How to Stay Positive During Difficult Times: 14 Helpful Tips

When life changes and a difficult time begins then it’s not always easy to remain positive.

I know.

Even if you’re pretty optimistic and positive in daily life, it’s easy to get dragged down into pessimism and a sad funk when you’re having a rough week or tough month.

But being able to keep a positive mindset can make a big difference.

So in today’s post I’d like to share the best tips and habits that have helped me over the past 10+ years and still helps me today to handle times like that in a better, healthier and more helpful way.

I truly hope you’ll find something helpful here.

1. Feel what you feel and know it’s OK to do so.

A painting of a man out looking over a lake.

I’ve found that one thing that helps me with my mental health when times get tough is to not deny or push away how I feel.

When a negative situation has just happened and I’m in the middle of it then I at first may feel afraid, nervous, worried or angry. Or a mix of those emotions. That’s normal.

Acknowledging negative thoughts and feelings that can arise from such a situation helps me to process what has happened in a quicker and less painful way compared to if I try to reject such thoughts and emotions.

And it also helps me to, after a while, move on to the next stage of trying to solve or at least improve upon the situation at hand.

So, first know it’s OK to feel and think what you feel. But don’t get stuck in focusing and mulling that over for days or weeks.

2. Ask helpful questions.

A simple next step to move forward is to ask yourself better questions than you may sometimes do in these situations (I, at least, certainly used to ask myself questions all the time that only made me feel worse).

This will help you to regain a positive outlook and find a positive interpretation of the events.

Some of my favorite questions are for example:

  • What is one thing that is positive or good about this situation?
  • What is one opportunity within this situation?
  • Will this matter 5 years from now? Or even 5 months from now?
  • What is one small action, one small and practical step I can take to start turning this situation around?

Ask yourself one or a few of these questions to move yourself into a more optimistic and energetic state of mind and to start making a small plan for what you can do to improve the situation you’re in.

3. Talk it over with someone close to you.

This is one of the most powerful tips in this post and one my most used ones.

Just letting your thoughts and feelings out can be a powerful thing. It can relieve stress and anxiety and all the inner pressure that has built up inside.

And it can help you find a new perspective.

Sometimes as someone close to you simply listens and as you vent and figure things out for yourself.

And sometimes as the other person helps you to navigate your situation and out of negative thinking by sharing what they did when they had similar troubles or by building a small plan together with you for what you need to do next.

4. Get some good knowledge.

You can dispel vague fear and the clouds of uncertainty and anxiety in your mind by doing a bit of research.

By talking to people who have been where you are – or reading their books or listening to their podcasts – you can start to build a realistic roadmap of what your best course of action is and what you can expect on your journey.

This clarity may sometimes bring you new, possible obstacles on your path forward that you had not thought about. But I’ve found that it is a small price to pay. And knowing about them makes it a lot easier to overcome them or reduce their impact compared to if you are just stumbling around in the dark.

5. Tap into gratitude for a few minutes.

Yes, times may be tough right now. It’s not fun.

But there are usually things one can still be grateful for. And tapping into such gratitude tends to be a great way to change your perspective and to improve your energy levels and mood, as shown in, for instance, this study

A few of the things I tend to feel thankful for even when times are hard are:

  • Three meals a day.
  • A roof over my head during the windy and rainy fall and the cold winter days.
  • Plenty of clean water.

You can find more of these things in this post: 10 Simple Things You Can Be Grateful for Even When Times are Tough.

6. Spend less time on your phone and negative sources.

Keeping yourself updated on what’s happening in your community and the world is helpful.

But spending too much time doomscrolling online or – in my experience at least – on your phone in general tends to lead to more stress, anxiety and negative feelings and thoughts bouncing around in your head.

So spend a bit of time – but not too much – on the news (and especially the negative news stories). And limit your screen time, especially on your phone.

I’ve found that doing this makes me feel better and more optimistic. Especially when I am already going through some tough days, weeks or months. Or during times when it just seems hard to stay positive in a negative world.

7. Readjust your environment to be more supportive and positive.

So spending less time on negative sources of information helps. Spending more of the time you have now freed up from that on positive and supportive sources helps even more.

Find books, Youtube channels, podcasts and so on that uplifts you, helps you to feel better and give you ideas for how to handle challenges in your life.

Then, take the next step to reshape your daily and monthly environment to be a more positive space. Take a look at the people in your life and how they affect you.

Because the people we spend the most time with tend to have a pretty big effect on how we feel and think about things and how resilient we are during hardships (as shown in, for example, this study).

You can for example ask yourself:

  • Who are the 3 most negative people I spend time with?
  • Who are the 3 most positive and supportive people I spend time with?

Then take a bit of time to figure out how to spend less time with those most negative people and more of the time you free up from that with the most positive people.

8. Spend more time outside and in nature.

I find that if I just go out and cut some grass or do some garden work I tend to feel better and refreshed.

And the same goes for taking a walk in the woods, by the ocean or anywhere out in nature in some form.

It makes it easier to think clearly and optimistically again and the fresh air and exercise recharges my energy.

9. Help someone out.

Perhaps a bit counter-intuitive if you’re not feeling so good about your own life.

But helping someone out when you yourself are going through a tough time can in my experience help a lot.

I’ve found that it gets me out of my head and away from getting stuck in mulling the same negative thoughts over and over.

And if the situation I am going through makes me feel powerless or like a victim then helping someone else out makes me feel strong and capable again.

Plus, their happiness from being helped flows over to me too. And if you help someone then they will often return that favor in some way sooner or later.

A few simple ways to help someone out are to:

  • Give them a hand practically with something.
  • Give them some good advice based on your experience.
  • Just listen when they vent or need to let something out.
  • Give them a genuine compliment for something that means a lot to them or something they do that is too often taken for granted.

10. Spend more time in the present moment.

Learn what you can from the past. And plan for the future by, for example, writing out a plan for the week during Monday morning and then by doing a short to-do list or plan each morning for your day.

But after you’ve done that, don’t linger too much in the past or future because it can bring much fear, worries and negative feelings if you are already in a difficult situation.

Instead, try to spend only 20% or so in the past or future and the rest in the present moment.

I’ve found that when I spend most of my time in the present moment then it’s a lot easier to keep up the motivation, the energy and to access positive emotions.

And to stay practical about what I can do about a negative situation in my life and actually take steps forward with that.

A simple way to reconnect with the present moment if you are slipping into the past or future and getting stuck there is to focus just on what’s going on around you right now for a minute or two.

Feel it with all your senses. See it in detail…

  • Hear the birds or cars going by outside your window.
  • Smell the cold autumn air of the coffee brewing in the next room.
  • Feel the sun, rain or wind on your skin.

You can find a few more ways to spend more time in the present moment in your daily life in this post.

11. Focus on physical fundamentals.

When you’re in a tough situation then it’s easy to stop paying much attention to the fundamental building blocks of daily life.

You feel you simply don’t have time for that and you forget about it. But it’s at these times when the fundamentals can be more important than ever for how you think, feel and act.

The fundamentals I’m referring to are basics such as eating well, exercising and getting enough quality sleep.

These simple things – often ignored because they seem a bit boring or basic – make staying positive easier.

So as best you can, even though your situation may be difficult, try to eat healthy meals, to get some exercise in (even just regular walks) and to not skip on sleep (you can find my guide to sleeping better here).

12. Prepare if you think you’ll receive potentially negative news.

It could be some news at work, with your health or finances or perhaps with family or a pet.

No matter what the potential upcoming situation might be, I have many times found it very helpful to make a small plan or know just one or a few steps I can take if that situation becomes reality.

For example:

  • Actions you can take to reduce the severity of the issue you may be facing.
  • Looking up what others have done in such situations.
  • Preparing your surroundings and home so they are comfortable and filled with things you enjoy and people you love.

Sometimes I don’t need this plan because those potential negative news don’t become reality. Or they are simply so much smaller than I feared that they aren’t that much to deal with at all.

But I still find that the plan helps me because when I’ve written it down I tend to release most of my worrying and negative thoughts about that situation. And so I now feel better and can focus my thoughts and energy again on other things I want to do and enjoy.

13. Remind yourself: I have handled tough situations in the past.

No matter if you just landed in a negative situation, if you’ve been there for a while or fear you may soon wind up in such a situation it’s easy to lose your faith in yourself.

To forget that you have handled tough situations before.

But you have. Many times.

So remind yourself of this simple fact to make it easier to stay optimistic. And to breathe, to calm down and to figure out what you’ve learned from situations in the past that can help you this time too.

14. Seek professional help.

If you use one or a few of these tips for a bit of time and still don’t get the result and inner change you want then consider getting professional one-on-one help.

Getting that on-going support and help in person from an expert like a mental health professional can make a big difference.

Want to more information and motivation to help you stay positive? Then check out this post with 19 tips on how to stay positive and this one on how to stay positive at work.


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About the Author

Henrik Edberg is the creator of the Positivity Blog and has written weekly articles here since 2006. He has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Gothenburg and has been featured on Lifehacker, HuffPost and Paulo Coelho’s blog. Click here to learn more…