Bounce back

Testing times often call for nerves of steel and only those who can get into the flow again survive, writes Maullika Sharma

health

Adversity has a nasty way of striking us like lightening, a thunder bolt out of the blue when we least expect it. Difficult. Life-changing. Terrifying. Like the sudden death of a child, partner or parent. Like the diagnosis of a serious life-changing or terminal illness or the sudden loss of home, a livelihood or a relationship.

Sheryl Sandberg, the COO of Facebook, has talked at length, in her book Option B, about adversity that confronted her when her husband died suddenly. There will be many other examples each one of us can think of, amongst the ordinary men and women in our lives who were suddenly faced with adversity. Some handle adversity in an exemplary way, taking up causes to counter the very adversity that derailed their life. Some go on to pursue their passions and completely immerse themselves in them.

Some flourish in their careers, trying to move beyond the adversity that confronted them. And, some seem to get stuck, or a more appropriate word may be lost, in the gravity of their circumstances.

The question then really is, what is the difference between those who can get into the flow again and those who struggle to; between those who persevere to move forward beyond the impact of the adversity and those who surrender to its impact.

Adversity of any kind results in feelings of grief due to the loss of something significant. This feeling of grief must be addressed and dealt with in order to be able to move on. The worst thing we can do is to brush it under the carpet or feel inadequate and ‘not good enough’ because we are experiencing them.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, a Swiss-American psychiatrist, was the first to suggest the five stages of grief. She talked specifically about loss due to death of a loved one, but the stages of grief are equally applicable to the other kinds of losses as well. The five stages are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally, acceptance. These phases are not sequential and may happen in any order, often overlapping as well. But the phases will happen. And the more we can accept, understand, and learn to befriend them, the easier it will be for us to move on.

When adversity hits, it is quite like a river (of life) flowing, suddenly falling off a cliff (of adversity), resulting in a whirlpool (of emotions), till life starts flowing again with the force of the water moving it forward. There is a point of time, when it seems that everything is stuck in the whirlpool of the current adversity and nothing else is important any longer. The grief of the loss does not ever completely go away, nor may it ever become inconsequential, but life can start flowing again…if we allow it to.

Experiencing adversity sometimes becomes an excuse for people not to take charge of their lives. However, we all face adversity in some way. What makes one individual succeed and another not, is how they handle adversity.

Many of us allow challenges to defeat us. What we should really focus on instead is developing into stronger and wiser individuals because of the challenges. Adversity does not need to be a brake, stopping us in our path. It could very well be the accelerator, propelling us forward towards our goal of discovering and building our strength. Whether we are going to allow it to become a brake or an accelerator is really a choice only we can make.

So, if it is choice that we make, then how do we know we are making the right choices to move forward. How do we make ourselves more resilient to be able get on with life? There seems to be a broad framework, or should I say recipe, that seems to work in making us more resilient in the face of adversity:

Pay attention to your feelings

Label your feelings and talk about them. Let the adversity not be the elephant in the room that no one talks about. Talking strengthens bonds and relationships. Tend and befriend feelings (even the uncomfortable ones) and relationships. Ask for help. Reach out to family and friends. Don’t isolate yourself and brace yourself. There is a power in expressing your vulnerability that connects people and builds a safety net of support. In the words of Viktor Frankl, in his book Man’s Search for Meaning, “But there was no need to be ashamed of tears, for tears bore witness that a man had the greatest of courage, the courage to suffer.”

Know your strengths

Exercise self-compassion. Be self-confident. Know that your worth is not tied to your actions. Allow others to care for you. Take care of yourself. Don’t let self-doubt and self-blame sabotage your life’s journey. When you struggle in one area, you sometimes stop believing in your capabilities in other areas as well. Catch yourself before getting sucked into this vortex.

Focus on what you can control

There will always be life, people and circumstances that you cannot control. Focus only on what you can control, and that really is only yourself – your thoughts and behaviours, how you interpret what is happening, and how much you allow it to affect you. Viktor Frankl said, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” Focus on small wins in the beginning. Don’t aim for perfection. Take baby steps to regain your emotional and physical strength.

Develop an attitude of gratitude

Develop a habit of not only counting your blessings, but also counting your contributions, on a daily basis. This builds your confidence in yourself. Don’t necessarily believe in yourself all the time if that is too hard. Just believe you can contribute a little bit, and then a little bit more each day. Remember that things could always be worse, and that bad times, like good times, always, eventually, come to an end.

Find joy in little things

Seize moments, create moments. Don’t feel guilty about feeling joy going forward. Don’t feel guilty about laughing, or going out, or meeting friends, or doing something for yourself. Even if it seems misplaced at first, allow yourself to laugh and smile without guilt. 

Believe in post-traumatic growth

This makes you find personal strength, gain appreciation for what you have, form deeper relationships with those who stayed in your life during your time of adversity, discover new meaning in life and see more possibilities. You are much stronger than you could ever have imagined. 

As Viktor Frankl said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms — to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

(The author is a counsellor)

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