We don’t mean to lie, but when someone asks us how we’re doing, it is much easier to say that we are “fine” or “blessed” than to tell the whole truth. The reality is that we are not always fine. There are times when we are going through hell. We face personal hell—conflict in close relationships, failing health, toxic work environments, financial struggle, church hurt, and other distress. If that wasn’t enough, in the age of moral decline, we are also going through hell in the social and political landscape of our lives with political maneuvering, state-sanctioned violence against Black people at the hands of police, pervasive patriarchy and gender inequality, and racial disparities in education, employment, healthcare, and housing. Even if you are not distressed personally, with increased access to information, we are constantly bombarded with bad news, which can wear on our hearts and minds. Whatever hell you are going through, we offer these eight suggestions to pull yourself up:
- Breathe: In times of stress and hardship, notice your breathing. Often when we are feeling anxious or overwhelmed, our breathing tends to be shallow. Research has shown that deep breathing lowers stress, heart rate, and blood pressure. A simple breathing technique to try is to sit upright, shoulders relaxed, arms resting by your sides, with your eyes closed. Inhale through your nose for five counts, then exhale through your mouth for five counts, repeating this process 3-10 times. If you find yourself in a persistent state of hell, make time daily for deep breathing to help release tension and stress. Deep breathing won’t make the issues go away, but it will calm you and clear your mind to face the issues.
- Pray: In moments of trial, prayer is beneficial for many reasons. First, it invites us to pause and connect with God—to be reminded that we are deeply loved and are not alone. Second, prayer gives us an opportunity to release our burdens to the One who is able to bear the weight of all that we carry. Lastly, prayer reminds us that the hell we experience on earth is no comparison to the joy we will experience in the eternal presence of God, filling us with hope and power to forge ahead despite what we are facing.
- Phone a Friend: In addition to divine connection, human connection is vital to our well-being. In particularly burdensome times, talking with a friend—whether via text, telephone, or in person—has a way of lifting your spirits. Be sure to connect with friends who will listen deeply and empathize with you; I am reminded of the story of Job in the Bible when he was going through hell and his friends showed up. They cried with him and sat with him in his pain. Their presence comforted him greatly and did not become a nuisance until later in the story when they began to insert their thoughts and opinions about what he was going through instead of simply being with him.
- Play: In our culture and society, play is viewed as children’s business or trivial, but I would argue that play and movement are necessary for well-being, especially when in the midst of hardship. Think about it: In elementary school, even the most stressful days and bickering amongst friends was cured by a game of kickball, double-dutch, or running around on the jungle gym. Recreation has a way of creating us again and invigorating us for life. My preferred play is running. Join a pick-up game of basketball, head to the bowling alley with friends, or dance with reckless abandon with your children. Whatever you do, allow yourself to engage in an activity that brings you joy and gets you moving!
- Count Your Blessings: There is something about a posture of gratitude that helps to encourage us. When going through hell and everything seems to be going wrong, recounting the aspects of life that are going well and the people and things we are grateful for is an instant mood lifter. There is a saying, “I have more to be thankful for than to complain about” and when we think about and name our blessings, the pressure of our problems is allayed.
- Repeat a Mantra: Mantras are typically not associated with Christianity; however the word mantra simply means to think. It is a thought, word or phrase repeated to inspire, motivate, ground, or calm an individual. A mantra can be a quotation from Scripture that encourages you to persevere through tough times or a phrase that cultivates and strengthens your faith and resolve in times of suffering. I have a friend who when faced with obstacles that appear insurmountable repeats the mantra, “God is bigger!” It’s has helped her get through many distressing situations.
- Extend Yourself Grace: Sometimes we can be especially hard on ourselves, even when we are going through difficult times. The reality is that the expectations we have of ourselves we would never have of others if they found themselves in situations that mirror our own. When I am going through hell, trying to keep things together, I find it helpful to treat myself the way I would treat a friend. This means reminding myself that I’m doing the best I can or permitting myself to rest. It also means speaking kindly to myself when I fall short.
- Recognize that this is temporary: In the moment, it often feels like the hellish experiences that we are having will last forever, but the operative word in the phrase going through hell is “Going.” When facing various trials and tribulations, it is important to remember that where we are is not where we’ll always be; There will come a day when this hell will be a distant memory, and a testament to your grace, strength, resilience, and resolve.