How to deal with life challenges

Healing Expert Nina Grunfeld weighs in with advice on managing the tough times in our lives. 

We all have what management consultants, Bain, call ‘potholes’ in our life. Most of the time they can be petty little things that we don’t really notice, or take seriously, but sometimes they can be big things that really get in the way of our happiness and peace of mind. What’s worse, as Hamlet so knowingly said ‘When sorrows come, they come not in single spies. But in battalions!’ Hamlet had, no doubt, a double entendre in mind, but taken on a purely surface level, he is right. Often when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. Or at least, that’s how it feels.

Literature throws up wonderful examples of how to deal with issues. Like the psychiatrist in ‘The Dice Man’, you can start to make life decisions based on the outcome of throwing a dice or, if you prefer, tossing a coin – both can be very simple problem solvers if only to understand what your gut reaction is. If the coin lands on heads and you don’t like that decision, you’ll feel a sinking in your stomach and know that that’s not what you want to do. Danny Wallace described an even simpler method to fixing issues in his book, ‘The Yes Man’. Basically you just say ‘yes’ to every decision that’s thrown your way. In a funny sort of way it’s a technique that will make you feel in control ‘I’ve decided to say ‘yes’ to everything, so I’m in charge of my life’, but is it a truly sensible way of dealing with the real issues at stake?

In England we’re pretty adept at sweeping things under the carpet, but they don’t always stay there. Even here we’re realising issues that potentially disturb our mental health need to be addressed, not just ignored. The NHS is recommending Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy as a healthy alternative to medication for depression and emotional distress, and it’s about time. Living life minute by minute and talking and listening to others are both enormously helpful ways of dealing with issues that ‘happy pills’ don’t give you. It’s all about listening to yourself and knowing what you want.

Going back to Hamlet, I remember this lovely woman in her late twenties who was coming back to London after years of living in the US. She had complicated issues to fix, all seemingly unravelling at once. As she spoke, in my mind I saw someone bobbing in the sea, surrounded by lifebelts (one saying ‘home’, one saying ‘job’, one saying ‘boyfriend 1’, one saying ‘boyfriend 2’), none of which she was approaching. She was drowning. After talking about it, she understood that no matter which lifebelt she grabbed, she’d be able to move forwards. The issue was in not grabbing any of them.

We have a tendency not to grab our lifebelts. Our issues seem overwhelming or we want to do things perfectly, but perfect can be a waste of time. What’s important is to focus on one issue at a time and resolve it. Like with those lifebelts, it doesn’t matter which issue you start with, just grab one. As soon as you’ve done that, everything will begin to fall into place.

I run weekly workshops which individuals attend and find terrifically helpful. They come to get inspired, get support, solve their problems and move on in their lives having decided what’s important to them.

Nina Grunfeld is the founder of Life Clubs and Life Clubs At Work, running self-development workshops for individuals at home and in the workplace.

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