Surviving the tough times

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images
There are times in everyone's life that are tough going. Life is full of good, ordinary and tough events, that's just life. We are quite good at celebrating the good times and just getting on with the ordinary, writes life coach Jan Aitken.

Jan Aitken
Jan Aitken
However, when it comes to the tough times, we're often not as adept at dealing with them. It's fair to say we are better at taking care of our physical needs when something gets hurt or broken than dealing with emotional needs: reaching for the plasters and antiseptic when we've grazed a knee, taking pain relief for a headache. But when our emotional world gets knocked about or our heart gets broken, we can be left reeling wondering what to do to feel better. That's why it's so important to have a good, solid emotional first aid kit to turn to in tough times.

What do I mean by an emotional first-aid kit? I'm thinking about actions and your own support crew that are designed to bring comfort and support to body, mind, heart and soul when times are tough. No two first aid kits will look exactly the same, it's about finding the tools and strategies that are effective for you, after all, it's your first aid kit.

If you've not thought about it before maybe it's time to get curious and creative about how you can meet your emotional needs through life's ups and downs. Let's take a look at the body, mind, heart and soul remembering that you know yourself best and will have ideas that work for you.


When tough times hit, we want to have some band aids in our kit that we can use to help nourish and soothe our body. This could be anything from running, walking, drinking smoothies, having a massage, dancing, meditating, praying, gardening, or sitting mindfully in nature.

Start identifying activities that help you get into your body and engage all of your senses - smell, taste, touch, sight and hearing - in a way that feels appropriate and helpful for you.

I don't know what your body-based band aids will be, but here are some questions to get you thinking:

•What is your body experiencing? Does it feel sore, tight, heavy? What's a physical activity that can ease the pain if you're sore or comfortable, feeling tight etc?

•What does your body crave when you're stressed? Touch? Childhood comfort food? Stretches? Connection with nature? Relaxing in a hot bath?

•Can you combine a few activities into one to engage several senses at once? Music and movement? A bath and some stretches?

•Eat nutritious food, keep hydrated and remember to move.

•Create and stick to a sleep routine, make use of apps to help you sleep.


When stress hits, it's common for our minds to feel overwhelmed and scattered. It can be nigh on impossible to shut it off. That's why it's important to have one or two activities in your back pocket to help slow, centre and focus your mind.

For many, quiet time meditating, being mindful or praying will be helpful, so might concentrating on your breathing for a count of four on the inhale, then pausing and counting to four on the exhale (repeat for as long as you need) while noticing the air temperature and the sound of your breath. If your mind is really scattered or you're more of an active relaxer consider doing something that will distract you.

What might work for you?

•What creative actions and behaviours might help you to slow, centre and focus your mind?

•Have a task or hobby that uses your hands that helps calm your mind?

•Does focusing on your breathing help?

•Are there certain sounds that soothe your mind? Create a playlist for yourself.

•Make use of the various mindfulness and meditation apps available.


It's critical to have some tools in your emotional first-aid kit to support your heart and what you're feeling. This may be the most uncomfortable of the four areas. Examining what's uncomfortable or hurting is not a natural thing to do but it is key to healing.

•You can begin with RAIN.

Recognise. Can you name the feeling?

Allow the feeling to be present, allow yourself to feel the feeling.

Investigate. What do you notice? How would you describe it to someone else?

Nurture with self-compassion (for a more extensive description of RAIN check out my last column "When you're down, embrace the RAIN", The Weekend Mix, July 6).

•Being able to express what's happening can be very helpful. Who can you be vulnerable around? Who are your non-judgemental supporters?

•Who in your life could you safely share your feelings with? Create a support team.

•What helps you get in touch with your feelings?

•What else helps your heart when you're going through tough times?


This is often forgotten in the healing process. You can define the soul however you want - spirit, essence, psyche, etc. Having some tools in the kit to support our soul is incredibly important.

Remember to live to your values and keep to your standards and boundaries. Don't do something permanently foolish because you are temporarily upset. What helps you feel grounded?

What might help you?

•What is it that feeds your soul? What place, activity, sound or action helps you feel connected to it?

•Does nature feed you?

•Do you have a spiritual community or faith group that you can rely on.

•Who are mentors/supporters in your life that help nourish your soul?

•What high-quality books, movies, podcasts etc inspire you? What instructional resources can you read or listen to that can guide you in connecting with your soul?

Take 15-20 minutes and create a list of emotional first aid tools that you can have ready to go when the tough patches show up. Having it ready will save you precious energy when you don't have any to spare. Looking after yourself is fundamental to living well and making the most of life. Having an emotional first aid kit can't prevent you from being hurt but it can help you heal in a healthy way.

Jan Aitken is a Dunedin-based life coach.

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