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Dealing with life’s sudden challenges

Dealing with life’s sudden challenges

Life may pull you down, but building mental resilience will get you through the hard times
An illustration of a man peeling away a gloomy day to reveal a bright light
Representational image | Shutterstock

The popular animated musical-fantasy movie, Frozen, traces the story of the princess sisters, Elsa and Anna. While Elsa’s response to any kind of adversity is to run away and shut herself down, Anna’s response is to reach out and please people. These two reactions have been studied and researched by experts who have coined the phrase, flight or fawn, to explain that during stress, a person either flees from the situation or tries to please people to avoid conflict. Even though Elsa and Anna were sisters, they had very different lives, problems and coping mechanisms.

In real life too, each person is on a unique life journey. From the demise of a friend or family member, to being diagnosed with a life-threatening illness, each change influences individuals unexpectedly.

On dealing with loss

For 28-year-old Prachi Thomas from Kerala, her uncle was her go-to person. She had lost her parents when she was a baby and had become very close to her uncle. “My uncle was both a parent and a dear friend. He was there for me through thick and thin and today the person I am is because of him,” she says.

Six years ago, Thomas got the worst news she could have: her uncle had passed away. “I did not know how to process what I heard over the phone because he was just there in the morning and ready for the day. Suddenly he wasn’t there anymore,” she recalls.  Life was not easy for Thomas after that. She had to make herself strong and get on with her life, for the sake of her uncle.

She shares her story of how she dealt with the loss: “I continued doing things alone that was like a tradition for me and my uncle, like going to a movie every weekend. That’s how I dealt with it as I felt him closer to me then,” she says. Whenever she misses him, apart from going to the movies, she goes to the beach, where her uncle used to take her when she was a child.

Dr Lav Kaushik, consultant psychiatrist, Sarvodaya Hospital and Research Centre, Faridabad, shares a few insights on the grieving process:

  • Talk to someone, especially loved ones who value one’s feelings or who have undergone similar pain. This act will help give one emotional support when one is grieving. It will also help one feel that one is not alone.
  • Do not bottle up feelings; let the feelings out. Not letting it out will lead to other mental and physical health symptoms.
  • Do not live in seclusion; give time for things to settle at their own pace.

Dr Jaya Sukul, clinical psychologist, Sarvodaya Hospital and Research Centre in Faridabad, adds the following to the list:

  • Do not avoid or shut out the pain. Allow oneself to feel the pain.
  • Some individuals start drinking or using substances to cope with grief and get comfortable. This can become a habit or an
  • Try to engage oneself in community-based tasks, some form of social service, or things one likes. This will help distract one from the pain and help one believe in other aspects of life as well.

Mental and emotional strength and flexibility in dealing with financial losses

“I feel I deserved what I got. But what happened could not be undone. I have decided not to do it anytime soon,” says Dhani Afrid, a 21-year-old Bengaluru-based student. During the lockdown during the COVID-19 pandemic, he invested in futures trading and what happened after that was painful. “I knew futures trading was like gambling but I wanted to do it because I wanted to learn more about it,” says Afrid. He started with Rs. 10,000 and made a profit of Rs. 90,000. In the hope of making a better profit, he decided to invest the profit he made.

“There is an option in futures trading where we can predict the market. If our prediction is correct, we make a profit and if not we lose our money.” He decided to try that out. “Usually, I check the market very often whenever I invest, but that day I just fell asleep and by the next morning, the whole market had crashed, and I lost all my money.” Following the loss, he quit futures trading, he says.

“Financial loss is a part of grief,” says Dr Shilpi Saraswat, clinical psychologist, Sakra World Hospital, Bengaluru.

Dr Saraswat’s tips on coping with financial losses:

  • Do not take any impulsive action or try finding quick solutions.
  • Try accepting facts and reality.
  • Do not suppress your emotions. Be mindful and start taking professional help for your emotional rollercoaster journey.
  • Try to cut back on expenses for some time and re-evaluate one’s priorities.
  • Try not to criticise oneself and accept failure with the right attitude of learning with help from professionals and family .

Dealing with divorce

Shreya Dey, a 42-year-old production assistant based in Kolkata, got married at 25. She was in love, but it did not blind her to the abusive behaviour of her husband. “I thought our son would be the saving grace, but I could not tolerate my husband anymore and decided to leave him.” Although she had supportive friends and family, it was not easy for her. However, her son was her strength. “I went to court, and won custody after my divorce. Society did not exactly help, but I kept going forward, knowing that my son and I were at a much better place without him.”

She lists out a few tips on coping stemming from her own personal experience:

  • First, understand and recognise the abusive relationship and stop being manipulated and gaslighted. Start believing in oneself.
  • Focus on one’s emotions, be mindful of intuition, and believe in one’s feelings.
  • Set realistic goals; remain calm if possible; set emotional, conversational, and mental boundaries.
  • Make emotional and mental health a priority and stop compromising on both.
  • Take care of one’s own needs and stop expecting external validation

These stories reveal how people deal with adversity on their own terms. One can simply accept the situation, or cry one’s heart out when the emotional baggage gets one down. People often end up doing things that they are not proud of when anger and stress builds up. However, adopting the approach of ‘this too shall pass,’ is what builds mental resilience over time.

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