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Dealing with difficult experiences

HOW DO people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events. These are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.

india Updated: May 02, 2006 22:29 IST
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HOW DO people deal with difficult events that change their lives? The death of a loved one, loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events. These are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty.

Yet people generally adapt well over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions. What enables them to do so? It involves resilience, an ongoing process that requires time and effort and engages people in taking a number of steps.

Resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or even significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. It means ‘bouncing back’ from difficult experiences.

Being resilient does not mean that a person does not experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. In fact, the road to resilience is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.

Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts, and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone.

Learn from your past
FOCUSING ON past experiences and sources of personal strength can help you learn about what strategies for building resilience might work for you. By exploring answers to the following questions about yourself and your reactions to challenging life events, you may discover how you can respond effectively to difficult situations in your life.

Consider the following:
1 What kinds of events have been most stressful for me?

2 How have those events typically affected me?

3 Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?

4 To whom have I reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?

5 What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?

6 Has it been helpful for me to assist someone else going through a similar experience?

7 Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how?

8 What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future

Strategies for bouncing back
DEVELOPING RESILIENCE is a personal journey. People do not all react the same to traumatic and stressful life events. An approach to building resilience that works for one person might not work for another. People use varying strategies.

1 Make connections—- Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in religious groups, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

2 Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems—- You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

3 Accept that change is a part of living—- Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

4 Move toward your goals—- Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, f, ‘What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?’

5 Take decisive actions—- Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

6 Look for opportunities for self-discovery—- People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality, and heightened appreciation for life.

7 Nurture a positive view of yourself—- Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

8 Maintain a hopeful outlook —-An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

9 Take care of yourself—- Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

(The author is a psychologist and a professor of psychology at BSSS. He can be contacted at drvinaymishra@rediffmail.com)

First Published: May 02, 2006 22:29 IST