HEALTHY LIVING
05/27/2014 02:32 pm ET | Updated May 28, 2014

How To Turn These Life Setbacks Into Opportunities For Growth

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Navigating through life's most stressful situations can oftentimes feel like swimming against a swift current -- no matter how hard we try to stay calm, we drift further along, getting more and more wrapped up in our rambling, reactive thoughts. As this process repeats itself time and again in our daily lives, the stress can leave us feeling more mentally frustrated, physically depleted and emotionally exhausted than ever.

In recent years, chronic stress has become recognized as one of the largest public health issues in the United States. According to the American Psychological Association's 2013 Stress in America survey, 42 percent of adults said their stress has increased -- and to an unhealthy level -- in the past five years. Most respondents said they value the ability to manage stress, but very few lend themselves the time and space to learn how to do so.

When life's stresses begin to feel less than bearable, one way to reduce tension and anxiety is to pause and ask yourself, "What can I learn from this situation?" This question not only allows you to manage the stress that's weighing you down, but helps you to find the positive element (and there always is one, if you look hard enough) in any situation. Despite how uncomfortable they may make you feel, some of life's most important (and formative) lessons are learned during the times when you're struggling and feel most vulnerable.

Here are six of life's most stressful situations that can be transformed into opportunities for personal growth.

Dealing with a difficult person?

argument

Find your ability to empathize.
As tough it might be to take a step back from your own frustration and consider a situation from another person's perspective, practicing empathy is one of the most important skills you can learn when it comes to building any kind of relationship. Leaving all judgments, opinions and criticisms aside, empathy allows both parties to express themselves, feel heard, and begin breaking down defensive walls that can make communication so challenging. Try to find your common ground with the other person -- however big or small it may be -- in order to feel more connected and less combative.

On a tight deadline at work?

work deadline

Learn to harness the calming power of your breath.
This tried-and-true stress management technique might seem obvious, but setting a slower, intentional pace with your breathing can help your body begin relaxing within seconds. When you start feeling overwhelmed, notice how your breath becomes shallow, and make a more conscious effort to slow your breathing. Focus on counting slowly through a series of steady inhales and exhales, and notice how much calmer your body feels. Try this breathing technique the next time you notice stress sabotaging your breathing.

Dealing with travel delays?

passengers bags airport

Practice patience.
While the thoughts of sitting idly in an airport or staring at the insides of a subway tunnel may make your skin crawl, the challenge of waiting presents the perfect opportunity to build patience. There is incredible power in this spiritual practice, from intentionally silencing the mind to freeing yourself from unwanted emotions. Developing patience will not only make you feel more at ease the next time your commute doesn't go as planned, but it could also help improve your decision-making skills.

Lost your job?

woman fired

Cultivate resilience.
While unemployment may feel like the worst thing that's ever happened to you, losing a job or getting fired is something that nearly everyone faces at one point or another. Accepting the situation and channeling your energy into your next steps can lead you to even bigger and better opportunities -- just look at these eight successful women who have been fired. Let the loss be an opportunity to ignite your fire of self-worth, fine-tune your personal brand, and start searching for a place where you'll ultimately be far happier and more successful.

Ending a relationship?

breakup

Discover gratitude.
Whether you're dealing with a tough break-up or messy divorce, saying goodbye to someone you love can feel like saying goodbye to a part of yourself, too. It can be one of the most painful experiences you ever encounter, but that doesn't necessarily have to be a bad thing. Take this time to cultivate a sense of gratitude for the good times you shared, the lessons (both good and bad) you learned from the experience, and the opportunities that await you in the future. Searching within to find the things you are most thankful for in life can help you reframe your perspective, realize how lucky you are, and appreciate the good things in life that aren't dependent on another person.

Starting over from scratch?

mindfulness practice

Practice mindfulness.
Whether you're moving across the globe, ending a bad relationship or starting a new job, redesigning your life and making a major transition can be exciting, but also a major source of stress and anxiety. Instead of getting lost in endless thoughts, emotions and worries about the future, take this as a chance to practice finding stillness through cultivating a focused awareness on the present moment. Letting your thoughts go as easily as they arise will help you stay calm, collected and focused on the new path unfolding in front of you. There's no better time to meditate and get to know yourself through the practice of mindfulness than when you're actively rewriting your own personal definition. Instead of living in the future, learn to embrace the now.

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