By Tobi Schwartz-Cassell
Vella Mbenna understands life challenges and starting over, first hand. “When you’ve just gone through a personal crisis, it’s normal to feel hopeless, lost, and maybe even paralyzed.” Now a retired diplomat for the US Foreign Service, Mbenna authored Muddy Roads Blue Skies, an uplifting memoir and self-help guide about the power of perseverance, resilience, family, and faith.
After divorcing an abusive husband, Mbenna was broke and raising her child alone in rural Georgia. But she managed to turn her life around. It wasn’t easy, but she did it and offers this advice:
- Take time to deal with the pain (but not too much time). It’s okay to grieve or process whatever has happened—whether you’ve gotten divorced, lost your job, or experienced another setback—but keep this period as brief as possible and then get on with your life. If you’re not careful, this could become your new normal and prevent you from making progress.
- Get help if you need it. If you’re seriously stuck or have fallen into a depression, you’ll probably know it. At that point, seek professional help. A good therapist can help you process the grief you’re struggling with and help you move forward in a healthy way.
- Accept social support. Your social ties are important when you’ve had a crisis. So be sure to surround yourself with people who love you. Resist the urge to shut everyone out and cope all by yourself; even if you don’t feel like you want the support and attention during this time, you’ll ultimately be glad to have people who care checking in on you. But remember, this isn’t a time to let just anybody in. Avoid toxic “frenemies” and anyone you feel doesn’t have your best interests at heart.
- Stop the negative self-talk. “No matter how upset you feel, silence your inner critic and stop the negative self-talk,” says Mbenna. “Beating yourself up solves nothing and just makes you feel worse. So resist the urge to criticize, blame, or berate yourself. When you catch yourself engaging in negative self-talk, replace the thought by acknowledging something good about yourself.”
- Commit to self-care. After you’ve gone through a crisis, it’s more important than ever to practice nurturing habits. First, make sure you’re getting plenty of rest, lots of exercise, and eating enough healthy foods. Don’t forget to treat yourself from time to time as well. Schedule a massage a Reiki session, buy yourself a new book, or go out to dinner. Do something fun. A small splurge now and then will give you the little bolt of pleasure you need to sustain you during tough times.
- Throw yourself into a project. One of the best ways to regain a sense of normalcy after a trauma is to get engaged in something you care about. So throw yourself into a project you feel passionate about. It will be a much welcome distraction and it’s a great way to get your creative juices flowing. Consider learning a new professional skill, taking up a new hobby, or joining a local choir, social group or service league.
- Practice being fearless. After enduring a trauma, the world can seem like a very frightening place. But even when you feel afraid, it is important to do things that scare you (within reason). Speak up in meetings, go to a networking event where you won’t know anyone, or volunteer to lead a project at work. Challenging yourself to step outside your comfort zone stretches your confidence and makes you a stronger person.
- Find faith in something. Whether it’s God, the Universe, your Angels, or another Divine Being, have faith. Mbenna’s strong faith in God helped her survive and navigate job and money instability, domestic violence, and several work challenges during her 26-year career with the Foreign Service. “My prayers have always sustained me,” says Mbenna. “Even when times have been so hard that I haven’t known what to ask for, I just ask God to help me and He always has.”
- Count your blessings. Even if it doesn’t seem like it, you probably still have a lot to feel grateful for. Find positive things in your life to focus on like your home, your friends, your children and/or your pets. Focusing on your blessings can help you put what you’re going through into perspective.
- Plan a getaway. There’s nothing wrong with taking a temporary break after a major life disruption. If you can’t afford a traditional vacation, visit a friend or relative for a few days for a change of scenery. You’ll come back feeling revived and ready to get back on track.
“You can’t plan for a personal crisis,” says Mbenna, “but when one shows up, you can heal from it in a healthy way. New beginnings can be beautiful things, and once you’ve dealt with whatever storm just blew through your life, there’s nothing stopping you from picking up the pieces, getting back on track, and pursuing your ambitions and dreams.”
PS: Have you ever had to start over? I sure have! And more than once. What is your advice to someone going through it? Please comment below.