What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop

What do you do when life throws you for a loop? These tips help me manage whenever life gets crazy. Maybe they can help you through your next crisis, too.

When life throws you a curveball, how do you react?

What do you do when life throws you for a loop? How do you cope?

Wouldn’t it be nice if there were quick and easy answers to make it all better?

But life doesn’t work that way, does it? A loved one gets a serious diagnosis, gets into a car accident, passes away. Your child is born weeks or months too soon, lands in the hospital with an unknown disease, faces a major crisis at school, suffers from a series of setbacks that rock his/her mental health to the core. A job loss, house fire, or natural disaster leaves you feeling like you’re back at square one.

And of course, these things have a way of piling up on each other – they rarely seem to happen in isolation, do they?

I get it. And I truly do get that sometimes it feels as if nothing will help – I’ve been there.

But I’ve also been through enough rounds of this theme to realize that a few common threads have helped me through these crises, and have also helped others I’ve witnessed going through similar challenges.

So if you or a friend finds yourself getting thrown for a loop (or three or five, all at once), here are a few tips on how to cope with difficult times in life. They’ve worked for us, so I am hoping at least one of them can also help you in dealing with life’s challenges.

What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop:

1. Try to remember the basics

Proper nutrition, proper sleep, and (if you can manage it) proper exercise will help you keep your body strong, which will help you better manage everything else.

One day, when one of our girls was two, she suddenly stopped eating and drinking. In 36 hours she lost over 10% of her body weight, and her organs began shutting down. Before we knew it, she was an inpatient at the nearest children’s regional hospital, an hour from our home.

After stumbling through the first few days of this crisis like zombies, my husband and I could no longer avoid the reality that our daughter wasn’t going home the next day, or the day after that. That’s when we had to accept that we could no longer neglect our own health if we were going to be there for her. Going to the nearby Ronald McDonald House for healthy, hot, home-cooked meals and a good night’s sleep became our refuge.

Living on junk food, fast food, and/or high-calorie comfort food for weeks or months on end is NOT healthy. And lack of sleep just makes you crave these unhealthy foods more. If you can, try NOT to do this to yourself.

2. Try to prioritize and compartmentalize

I easily become overwhelmed when there are too many obligations and crises pressing down on me. This doesn’t happen as much now that I’m a parent and work from home, but I’ve been there plenty of times both for work reasons and rest-of-life reasons.

When life throws me for a loop, lists in general – and my Bullet Journal in particular – are my best friends. Rather than trying to take on everything all at once, I try to write it all down and get it out on paper. Then it’s no longer in my head, and I can start to make sense of what has to get done soonest, and what I can let slide for a bit.

This is especially true when I’m sick. You know how the flu or a sinus infection can really mess with your head? It’s hard to put one thought in front of the other sometimes.

But having it all on paper in front of me suddenly makes it easier to see that those five meetings over the next three days just aren’t going to happen.

Not only do I not have the energy, but no one else really wants or needs my germs.

This was also true when I was pregnant with Kimmie. That supposedly “happy” time of one’s life coincided with selling old house, finding new house, an out-of-state temporary work assignment, and my right wrist falling apart. (As in, a bone died and I needed emergency surgery if I didn’t want to lose use of my dominant hand forever.) All of these were extremely stressful and overwhelming, and any one of them would have been enough on my plate at once. Let alone all at the same time. Let alone at the same time as a “high-risk” pregnancy.

All together, it was WAY too much to have on my mental plate all at once. The only way I could get through it all was to focus on one piece at a time, and use lists/calendars/planning notebooks to keep the bigger picture under control without letting it overwhelm me.

3. Try not to cut yourself off

This can be a fine line. It’s easy to retreat inside ourselves, especially if we’re starting to feel depressed. Being out in the world is a good reminder that life goes on, in spite of whatever personal hell we’re going through. Seeing friends and family will also help to remind you of this, because they will TELL you so.

Just be careful not to dump all your problems on everyone, all the time, every time you see them. Not every store cashier and waitperson cares about every intimate detail of your personal dramas. And even your closest friends and family will get tired of hearing you whine all the time about your challenges.

When I least want to see other people is often when I most need to get out of the house – and doing so is SO much better than sitting at home by myself!

4. Find (and lean on) your village

One of the hardest things for some of us, when life gets difficult, is to ask others for help. My husband doesn’t like to do this because he doesn’t like to be indebted to others. I don’t like to ask because I’m afraid of imposing and inconveniencing others.

When our first daughter was born, my husband was loathe to let people from the church bring us meals to help out. Again, he has a hard time accepting what he saw then as “charity.” But when he started to experience the generosity of others, his heart was filled to overflowing when he realized that yes, people wanted and were willing to help us out. He’s never forgotten that lesson.

Similarly, when I broke my foot this past summer and was unable to drive, I found myself dependent on others in a whole new way. This only increased as school started and I still wasn’t allowed to drive. Essie is in kindergarten this fall. Our district has half-day K, and it is parents’ responsibility to drive their kids home from school.

And no one in her preschool classes is in K with her; they’re all at other schools. And none of our neighbors has kindergarteners, either.

It’s been really hard for me to reach out to others and ask them to help us with rides, week after week after week. (Since my husband also teaches, he can’t leave school in the middle of HIS work day to bring her home!) But it’s been a definite lesson in humility, and in depending on the kindness and grace of others to get us through.

And for those many friends and family who’ve responded to my periodic updates with “what can I do to help?,” this has been a tangible “something” they can do. It’s been huge to us – and they know it!

5. Lay the groundwork ahead of time, if you can

The time to build your social networks is BEFORE a crisis hits, not during.

If you’ve just moved to a new area, get out there! Join local parents’ groups. Get to know your neighbors. Get involved in a local church or synagogue or other religious community. Become active in neighborhood groups and causes you care about.

When tragedy or crisis strikes, those networks will be in place to mobilize on your behalf.

Likewise, if you know that there is a big challenge looming ahead of you, do what you can to make it easier.

My mother got her knee replaced several years ago. She had six months between when the surgery was scheduled and when it actually happened. She used that time to get her body as ready for the surgery as she could, by doing strengthening exercises ahead of the surgery under a doctor’s guidance.

Doing this prep work made her surgery recovery go much more smoothly, and speeded up her recovery time quite a bit.

6. Don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help, if you need it

There have been lots of times in my life when reminders of #1-5 would have been enough to get me through the rough patches until life felt on even keel again.

Having said that, there are also plenty of times when these tips would have sounded hollow and worthless.

If the above tips sound meaningless to you, please don’t be afraid to consider if you might need professional help.

Check with your health insurance plan or network to find providers in your area. Open a “private window” on your web browser and search for “mental health helpline.” Pore through the community section of your local phonebook (if you still have such a thing at your house!), or on the website of the nearest hospital. If you’re a student, check out your university’s mental health services.

Or if none of the above work for you, read the next section below.  

7. Need more help?

In the United States, call the National Alliance of Mental Illness Helpline at 1-800-950-6264 or text NAMI to 741741.

Or call the Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

Outside the United States, for a list of international numbers and websites for mental health helplines, suicide prevention, etc. visit the Together We Are Strong Helpline link on Tumblr.

And remember, you do NOT need to suffer alone. Help is just a phone call away.

A friend of mine regularly posts this on her Facebook page:

“My door is always open. My house is safe. Coffee can be on in minutes, and the dining room table is a place of peace and non-judgment. Anyone who needs to chat is welcome anytime. It’s no good suffering in silence. I have food in the fridge, coffee and tea in the cabinet, listening ears, and shoulders to cry on. I will always be available…you are always welcome!! This is an old value that has been lost to technology…a text, facetime, or emoji is not the equivalent!
Depression has no face, age, gender, sexual orientation, religious affiliation or ethnic background. It does not discriminate. And neither do I.
You are never really alone.
*DISCLAIMER* my house may not be clean but it’s presentable.
Could one friend please copy and repost? I am trying to demonstrate that someone is always listening.
Just one person.”

If you do not have a friend (FB or otherwise) in your life like this the next time life throws you for a loop, PLEASE reach out to someone at one of the numbers above.

It CAN get better, I promise.

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75 thoughts on “What To Do When Life Throws You For A Loop”

  1. I know you wrote this some time ago, but it is so perfectly relevant right now in light of our global pandemic. Thank you for your tips, mama!

  2. This is a great resource for many, filled with excellent advice. I particularly love the basic section. Proper sleep and nutrition are so important but that may also be the toughest to align in tough situations.

  3. I wouldn’t be where I am today with my village. I’ve faced some difficult times in my life, and this article is definitely very helpful. Thank you for sharing. I needed this today.

  4. I have had some people lash out at me because they are mad about the current situation. In an emergency, you are supposed to stay calm, check the situation, and react appropriately. Sadly, there is a lot of anger and drama right now, and I don’t see people coping well – even those who are in a good financial position and so on. These are good tips that everyone should keep in mind.

  5. I think I really love what you have written about prioritizing. Afterall we cant have everything, and do everything at once!! Prioritizing and compartmentalizing sim[ply needs to be done!!

  6. I LOVE everything about this post. I can definitely say that having a tribe and leaning on them for support is SO important! Also seeking professional help. Sometimes that’s what we need. Even if it’s just a third party counselor, it can do wonders!

  7. Until it happens, you really don’t think there’s anything big coming your way. It’s always business as usual but that’s the thing with life. It hits you like a ton of bricks when you least expect it. We have to learn to roll with the punches and we don’t even know what we’re capable of until we get put in these crazy situations. This post is so relevant with everything going on right now. For me, the hardest part is admitting and then asking for help but it’s necessary sometimes. you can’t always do it all yourself and its so important to have a good support network

  8. It’s easy to fall into a funk when life throws us for a loop, some things are easier to pull ourselves out of than others. These are great tips to help pull ourselves up and out of it. Thanks!

  9. Setting goals and prioritizing things in your life is important when things feel uncertain. It hasn’t been easy dealing with everything, but we are all getting through the changes and adapting to the new normal.

  10. These are wonderful tips. During times like these you need to be able to take control of your feelings. I am a big believer of compartmentalizing….really great post!

  11. These are such good tips!! You’re so right–when we’re in crisis we aren’t really thinking all that well, so knowing and doing things ahead of time is huge, as is doing the small things that make a big impact (like sleeping, writing things down, etc.) This is a wonderful post! Pinning. 🙂 Thanks for sharing at #heartandsoullinkup

  12. Asking for help is something us moms tend to not too often enough. I also think that positivity is something that if we live daily, it will help us in the hard times.

    1. Absolutely on both counts – sometimes it is SO hard to stay upbeat and/or ask for help, but both are crucial!

  13. Hello, Flossie.

    This is such an inspirational post. I am so happy that I happen to pass by your blog. Thank you for all the tips that you gave. I know it’s not easy to be in this situation.

    1. Aww, *thanks* Susan – glad you found me! (tho’ sorry to hear you have some familiarity with this topic, by the sounds…) – Glad you enjoyed the post! 🙂

  14. This is such an important topic. The worst always comes when we least expect it and are feeling the least prepared. Thank you for sharing strategies to help make it feel manageable.

  15. This is so good! I really love the strategies you explained. I love that you start with ‘the basics’ because when something tragic happens the natural response tends to be to let everything jumble in your head at once. It becomes difficult to prioritize.

    1. *Thanks* so much, Mia! I know just what you mean – even though it seems so common-sense, it’s so easy to forget those basic little self-care things that will help us manage the bigger challenges before us! 🙂

  16. Thanks for these motivational words. I am going through something similar right now and I so wanted to read something like this. It lift up my spirits and makes me come back hard.

    1. I’m so sorry that this is relevant for you right NOW, Anchal, but glad you came across it when you needed it! Hang in there! 🙂

  17. I’m so sorry you have been through all these events. I love the thoughts you shared to get through them. I think one of the most important thing is to lean on a village. You are so right that they help so much. I’m pinning this so it can help others who need help coping!

    1. *Thanks* Michele! I’m glad you liked the post and found it useful – thanks for pinning it so others can hopefully benefit from it, too! 🙂

  18. This is an excellent post. So many practical and important tips – my favorites: finding and leaning on your village, not cutting yourself off, and seeking professional help if needed. Such good things to remember!

    1. *Thanks,* Mary Leigh; so glad you found it useful. I find these things all SO important, too – some struggles I’ve needed certain reminders more than others, but at some point or other, we all get to the place where whatever we’re dealing with is too big to manage on our own! 🙂

  19. Share.Share. Share. SHARE!Thank you for this! I struggle with depression and it get overwhelmingly bad. To the point I dont know what to do.I really need to start writing things down again.
    I also hate accepting help from others. Absolutely hate it. I don’t want people to think, that I’m unable to handle things but sometimes honestly I can’t especially as a single mom! Great post!

    1. Aww, I’m so sorry to hear of your struggles, Angel, but SO glad you found the post helpful. I know exactly what you mean re: how hard it can be to ask for help – especially when (as you note in your case, being a single mom – I’ve had different challenges at different points that lead to the same root issue) we don’t want people to think we’re “weak” or “can’t handle it.” But I’ve come to realize that sometimes it’s the only way, and it’s as if I’m letting my guard down to others in a way that turns out to be good for the relationship – in the end they don’t think any less of me. SO glad for both your candid feedback and any shares! 🙂

    1. Aww, thanks so much, Rachael! I’m so glad you enjoyed the post – it was a hard one to write, so I’m glad it is useful! 🙂

  20. This is a really helpful post. We went through a really hard time a couple of years ago and it was really hard to keep trucking along. But, somehow our “plan B” for life has worked out pretty well.

    1. I’m so glad you are now on the other side of it, Summer, and can rejoice in your Plan B! Haha, if I had a dollar for every time my life took a detour into Plan B (or C or D…) I would be a self-made millionaire. That which does not kill us may not make us richer, but it DOES make us stronger! 🙂

  21. This post is dripping in positivity! There will be times in our life where things crash and burn and we will need to apply some of the points you’ve mentioned to keep sane.

    1. I trust its dripping in positivity is a good thing for you, Nazrin? Yep, one of the sucky parts of adulting I’ve learned is that things do indeed crash and burn (as you so aptly put it), more often than we would like and often when we least expect it. The good thing is, I guess, practice makes better – the older I get, the better I get at remembering to march through these steps one after the other until something works. (Notice the last two are for when a more positive take on managing crises just won’t cut it. It’s OK to get there sometimes, and give yourself permission to admit that maybe what’s on your plate is more than you can handle alone!)

  22. Thank you for your tips on getting through crazy times. I especially appreciate number 5, Lay the groundwork ahead of time- building relationships. I am SO glad I got to my neighbor next door- we have both been able to be there for each other in those crazy moments when you need someone right away.

    1. You are so welcome, Taylor! We didn’t really have a neighborhood network like this when I was little, as we were in a rural area and most of our neighbors were retirees – it just wasn’t a “kids hanging out” type of neighborhood. But I’ve watched too many extended family members in other states struggle through situations where having a strong community network – neighbors, a faith community, whatever – would have made a world of difference, but they haven’t had that – and it’s really got me thinking about that old adage, “in order to have a friend, you have to BE a friend.” 🙂 Sounds as if you’ve also learned that over time! 🙂

    1. It can definitely be hard when you feel as if you’re spinning your wheels, running on empty, etc. As much as anything, I think a part of me wrote this to remind MYSELF the next time we’ve got too much to handle all at once! 😉 …

    1. Haha, you and me both – it can be SO hard not to think we can run the world! I’ve found helping others in their time of need a good way to build up my village – our church has a pretty robust support network of bringing meals to new moms and others in challenging times (e.g. families suffering an illness or recovering from a surgery). I am always happy to do this for others, and it’s been a blessing to find all sorts of people stepping up to repay what they see as our kindness in their time of need. 🙂

  23. This is wonderful advice. I especially like leaning on your tribe. I have trouble asking for help at time because I do not want to feel like a burden on others. Its reassuring to understand this it is okay. Great post.

    1. You are so right, Maya – it can be hard to do this, but so often people are SO happy to help out when they can! (And this is definitely a karmic circle – our regular Wed night rides to church events this fall are the next door neighbors to whom I brought a meal once a week during the first 6 months of their newborns’ lives when their premature twins were in the ICU – they are more than happy they can now repay us by helping out in our time of need!)

  24. What a helpful read this is. My ‘loop’ came last year with a stage 4 incurable cancer diagnosis. I’ve had to leave my job and see little of my friends because they all think I am coping so well. It’s so difficult to ask for help sometimes.

    1. First off, please know how very sorry I am for what you’re going through, Gill. I’ve watched several family members battle their own terminal cancer diagnoses, and it often seems that people who aren’t there in it with you, just don’t know what to say or how to reach out. I hope you have (or can find) a support network to help you make the most of the time you’ve got here on this earth, whether it be months or decades. (I believe it was over a half-century ago that Stephen Hawking’s family told him he wouldn’t live past his early 20s, and here he is still defying the odds in his 70s?) Hang in there, and good luck!

    1. Yeah, wish I didn’t have quite so much “life experience” on this front, but it’s like the old saying, that which does not kill us, makes us stronger 🙂 …

  25. Wow, you have encountered some trying times for sure! Asking for help can be so hard because I hate to feel like a “burden” to my friends and family, however since becoming a mom I rely so heavily on my mom tribe.

    1. That is exactly my problem, too! – I don’t want to burden or inconvenience anyone! But none of us can do this on our own, really, and having that tribe (AND calling on them when the going gets tough!) is SO important 🙂

  26. Those are great tips for coping with stressful times in our lives. I agree that it’s important not to cut yourself off from friends, who can be a great support during these times.

  27. Thanks for sharing these tips. It is so hard to know what to do when life gets overwhelming. Having practical and helpful advice like this is so useful to have on hand. 🙂

  28. These are some great tips and I’m glad things worked out for you in the end! I guess I should get to work on building that social network, the introvert I am just shudders at the idea, but I can see how having the support during a crisis would be helpful!

    1. I know exactly what you mean, Diana. I too tend to be introverted, all of my closest friends are far away (several in other countries!), and NONE of my family live near us, so this is an area where I have struggled. But in watching several extended family members go through crises where they did NOT have strong social networks near where they live, I’ve come to realize that this is an often-overlooked step that can truly make a huge difference when push comes to shove. Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  29. I love this post! It’s so easy to become so overwhelmed with life that we forget how to go through the motions. Thank you so much for writing this.

  30. What a great post about coping with the difficulties we encounter in life! These tips are helpful to anyone facing loss, illness or other adversity. I think your friend’s Facebook post is awesome! It reminded me how one person can make such a big difference in someone’s life by just making time to be available to listen and care.

    1. *Thank you* Lori – this was a difficult post to write, so I’m glad it worked for you! And yes, Dawna’s regular FB posts are a lifesaver, as is she – I’m so grateful that she is part of our “village” these past several months, as she’s been one of the dear souls helping us get Essie home from kindergarten every weekday! 🙂

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