I know all about tough times, because I’ve had my fair share: immigration, divorce, the death of my father under strange circumstances, cancer, an autoimmune disorder, burnout, job loss – in that order. But, I coped, healed and lived to tell the tale.
Crisis as a way of life
Crisis usually comes and goes, leaving us richer for an experience. But, for many, crisis is a way of life. I’ve known people who claim a state of crisis is when they actually feel most alive!
It’s true that being in the fight-or-flight mode may help us get out of trouble or make us perform better, but staying highly wired for prolonged periods of time adds the abnormal amount of cortisol, “the stress hormone” into our system. In small doses, cortisol is not a problem, but, for most people, the stress hormone is activated so often and for so long, that many become addicted to it.
I used to have a colleague who always seemed to be under a lot of stress, and when I once asked her why she didn’t do something about it, she replied that she was so used to it, that if she was not stressed, she felt depressed!
On the other hand, while some people are strengthened by adversity, others fall apart at the first sign of trouble. Why some people cope better than others is a complex question, but the bottom line is that it is our reaction to stress, and not the amount of stress, that makes the difference.
Crisis as a key to growth
A holistic approach to crisis is that it is a physical or a mental “shake-up”, and that the chaos that follows every crisis is nothing more than an opportunity for a “new order of things”.
However, turmoil and devastation that crisis can leave behind can be debilitating, long-lasting and even life-threatening.
After a divorce I cried non-stop for almost four months, blaming myself for everything. I was heartbroken and inconsolable.
Then, one day, for no apparent reason, I started looking at our married life from a different angle, and I started getting angry, very angry. I suddenly saw my husband for what he really was: a selfish, immature and self-centered freak who, although never physically aggressive, was a master of mental abuse. Strangely enough, it was only after I started feeling angry, that I started getting over it all.
In my case, the turmoil and misery I went through, and it spanned everything from self-blame and self-pity to fear and anxiety, resulted in a liberated and happy Me, although with a somewhat bruised ego.
Looking back, I’m glad I went through it all because sometimes it is only in a crisis that we have an opportunity to see things for what they really are. Also, tough times force us to find the strength to rebuild our lives, because a crisis is often a sink-or-swim situation.
Crisis is a survival strategy
Surviving a crisis is one thing, but getting your life back after having lived through a major trauma is quite another. It’s mainly about learning to trust others and love yourself again.
Here are 9 Tips For Surviving A Personal Crisis:
1. Acknowledge you are in a crisis.
Don’t pretend it’s not happening or that it will go away on its own.
2. Whatever you do, try not to panic.
Depending on what had triggered it, look at your options, as well as possible consequences of the new situation.
3. Never rush with life-changing decisions.
Take time to think things through. Turn the problems upside- down and inside-out. Sometimes all you need is a different perspective.
4. Take good care of yourself.
Although this is usually not easy at the time when your life is falling apart. A healthy diet will give you the stamina to persevere. Getting enough sleep will help you cope with the day ahead. Going on vacation may present an opportunity to see things from a different angle. Friends and family can be a tremendous help, don’t bottle up.
5. Set aside a lot of ME time.
We are all different, some people love discussing their problems even with strangers, but if this doesn’t work for you, don’t feel bad if you feel like isolating yourself for a while. I know that being on my own helped me focus to what was really important in my life at the moment.
6. Dealing with a personal crisis usually entails a lot of self-questioning.
Try and create a safe space, somewhere where you will feel safe and calm because a very important part of a crisis-survival strategy is facing your own demons.
If you don’t have a home of your own, at least make your room as comfortable and cozy as possible. Furnish it with fresh flowers, photographs, paintings or items which enhance your self-esteem and give you strength to carry on.
Unless you have a strong family support, you need to create an environment of support and reflection, where you will be able to relax, cry or wallow, but also become receptive to your inner voice. You’d be surprised how often the answer to a question that had been bugging us for a long time, comes in a dream or while sitting quietly in contemplation.
7. Devise a survival strategy.
I always find that preparing myself (at least mentally) for the worst case scenario, which rarely happens, by the way, helps me think things through and come up with ideas of what I would do if….
8. Use what you are going through to learn from the experience.
Ugly as things may look at first, it’s an opportunity for change. Rather than be afraid, embrace the opportunity to take a critical look at your life, one day you may even be grateful for the experience.
If it’s your own wrong decisions or actions that brought on the crisis. Don’t dwell on it for years, because too much self-analysis can lead to isolation and eventually depression.