When Life Hands You Lemons

Rylaan Gimby

A couple of years ago we were on vacation and our flight home was cancelled. As a result, we were transported to a resort for the night, along with several hundred other passengers. The airline told us we would be taken back to the airport the next morning and given unlimited food and drink. It wasn’t convenient, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.

I was fascinated by this experience because of the reactions of the other passengers – many rolled with it, making the best of the unexpected circumstances, while others reacted in the most negative, dramatic, and sometimes rude ways. It got me thinking about how to best deal with the “bumps” in the road (think cancelled flights, flat tires, traffic jams, lost luggage, plugged toilets, etc.) and what we can do to manage them better. Here are four ideas you may want to try the next time you’re handed a “lemon.”

1. Take a minute or two to have the breakdown.

The first thing I did when the airline announced our flight was cancelled was lean my head on my husband’s shoulder and have a little cry. I was flooded with worries about our kids back home, how they would handle the news of our delay, what plans we would have to reschedule, etc. I let the emotions come, and then wiped my eyes and carried on. If we don’t allow the difficult emotions to be expressed and accepted, we will get stuck in them. Depending on the challenge you are facing, you may need a few minutes, hours, or even a full day to experience them – be sure to intentionally take the time to process your initial feelings.

2.Do a reality check.

Ask yourself some clarifying questions such as, “Is this a life or death situation?”, “Is anyone seriously hurt?”, or “Does this make such a significant impact that it changes my life?” When we face challenges, our initial reaction is skewed by the fact that we may be experiencing a strong emotion such as worry, fear, frustration, etc. But when we interrupt the emotional experience by bringing some thought to the situation, we often find that things are far more tolerable than we initially perceive them.

3.Take action if you can, and be patient if you can’t.

If there is something you can do to respond appropriately when life throws you a curve ball, by all means do it – if possible, call for help, fill out an incident report, or reschedule that meeting. Taking action can help us feel more in control, and ultimately moves us toward solving or resolving the problem.

When life hands you lemons, what will you do? 

But what about the times when there is nothing that can be done? These are harder circumstances to navigate because they require one to simply be in the moment and wait for the natural resolution of the situation. In these types of cases, do things to help you be patient and distract yourself. For example, we played a lot of cards while waiting for our next flight. However, one person we observed was still yelling at people after we had safely landed back home. When there isn’t an immediate solution to the problem and you must ride it out, you’ll feel a lot better if you find ways to soothe yourself rather than trying to blame others.

4.Practice compassion for yourself and others.

Be gentle with yourself and do things that feel good. Part of moving through difficult emotions is taking care of yourself, being gentle, and nurturing just as you would do with someone you care about. Maybe that means taking a walk, indulging in a piece of chocolate, or listening to calming music. Try not to lash out at others, and try to understand those who may not be handling the circumstances well. Being hard on yourself, thinking you should be dealing with things differently, or blaming yourself for the situation does not help – regain a sense of balance by calming down and giving yourself a break!


Life doesn’t always go according to plan. Given the staggering number of times in a day, week, month, or lifetime that we will have to deal with the unexpected, it is good to learn how to handle such moments. Hopefully these four ideas will help you handle whatever life brings you.

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Lana Dunn, MEd, RPsych
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute Inc.
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