Coping with adversity
Jack opens up the mail and finds a letter from the IRS. His heart races as he reads that they are planning to do a full audit on his taxes for the last five years! Mary picks up the phone and learns that her Mom just had a heart attack. Sarah has an unexpected bad review from her boss. Phil is playing a great tennis game and breaks his ankle going after a ball.
Spring can turn to winter in a heartbeat.
Adversity, big or small, is a periodic unwelcome visitor to your home. Everything is going smoothly, and then there is a knock on the door, a telephone call, a text, or a certified letter and your peace is gone! It is replaced by dread, fear, and anxiety.
How do you feel when adversity strikes?
Angry. We all craft the illusion of control and predictability. When we receive the letter from the IRS, we are angry. How did this happen? How could this happen to me! I thought I did everything right!
Anxious. When Mary picks up the phone and hears about her mother’s heart attack, she experiences a wave of panic spread through her body. Will she live? What if she dies? The future becomes uncertain. We feel like the rug is pulled out from under us. We are shaken.
Worried. After the initial wave of fear, many folks find themselves “ruminating” about what may happen down the road. Our minds intermittingly concoct “worst case” scenarios that keep popping up—often in the middle of the night! We rehearse what we might say or do. And, the worst part, we can’t stop thinking about these nasty possibilities! Every time we do, our body reacts. It stinks.
Self-pity. I don’t know about you, but I can have intense moments of feeling sorry for myself. Fortunately, they pass. A friend of mine says—“Make a visit to pity-city, but don’t move there!” Feeling sad for yourself is a natural response to adversity. We are like dogs licking our wounds. It is a form of self-care.
What can we do when adversity rears its ugly head?
Accept and acknowledge all of your feelings. Depending on the nature of the bad news, your mental train may stop at all of the above stations, either briefly or for a longer visit. Notice what you are feeling, note it, and let it be. The more you try to push these thoughts away, the more they will come back and haunt you! This is easier said than done.
Share your experience. Talk to a friend, family member, or partner about your feelings. Don’t keep it to yourself. If you keep your fears in the closet, they will fester. When they are expressed, they breathe in the fresh air. In that light of day, everything looks better.
Develop healthy habits when life is good. The time to start an exercise habit, meditation or prayer practice, and healthy eating is when all is well. Then, when you really need skills and tools to ease distress, they are already well established. It is very difficult to start one of these healthy habits when the going gets tough.
Explore your worst-case scenario. So, what would you do if you owed the IRS a large amount of money? What would happen if you did lose your job? What if your mom did pass away? What if you couldn’t play tennis again? It’s helpful, although counter-intuitive, to consider these possibilities. Yet, when you do, and face your fears, you realize that you would survive. And, that you have the resources to cope with adversity.
Life is change. When you are going through a hard time, one looks at everything through a microscope—small things look very large. But when you look back, years later, we use a telescope. The small events disappear and we only see what is large. Keep this perspective when adversity appears.
What helps you cope with adversity?