5 practical ways to turn around a tough experience, according to an expert

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Everyone experiences challenges throughout their lives, but how we deal with them is crucial to making a comeback. We spoke to an expert to find out their tactics for turning things around, and bouncing back stronger than before, as well as hear one woman’s inspiring story of how she did it…

When Gina Atinuke Knight’s hair began falling out in patches after the birth of her first daughter, she was told by doctors that the loss was down to post-partum shedding and hair practices. But after a series of frustrating appointments, she finally received an official diagnosis: alopecia caused by post-traumatic stress.

The diagnosis was just the beginning of Atinuke Knight’s journey. After experiencing first hand the lack of support around Black women’s hair loss, she felt inspired to help others who might be suffering in silence, prompting her to launch her own business, Gina Knight Wig Design, specialising in textured wigs for hair replacement.

As it turned out, Knight was far from being alone in her struggles. Through sharing her experiences around hair loss and a medical system ill-equipped to care for Black women, she began to build a tight-knit Facebook community, helping women women going through the same thing to find newfound confidence with wigs, while encouraging others to embrace their condition.

In the latest episode of Nobody Told Me, Stylist’s podcast exploring the stories of real women who have experienced life’s toughest challenges and the lessons they learned along the way, Knight explains how a difficult experience can be the vehicle for a positive transformation, even if it doesn’t feel like that at the time (you can listen to her tell her story in her own words below).

With that in mind, we spoke to mindset and business coach Suzy Ashworth to find out how to turn a setback into a force for good.

1. Sit with your emotions

“Acknowledge and observe your emotions. Often we feel as though we need to ‘hold it together’, or that it’s not appropriate to share how we are feeling.

“Whilst this may have been a useful protection mechanism for you in the past, allowing your feelings and emotions to move through you, as opposed to bottling them up, denying them or waiting for them to build into something explosive, is way more effective. 

“How can you start to do this? Name your feelings as you feel them. For example, acknowledge ‘I’m feeling anxious’, ‘I feel sad’ or ‘I feel angry’, and then observe the feeling - that’s very different to getting absorbed by it.”

2. Find the lesson

“Every event we experience teaches us something about ourselves and every lesson gets to become a beautiful lesson for growth and expansion. Asking yourself the question ‘what has this experience taught me?’ and ‘how does this benefit me in the future?’ helps us become grateful for the lesson.

“Take the experiences you have lived through and think about how those experiences make you feel when you reflect on them. What do you get to do differently knowing what you now know? How can you inspire, motivate and teach others to avoid the challenges you have faced, or guide people in a whole new direction based on your learnings and experiences?”

3. Build your resilience

“Emotional resilience is absolutely crucial to living a successful life.

“Having purpose or a mission beyond your immediate self is really helpful when it comes to choosing to pick yourself back up after a difficult time.

“Seeking out the opportunity for growth in every situation creates a positive framework for you to think, feel and take action from.

“Self appreciation, and taking time to reflect on all the things small and large you accomplish on a daily basis, is a beautiful exercise for realising your strength and capacity to get things done when you need to, both when you reflect on things from the past and the present time.

“Seek out community and support so you have people who can understand and support you when you are going through a difficult time and have fun with.”

4. Accept the process

“I believe that our most challenging experiences get to be our greatest gifts if we allow them to be. Often they can be our wake-up call to change things we have deep down known for a long time needed to change, but didn’t have the courage to do things differently. When we hit a crossroads, experience a loss, or come up against something that blindsides us, we receive a ‘sign’ we have been waiting for to change our lives for the better. 

“And whilst there is frequently a messy middle, the catalyst for change, as hard as it may be at the time, will transform the experience into something beautiful. Sometimes this will mean a new partnership, changing jobs or simply choosing to live life more fully.”

5. Create a new narrative

“There is no one-size-fits-all answer to when we should stop processing, or analysing a difficult experience. The time frame is going to be different based on each person’s individual context. However, if you find yourself unable to make a decision about your present or future because you are still living through a past experience that you haven’t been able to fully process, seeking out expert support and advice to help the emotions, thoughts and beliefs that keep you in a repetitive loop is advisable. 

“Tune into whether you have new emotions, feelings or fears about the previous experience that need to flow through you. If there is nothing new there and you have given your emotions appropriate airtime to be felt and heard, ask yourself the question: what’s the new story or experience I want to create? 

“From this place, you create a pattern which interrupts the brain’s way of thinking, and an opportunity to ask yourself what would be required from a mindset and behavioural perspective to create something new. And from this space, you create the opportunity to do just that.”

Nobody Told Me… is Stylist’s podcast exploring the personal life lessons of brilliant women in their own words. Season two is brought to you in partnership with Clinique, who for over 50 years have been empowering women through great skin care backed by dermatologist expertise.