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  • Terry L. Sumerlin

How to Effectively Deal with Discouragement

Are you discouraged these days? If you answered yes, it wouldn't surprise me at all. We get down from time to time, don't we? Chick-Fil-A founder S.Truett Cathy was once asked, “How do you identify someone who needs encouragement?” His answer: “That person is breathing.”

Restated simply, every living person occasionally gets discouraged. And, we get discouraged for similar reasons. We get down about personal finances, the economy, failure, rejection, family struggles, careers, relationships, health concerns or a myriad of other issues. Discouragement is part of the human experience in normal circumstances.

And these are not-so-normal circumstances. These challenging times have come with changes for us all. Facing isolation for an indefinite period, most of us have a lack of activity and an abundance of uncertainty, anxiety, and feelings of uselessness; bouts of discouragement are inevitable.

During these periods, an encouraging word, conversation with a friend, or personal note can help. But, what if such external encouragement is not forthcoming? What else can help during these low periods?

Writing down your troubles: Against discouragement, a simple pen and paper (or a note on your smart phone) can be a great tool. Though imagination can often work for us, in times of discouragement, an active imagination can work to our detriment. It tends to magnify existing issues and even breed new ones. However, when you can put your troubles down on paper in black and white, your imagination has less opportunity to work. And, seen in concrete form, worries often become less daunting.

Doing something: Another tool for handling discouragement is to do something productive. Of course, many nowadays are busy working from home with office work or with homeschooling their youngsters. Others, though, might choose to read a book, work on a household project, do yard work, or take an online course. Regardless of the activity, activity is the key. If as we've all heard, the Devil can find work for idle hands, imagine what he can do with an idle mind to go with them!

Doing something with others: Presently, because of the isolation period, "others" is a rather limited term, most likely only involving members of your immediate household. However, doing simple activities with them such as playing a game, watching a movie, or tackling a family project can be hugely impactful when it comes to getting out of a funk.

Accepting the circumstances: Brooding is never the answer to discouragement. Whenever we’re discouraged for whatever reason, we cannot afford to just sit around waiting for circumstances to change. We have to come to grips with the circumstances. Otherwise, we can easily fall into the trap of conditional happiness where, as soon as one condition is met, the mind immediately goes to work to set up the next condition. Then, an endless cycle begins and discouragement and unhappiness become a habit, instead of a passing episode.

Connecting with other "others:" We must remember that being in isolation doesn’t mean one has to feel isolated. Reach out where there is opportunity. People are invaluable sources of encouragement. When we withdraw, we all lose out on opportunities to be encouraged and opportunities to encourage others. Pick up the phone and call a friend for a "how-y’all-doin’" chat. Text someone to let them know you’re thinking about them. It will enrich you and the friend. In good times and bad, friends are treasures.

Taking Whine Off the Your Happy Hour Menu: We must keep in mind that friends are not to be used simply as “whine” bottles (i.e. to be used only for whines). Though friends can be good listeners during times of discouragement, they can also, with the best of intentions, enable our whining while prolonging our discouragement. One of my favorite novelists, Richard Paul Evans, says: “There’s no problem so big that whining won’t make it worse.” Don’t whine!

As we’ve heard or read many times recently, “this too shall pass.” We’re inclined to react with, “When?” I don’t believe that is the right question. A better question would be “How?” How will you and I be when things are back to “normal?" Will we be better, stronger, more mature people? Or, will we be bitter, weaker and immature? We are free to choose. However, we are not free to choose the consequences of our choices. Choose wisely.

CONNECTOR TIP: Learn to handle discouragement as a temporary inconvenience rather than a permanent condition.

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