All of us, no matter how blessed and lucky we may be, have experienced trauma, loss, and adversity—or we will. The death of someone we love, the end of a marriage, a frightening illness, financial insecurity. How we cope with a crisis, however, determines whether we become overwhelmed, depressed, or ill—or if we emerge stronger, with greater confidence and wisdom. Yes, that can happen.
Everybody has different ways of dealing with stress. What's Your Coping Style?
Imagine a sturdy, flexible tree in a windstorm. Buffeted by gale-force winds, it bends but doesn't break. Its strong roots keep it firmly anchored to the earth. After the storm, it returns to its prior state and continues to thrive.
Just like that tree, you can cultivate the emotional flexibility needed to weather any crisis by following these six steps.
|Acknowledge your feelings|
Don't beat yourself up or try to jolly yourself out of it: Losing something you cherish hurts, period. Whether it's your home, your marriage, your job, or a loved one, it's healthy and natural to suffer.
If you lose your livelihood, you will invariably have fears about your financial security. If you lose trust in someone you counted on, it's logical to feel anger. Stifling your emotions is counterproductive; it saps your energy, can leave you tense and depressed, and impairs your ability to heal.
To heal from trauma, you must allow yourself to accept, experience, and express your emotions. Once you do, you can begin to mobilize your energy and redirect it toward what's important to you. Here's how:
Air your feelings, even if only to yourself. For instance, say "I want to run him over with a truck!" This allows you to observe and give shape to your own emotions.
Confide in someone. Don't isolate yourself. This doesn't mean you should pour your heart out to everyone who casually asks how you're doing, but do let your hair down with the people who have a genuine interest in your well-being.
Start a journal or a blog. Studies show that writing about a traumatic event is another way of letting it out that can help minimize the chances of getting sick or becoming depressed. (See how some women use it to help them cope with divorce.) The more you write about the situation, the more your negative emotional responses to the memory diminish. Acknowledging and expressing your anger, sadness, or fear through writing allows you to release the emotion.
Are you depressed—or just bummed out? Take this quiz to find out.
|Erase all blame|
How could this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? When you experience a loss, injury, or infidelity, it's normal to ask yourself these questions. How you answer them figures powerfully in whether you bounce back quickly or stay paralyzed in trauma's grip.
It's natural to assign blame: It was the other driver's fault... The doctor botched my surgery... The new boss never gave me a fair chance... Blaming is an attempt to make someone pay for your pain. In a court of law, finding blame may lead to a financial settlement in your favor. In your emotional life, however, assigning blame usually results in a lingering grudge that just prolongs misery.
These suggestions will help you forgive others—or yourself—for the part they may have played in your unhappiness, so you can move forward with your life:
Forgive. Let go of toxic resentment and judgment—but acknowledge that you don't condone the actions of the person who hurt you.
Don't feel like a doormat. You can forgive someone but also take steps to prevent that person from taking advantage of you in the future, or to prevent leaving yourself vulnerable in a similar situation.
Decide: Is it serving you to hold on to anger? Does resentment toward your spouse (or ex) really help you in any way?
Do your emotional homework. What changes have you made to prevent a recurrence of what took place? What have you learned about yourself that will help you in future situations?
Most important, forgive yourself. If you notice self-criticism seeping in, take a moment to breathe, then acknowledge that you made a mistake and that you are fallible, just like everyone else. Try telling yourself, Even though I did [whatever the mistake was], I still accept myself.
Happiness is habitual: Try out these 5 Habits Of Happy Women.
|Draw a circle of support|
Numerous studies have demonstrated the power of social support to help people get through crises and maintain health. One of the earliest and most fascinating studies, conducted by Dr. Stewart Wolf, a researcher at the University of Oklahoma and a pioneer in the study of mind-body medicine, took place in small-town Roseto, PA, where residents had much lower rates of heart disease, alcoholism, drug addiction, and suicide than neighbors in nearby towns. They ate no better, smoked no less, and exercised no more than the others—but their social connections were stronger. They knew one another; when anyone needed help, the community provided it.
Researchers predicted that if Roseto's tight social structure ever changed, the longevity of its citizens would be negatively affected. And indeed, a follow-up 14 years later revealed that as people moved out of the town center and experienced economic growth, social distance increased, as did rates of heart disease and mortality. The residents of Roseto had become just like other Americans.
Here's how you can locate the help you need:
Find your tribe. Most hospitals and some community centers and health clinics host various support groups. Gathering with others who are struggling with similar issues can be a tremendous source of support.
If you can't find the right group, create one. Go online, talk to friends, and set up regular meetings (either virtual or in person) to stay in touch and help each other.
Let people help. Good friends can cook meals, babysit, or run errands for you.
|Look for ways to find meaning|
When faced with a crisis, resilient people ask the forward-thinking question "What now?" They look within for answers to put their lives back together, and in doing so open themselves up to the possibility of living a richer, more meaningful life.
There are a number of ways you can use adversity to add purpose:
Get to the heart of the matter. People who have endured a crisis and use the setback to further a cause—such as a mother who works tirelessly to raise funds for the illness that took her child—find that this newfound direction and energy can add dimension to their lives.
Reorder your priorities. Ask yourself: How do you plan to spend your time differently now? Who are the people you want to spend time with? Are there new ways you can use your strengths in the service of what's important to you now?
Think about what you would do if you had only a year to live. Write down what you'd want to do, what conversations you'd want to have, the person you'd want to be. Read it over and consider the steps you can take to achieve those goals.
|Believe that you can bounce back|
One of the most crucial aspects of resilience is faith in your own ability to cope. This doesn't mean you'll always triumph over whatever problem you face. Even if you have the practical skills to manage the issue at hand, if you don't believe in your own emotional flexibility, you'll falter.
Here's how to foster that unique quality within yourself:
Get moving. Regular physical exercise, especially exercise that you truly enjoy, boosts both your energy and your mood, and it reinforces your power to take charge of your own health and well-being. (Too busy for exercise? Here are 25 easy ways to sneak in more activity.)
Step out of your comfort zone. Learn a new language or computer program, or start a new project at home or at work. By embracing the unfamiliar, you'll strengthen your capacity to handle all sorts of new situations. The more you challenge yourself in different ways, the more resilient you will become.
Clear the weeds that are choking your optimism. When you notice yourself thinking pessimistic or cynical thoughts, take a moment to step back and reevalu-ate. See if you can look at the situation from a different perspective—one that is kinder to you and allows for a more constructive way of handling the difficulty.
Check out these 20 Mind-Body Treatments That Actually Work.
|Connect with your spiritual side|
A sacred connection is a powerful coping method. People who are religious or spiritual stay healthier and report higher levels of well-being than those who aren't. There are many ways to develop this side of yourself:
Find the spiritual in nature. Gaze at a vast, star-filled sky, spend time with your pet, or just be present in the moment.
Create a sacred space in your home. Display pictures and objects that link you with your inner self. Listen to music that motivates you to think of the world and your unique place in it.
Join a prayer or study group at your house of worship. lmmerse yourself in inspiring spiritual or religious books. It's a wonderful way to peacefully start or end your day.