Coping With Adversity
When Stuff Happens
What do you do when things go wrong – apart from indulge an exasperated tirade? Venting your frustration always feels good but it is an immediate gratification approach to getting through difficult times. At some point we have to take a deep breath, bring ourselves back to a rational place and make some decisions. What steps do we take to start moving forward? After a string of happenings, ranging from irritating all the way to calamitous, I started to think about this.
Dark Clouds and Days of Sunshine
Stop And Take A Breath
Take five minutes to compose yourself. Insurance companies won’t mind if you find yourself crying down the phone to them but afterwards you’ll wish you hadn’t given the impression you’re a pathetic, helpless mess – even if it is to a complete stranger.
Transferring your anger at an inanimate object to an innocent call centre operative doesn’t make you feel great either. Ever since one of my children did a stint in a call centre during their break from university, where the deal seemed to be that you got shouted at for a living, I’ve made an effort to take a measured approach to these calls.
Ways Of Saying It
- ‘S**t Happens’: in Forrest Gump and also recorded by Connie Eble, in UNC–CH Slang 1983, (cited by The New Yorker (2006)
- Así es la vida
- c’est la vie
- Murphy’s Law (attributed to a mountaineering book written in 1952)
- "Stuff happens, don't it? Stuff happens." (Vic and Sade Radio Show, 1941)
- SNAFU: military slang for situation normal: all f*****d up
- The laws of infernal dynamics - Attributed to author David Gerrold
A Little Help From Your Friends
Find someone who can help you think through the options before rushing into anything. There will be courses of action that you dismiss initially and factors you haven’t thought of. If the consequences are significant or costly it’s worth taking time to piece together a 360 degree picture of where you are with some a bit less emotionally involved in the situation.
Most people have a friend or relative that suited to this that would immediately spring to mind. Obviously avoid those that bring their own special brand of fatalistic pessimism to any situation or the ‘chillax’ merchants who, you can only assume, haven’t quite grasped the implications.
Don't Struggle On Your Own
Deal With One Thing At A Time
So you’ve made a decision and you know the best thing to do but the enormity of the task has left you feeling slightly overwhelmed and a little bit paralysed. Break an onerous task down into chunks and deal with one part before moving on to another.
If you’re like me you’ll put all the separate elements into a to-do list and tick it off as you go through it, bringing a sense of subduing the disordered world around you and restoring inner peace (sounds crazy but worth trying if you’re not a natural list person).
The old saying about ‘How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time’ illustrates this perfectly but you might want to use a less disturbing image (large chocolate cake works for me!).
The Change Curve - A Worked Example
- SHOCK: A moment's inattention results in a car accident on the way to work. Comes home again and tearfully explains all to the insurance company.
- DENIAL: Goes to work arriving late but pretending nothing major has happened, drives the car around for the next week.
- ANGER/FRUSTRATION: The Assessor says that the car is a write-off and a tow-truck will arrive the next day to take it away. Our hero furiously disputes this and is even more outraged by the sum they are offering in return.
- DEPRESSION: Spends a couple of days berating herself for doing such a stupid thing in the first place, considers taking up a hermit life and thus avoiding motor vehicles in future.
- EXPERIMENTATIONn: Facilitated by a more rational person, a number of reasonably priced cars are taken for a test drive.
- DECISION: Buys another car, the same as the old one but blue.
- INTEGRATION: Didn’t take up a hermit life but tried to learn the lessons that led to the accident in the first place, i.e. being in too much of a rush.
One Day We'll Laugh About This
To paraphrase George Harrison, remember all things pass. When we look back at our lives we can often find humour in what, at the time, were the most desperate circumstances and this an indication of our innate resilience. A quick audit of our lives will also remind us of previous trials and tribulations we have overcome.
Spirit restored, project yourself into the future and imagine it all worked out and you’re looking back. What is the outcome in your future vision and what steps did you take to get here? This visualisation will help inspire you and also fine tune your plan.
Work Through The Process
Finally the Kublar Ross curve describes how we assimilate and adapt to change. In coming to terms with something we often go through distinct stages of shock, denial, anger and depression before finding a way forward. This applies to small stuff as well as major life events and can explain seemingly irrational responses to mundane challenges. So remember you are in a process that won't last for ever and you will have learnt a little about yourself.