When Adrift in Life’s Waves, Do More Than Just Hang On

Life buoy floating in stormy wavesThere is much talk these days of resilience, or a person’s ability to recover from adversity, trauma, and stress. We are encouraged to build and grow our resilience in order to better face challenges and difficulties, and we may work to cultivate this trait. Yet everyone living is resilient. The proof is right there in your breath. The act of surviving is an act of resilience.

Of course, you don’t want to merely survive, you want to thrive.

What does it mean to survive? To thrive? “Surviving” could be a person adrift in the sea after a shipwreck, clinging to a battered raft. “Thriving,” on the other hand, might evoke the image of a person who has roped together two rafts, hauled in some provisions, and constructed an oar out of debris.

It may be difficult to imagine doing anything more than hanging on to a raft when facing adversity. But as you navigate the ups and downs of life, some of the following tips may help you feel more alive—as if you are thriving, instead of simply surviving.

  • Schedule downtime every day. Daydream. Stare at the sky. Take an interior body scan to see where you feel most relaxed or tense—when you find a tight area, breathe into it until it relaxes. Listen to the sounds around you, and just be.
  • Reflect on your day, preferably in a journal. What brought you joy? What annoyed or irritated you? What are you grateful for? Recording these thoughts will allow you to revisit them later.
  • Practice gratitude for as many small and ordinary things you can think of. Being grateful for the little things can radically enhance your experience of life and often goes a long way towards balancing out your inherent negativity bias (our tendency to respond to and remember negative experiences more strongly).
  • Meditate. Choose whatever style of meditation works best for you. You may find it helps you most to focus on your breath (Vipassana), repeat a mantra (Kundalini), use a CD or MP3 download of a guided meditation, or go for a long yoga nidra meditation—which may be especially helpful for insomnia and posttraumatic stress.
  • Be kind to yourself and others. Yes, this is easier said than done, especially when it seems others consistently push your buttons. You can even push your own buttons with self-criticism. But make a new habit of responding with kindness, and you may feel your mood begin to shift. Be patient with the process, as this change takes practice.
  • Look for life’s lessons in the small annoyances and big challenges. These lessons may initially be invisible. But the belief that everything is happening for your highest good can be anchoring, and many draw strength from it.
  • Read something inspirational. This may mean something different for everyone. Inspiration might be religious, spiritual, or philosophical in nature. To some, inspiration may simply be wise or encouraging words. If it gives you inspiration, read it. The Pocket Pema Chodron offers short Buddhist-inspired pieces by a renowned teacher.
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  • Take responsibility for your health and finances by eating well, sleeping enough, moving your body, and living below your means. Good mental, emotional, and even financial health can all contribute to your ability to thrive. Try the book Your Money or Your Life for one perspective on this.
  • Do yoga. An increasing amount of research shows how yoga can really integrate your mind and body. Of course, your mind and body are one organism already, but yoga can put you more in touch with the connection between the two and can help calm both.
  • Assume the best in any situation. In general, people are not trying to annoy you. Give them the benefit of the doubt. Keeping a positive perspective when facing difficulty can help you weather any number of challenges.
  • Stay curious. Learn something. Put yourself in a different situation. All will create new neural pathways in your brain and can add some vibrancy to your life.
  • Take time to be in nature. This might be as simple as looking out your window and watching the sky. If you have more time, take a walk or sit in a park. Even petting an animal can help refresh and rejuvenate you.
  • Listen to music. Whether soothing, energizing, or sensuous, music can take you out of your rumination into a sphere of pure emotion, giving your hard-working mind a much-needed rest. Research has shown that music can often improve your mood and benefit your body’s natural healing process.
  • Control what you can and allow the rest to be as it is, even if you don’t like it. Routines and rituals are daily reminders of what you can control, and establishing these in your life can increase your sense of agency. Even the simplest routines, like brushing your teeth or taking time to sit down for breakfast, help you feel as if you are the captain of your ship and may provide a sense of safety and comfort in times of stress.
  • Interact with people. Savor fleeting micro-connections (like your parting words with the check-out person at the grocery store) as well as enduring, deep ones. All can reinforce a sense of connection to the world and help you enter the deep hum of life.
  • Finally, eat some dark chocolate every day. With over 300 phytochemicals, dark chocolate has the power to calm your nervous system and boost your mood. Go for the bars with 70% cocoa solids, or higher.


  1. Boothby, S. (2013, May 17). How Music Affects Our Moods. Retrieved from http://www.healthline.com/health-news/mental-listening-to-music-lifts-or-reinforces-mood-051713#1
  2. Fabrega, M. (n.d.). Ten Strategies for Overcoming the Negativity Bias and Increasing Your Quality of Life. Retrieved from https://daringtolivefully.com/overcoming-negativity-bias
  3. Heart Health Benefits of Chocolate. (2016). Retrieved from http://my.clevelandclinic.org/services/heart/prevention/nutrition/food-choices/benefits-of-chocolate

© Copyright 2016 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Nicole S. Urdang, MS, NCC, DHM, Holistic Psychotherapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

  • Leave a Comment
  • Laurence

    June 16th, 2016 at 8:59 AM

    Heck no I am too much of a fighter. I am not just gonna hold on, I’m swimming to until the very end.

  • Stu

    June 16th, 2016 at 4:17 PM

    The tendency seems to be that we wish to hold on and wait for someone to save us. Not my particular MO or what I am comfortable with but for many this is how they have learned to survive and they become a little unwilling to step outside of their own comfort zone to see what they can do on their own when forced to. They would rather founder than they would to take it upon themselves to hopefully improve their current situation.

  • Nola

    June 17th, 2016 at 10:35 AM

    One of the hardest things to do is to begin taking action when you are filled with fear. One foot in front of the other though is what I have to say. Yes, it can be terrifying to take that first step, but once you can do that then the nest and the nest steps seem so obvious to you that it is a great feeling to be able to keep on going.

  • Collin

    June 20th, 2016 at 5:42 AM

    The tendency is there to give up without fighting. But if life is meaningful to you, then you should want to fight for it. That might mean getting physical and it might mean becoming mentally stronger, but do what you can and what you have to do to keep your head above water. Sinking is not the way that I want to go out.

  • Myra

    June 21st, 2016 at 2:39 PM

    I am a loner, I know that and my family knows that. My alone time is when I can think and process things best, so I know that this is when I am going to come up with the very best decisions.

  • dusty

    June 22nd, 2016 at 12:45 PM

    There are simply those situations where the only person who can save you is you.

  • Jerry

    June 23rd, 2016 at 5:46 PM

    I often think that my own brother would probably rather sink than try to do something for himself. He is still so dependent on our parents for almost everything that I have a hard time believing that he could make it on his own and truthfully I am pretty sure that he has that same feeling. But they have never even forced him to try and he has not been willing to try so they are caught in this cycle of enabling one another I guess.

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