Life is full of unexpected turns and challenges. When faced with difficulties, such as illness, death, divorce, job loss, failure, or other painful and difficult life events, you may feel disoriented or shaken, as though the ground beneath you is no longer stable.

Tough times are inevitable in life, and during these tough times, it’s not only your emotional health that is tested but your mental strength as well. Learning strong coping strategies will help you remain on course despite the struggles of the moment. 

When life hands you a bunch of lemons, do you make lemonade?

Some people crumble at the first sign of adversity and can remain stressed out for an extended period of time. Rather than working through their hardships, they just look for an escape route.

Other people, however, rise to whatever challenge life throws their way. They have an incredible knack for turning setbacks into comebacks, and they tackle hardships with vigour, enthusiasm, and confidence.

What distinguishes these people is their will to keep going when others start dropping off. This persistence requires developing mental toughness—the ability to embrace uncertainty and discomfort while negotiating a way forward. They are able to overcome difficult situations by remaining cool, calm and collected. They are ready to seek solutions and get back on track. They do not let disappointments deter them from what they want. Instead, they stay focused and plan to be successful.

What do you do? Do you weather the ups and downs, only to come back stronger? Or do you hide under a rock until the storm blows over? How can you develop the kind of strength and perseverance that will keep you going? What’s the secret?

“Mental toughness” – keeping strong in the face of adversity

“Mental toughness” is frequently used colloquially to refer to any set of positive mental attributes that help a person to cope with difficult situations.

It’s the ability to maintain your focus and determination despite the difficulties you encounter. Events in our lives rarely go the way we’d like them to, but that doesn’t mean you have to let it throw you off your track. Mental toughness gives you the tenacity to learn from your mistakes without the devastating blow failure can sometimes bring. This resilience and fortitude also give you the strength to keep emotions in check when something in your life seems overwhelming, and you need to be strong. Essentially, mental toughness is the internal strength or grit that allows you to keep going, keep pushing, and keep trying, even when the going gets tough.

Why is mental toughness so important?

If you want more out of your life, whether it’s to do better on the job despite a competitive work culture or enhance your skills no matter the severity of the roadblocks you’ve previously faced – then it’s time to get mentally tough.

Without adequate mental strength, life’s challenges can fill you with self-doubt, anxiety, and depression. Those uncomfortable feelings can then lead to negative thinking and affect your behaviour and performance adversely. Staying strong in the midst of hardship requires you to manage your thoughts, feelings, and behaviour.

Research reveals that your mental toughness plays a more important role than anything else for achieving your goals, whether those goals are in the area of health, business, sports, career, relationships or life in general. That’s good news since there are many ways to develop a tougher mind!

Developing mental toughness to face challenges

We can all learn to be more resilient and mentally tough. It’s all about being in the ideal psychological, physical, emotional and spiritual state in order to get going and perform at peak levels.

Here are eight tools to help you become more resilient during tough times

1. Have faith. “You are never given a problem that you cannot handle. Every problem that comes in front of you is to make you realize that you have the skill, talent and ability to come out of it! It is just for you to uncover your true potential.” There is so much uplifting wisdom in these words of spiritual master Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar. To believe that whatever is happening is a blessing in disguise and that nothing is permanent, and this tough time will also pass gives us much-needed patience and positivity.

2. Broaden your perspective. Life is a combination of good times and tough times, of happiness and pain. But remember that though pain is inevitable, suffering is definitely optional. Having a broad perspective on life gives you the strength to move forward through painful times. Know that you are very much needed in this world. With all its infinite possibilities, your life is a gift, for it can become a fountain of joy and happiness not just for yourself but for many others as well.

3. Start breathing. This activity actually prepares your body for better mental performance. Just notice–are you holding your breath right now? The more stressed and tense you are, the more likely you are to hold your breath without even noticing. In fact, you could also be experiencing headaches, backaches, or tight shoulders and neck muscles.

Here’s a prescription for you: Take 5-7 deep breaths, and let them out slowly. Inhale slowly and smoothly to the count of 4, hold to the count of 4, exhale even more slowly to the count of 4, and pause to the count of 2. Do this three times a day. This is even more powerful when you use Ujjayi breath. This creates good circulation and steady breathing throughout your day, no matter what situations you face.

4. Smile and laugh. When the going gets tough, the tough get going, right? The strength of your happiness is measured by the adverse situations you face. When everything is going well, giving a big smile is no no-brainer! But if you can smile through any situation, through any event, that is a sign of maturity, strength, and intelligence. Sometimes, you just have to fake it until you make it. Try smiling next time you’re overwhelmed, and see how relaxed and confident you will feel.

When times are tough, it’s also the best time to laugh. You can also use this time to explore your sense of humour. This will help not only with your emotional state but also your physical well-being. Try it and do a big belly laugh every morning for 5 minutes, even if you feel silly, and see what happens.

Mentally tough people believe that happiness is a state of mind – not a place, an object, a person or a thing. They consciously practice being happy and know it is up to them to make it happen. So what are you waiting for?

5. Become Detached. You can get through setbacks and come out even stronger if you can remember that it’s not all about you. Don’t take things personally or waste time wondering, “Why me, of all people?” Don’t personalize or let yourself get into self-pity traps. Instead, focus on what you can control.

6. Help and uplift others. You might wonder–when I am in trouble myself, how can I help others? But trust me, it really helps. Even science is proving this. Research indicates that those who consistently help other people experience less depression, greater calm, fewer pains, and better health. They may even live longer. Make an effort to perform random acts of kindness every day, and you will see that it not only helps the people you are helping but also uplifts your spirit. You will experience enormous inner strength.

7. Connect with others. Humans are social animals. We crave feeling supported, valued and connected. Mental Health America found that 71 per cent of people surveyed turned to friends or family in times of stress. Instead of retreating into a cocoon, go out or make a phone call and connect with your loved ones.

8. Meditate. Mental toughness is harnessing the power of silence to control our emotions, thoughts, and behaviour in ways that will set us up for success and freedom. The silence and quiet space experienced by meditation is a form of intelligence, a type of knowing that goes beyond our emotions, thoughts, and behaviour. Meditation is one of the most empowering tools we can use to impact all areas of our lives.

Try this guided meditation on Transforming Emotions now.

Pay attention to your body by remaining physically active, putting in the right kind of fuel, and getting a good night’s sleep. Your health is your most powerful resource, and maintaining it will help you practice all the above eight tools even more effectively.

Becoming a mentally strong person takes practice and mindfulness. It requires tuning in to your bad habits and making a point of learning new habits to replace them. Sometimes, it may simply mean learning to get out of your own way and let things happen.

Times are tough… but the tough get going, and we can learn a lot from them. Be happy and be mentally tough, and know for sure that you will be able to handle anything that comes your way!

By Sejal Shah, E-YRT 500 Sri Sri Yoga Teacher, YACEP, Art of Living Teacher, NYU Post Graduate Medical School approved Yoga-CME retreat facilitator, Mind-Body Wellness Writer, Homeopath.