. Don't be shy about telling them what you see and value in them. Just like you, other people need to hear that they're appreciated and respected. Remember, you get what you give.

5. Avoid toxic people. Stay away from people who want to hold you back. Avoid people who aren’t supportive of your attempts to recover from your loss. If the toxic people you're dealing with are at work, read about how to deal with workplace harassment and bullying.

6. Laugh more. It sounds like a cliché, but laughter really is the best medicine. Learn about the importance of smiling and laughter in improving your health and well-being. And then look for opportunities to laugh at, rather than lament, the so-called bad luck that you've experienced.

7. Be flexible. While it's important to be specific about what you want out of life and how you plan to get there, be open to the possibility of changing your plans. In fact, one of the reasons you may be feeling like life isn’t going your way right now is because you have rigid expectations for how things should be in the first place. Practice the art of letting go.

8. Take a break once in a while. Along your path to recovering from your recent setback, give yourself time to rest and enjoy the moment. Negative self-talk and worry, two habits that can sabotage your physical and emotional healing, are most likely to sneak in when you're feeling tired and worn out. Stop and rest every once in awhile so that you can be alert and shield yourself from negative energy.

9. Work on a community project and help others achieve their goals. When you connect with other people, you increase your will to recover and get on with what's really important in life. Assisting others will help you identify your personal priorities. Staying focused on what really matters, rather than what doesn't matter, will naturally increase your energy levels and give you the confidence you need to move forward with optimism.

10. Use this "downtime" to work on small projects. Sometimes setbacks that make us feel like our life has ground to a halt are actually signs that it's time to slow down and attend to life’s little details. Almost everyone has a list of things they’ve always wanted to do, but they never have the time to tackle them. If you're not well, make a list of all those books you’ve always wanted to read, and then settle in for some relaxing reading. If you've lost your job, are there any courses you’ve always wanted to take but didn’t have the time for? Projects don’t have to be huge in order for them to be meaningful. They just need to be big enough to keep your mind occupied and interested in life.

Friendships, especially with your girlfriends, are to be cherished. Who is it who helps you out with the kids when you've got the flu and your husband has to be at work? Who is it you turn to when you are feeling low and you need a shoulder to cry on? Who is it that picks you up when your marriage fails or some catastrophe happens?

— Kristine Carlson, author of Don't Sweat The Small Stuff for Women.

A Pocket Guide to Improving Your Emotional Resilience

Here are some quick notes to help bring your focus back to the present moment and all the things that are going well in your life.

  • Steer clear of folks who drain you of energy.
  • Make a list of five things that make you happy.
  • Get involved with something bigger than yourself: a volunteer project, an activist group, a collective of fellow writers, anything that mirrors your values and beliefs.
  • Believe that no matter what happens, you can not fail. Failure is a human construct. There is no such thing as a failure in Mother Nature.


When life throws you a curveball, it's normal to want to take a time-out to sort through your feelings. just make sure that you don't isolate yourself from the friends and family.
When life throws you a curveball, it's normal to want to take a time-out to sort through your feelings. just make sure that you don't isolate yourself from the friends and family.

© 2013 Sadie Holloway

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