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Coping with Life: Adjusting sails in storms

I woke up to the soothing pitter-patter of raindrops last week. Trees were swaying in an exhilarating dance on the music of rustling winds. With a mug of coffee, I sat on the balcony to witness the play of nature. The whiff of petrichor blended with the coffee aroma. How just a day ago, I was annoyed and huffing and puffing on life’s little inconveniences and the next day, it all seemed so inconsequential. The thunderstorm and rain sounds and visuals always work like therapy for me. It is a magic potion for my writer’s block as well.

"Your roots should be connected to the soil for the blue sky to lush you green", I penned down.

Nature works for me, but I cannot summon the perfect weather every time; it comes with its own fury–just like life.

I am a writer with Inspire the Mind and other magazines and also an HR professional. Dealing with workplace conflicts and grievances closely over the years, I have seen how a similar work-related issue would yield opposite responses from different individuals; both in terms of reactions and coping mechanisms. For example, deadlines bring out different personalities and the different tones of voice determine the outcomes for the same situation.

What does it take to cope with life?

Coping Mechanisms

Stressors are either internal–fears, insecurities, negative self-talk, striving unrealistic expectations– and more such thoughts and emotions that stem from within us, or external, the situations that we have no control over–loss of a loved one, financial adversity, illness, accident and more.

Our coping skills mainly fall under these categories: Problem-focused, emotion-focused, meaning-focused, support-focused, or a combination of these depending on the situation at hand. One situation might require leaving unhealthy situations and setting boundaries (problem-focused), another situation might be unchangeable and might require channelling your energies into something calming like journaling that would make you resilient to stress over time(emotion-focused). People discover value and experiences in seemingly bad phases of their life (meaning-focused) and sometimes we may seek support from our friends and communities (support-based).

Coping strategies can be healthy or unhealthy and we all understand the damaging ones yet we often fall for them for short-term relief. Retail therapy, overeating, undereating, alcohol-binging, venting, and defensiveness, are a few unhealthy coping tools. These are avoidant-style mechanisms because another activity takes centre stage to avoid dealing with the stressful situation, which gives us the illusion of comfort for a short time at a bigger risk of spiralling down a long winding path.

With any stressful event, adrenaline and cortisol hormones are released. They increase our heart rate, blood pressure, and even glucose level in our bloodstream. The body prepares itself for the fight-or-flight physiological response to stress. There is a third response: freezing. When our brain cannot comprehend to choose either fight or flight, it ‘plays dead’, in hopes that the predator would wander off on its own.

Stress manifests physically in our bodies as headaches, insomnia, irritability, or cognitively as issues with focusing, memory and more. Long-term stress can impact our physical as well as mental health and should be taken seriously.

How do we cope with life’s constant stress-inducing nature?

Talk it out

It’s not just a saying, science agrees that verbalizing our feelings eases the stress load on our hearts. Our overflowing dam of emotions finds a release and we are able to function and think with more clarity. You can also keep a journal to pen down your feelings. Word of caution, talk to only trusted and close people. Not everyone deserves your innermost feelings. If there are a lot of pent-up emotions that need non-judgmental space, counselling and support groups could help. Talk therapy helps develop the tools to deal with your present as well as future stuff. It is proven that psychotherapy acts on specific brain regions, changing your brain for good.

Mind sky

Some days can be cloudless, beautifully blue, while others might be sparsely filled with white floating clouds or at times covered with dark grey clouds. The same is with our minds and thoughts. Our mind might feel completely chock-a-block with grey gloomy thoughts some days. On other days, it might be at ease with a few drifting silvery thoughts. There would be bright sunny days too with no forecast of clouds. The sky would still remain the sky. The obstructions; the elements on top of it are temporary but they sure make the experience versatile. The acceptance of one’s mind as an everchanging sky can bring a lot of peace on stormy days.

Respond not react

This golden rule is one of my life mantras. Paraphrasing Rumi, if you keep reacting to each rub-off, you won’t ever be polished. Reacting is impulsive; responsiveness is thoughtful. This pause makes a huge difference in not only tackling the situation well but also doing wonders for one’s peace of mind.

It comes with practice. No matter how much we try to dodge it, hostility will often meet us on any life path we take. Learn to disengage it. I do not give any fodder to people or situations that try to belittle me. I tell myself how they are fighting their own inner demons and right now, the only answer is to walk away and let them be. Of course, it takes a lot of deep breaths to do that. But it works!

Trust the process

Do you see how a 4-year-old kid might be panicking about how their soft toy is going in circles inside the washing machine but you are aware that it’s good for both the toy and the kid? You were once that kid who couldn’t see from the larger perspective. It all turned out to be well. The turmoil of life is nothing but a cleansing ritual of the universe. You will get through it. Gently hold the hand of your inner child and tell them that no matter how big the trouble-monster looks, it’s just a play mask.

Life’s Toolkit

Older adults report lower stress compared to younger adults concerning emotional regulation ability and problem-solving because older adults have had more time to develop coping skills and resilience. The young ones have more resilience related to social support. Life provides a toolkit to all of us- no matter what stage of age or experience we are in. It is up to us to hone our skills with it.

One adjusts the sail before the storm and not in the midst of it. Coping is a life-long learning process. Not every strategy or coping mechanism would work for everyone. Find out what works for you. Your mind will get trained gradually.

Humour can work for some, aromatherapy would work for others. Progressive muscle relaxation might work with anxiety, therapy would work for traumas.

Life is going to tumble us dry or drown us in a pool of overwhelmingness. Our life jacket of mind control will let us survive; until it’s time to wear another body suit for another journey. Or paradise. Whatever we might want to believe. But for the time we are here in this lifetime, let's be grateful for all the adventure life is going to throw us into. We signed up for that.

May we realize the inner strengths we carry within!


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