If we skillfully approach various challenges and difficult situations and do the work on ourselves, they can become a springboard to a more conscious and fulfilling life.
The pandemic situation is very difficult for many people. Some people see the current crisis as an undeserved disaster and themselves as its helpless victims. Some call their feelings about it trauma.
In most cases, however, we can speak of a critical, crisis, or stressful experience rather than a traumatic one (with the exception of people who have been very seriously ill, or who have had someone close to them who was in a critical condition or who died as a result of COVID-19 infection).
Everyone, at some stage in life, will experience failure, setbacks, difficulties, and despair. We all face crises, although not everyone admits this. Since everyone goes through them, there is no need to be afraid of them, but they should be treated developmentally. In Chinese, the word “crisis” consists of two characters, one of which means “danger” and the other, “opportunity.”
Why not focus on the second part? It is up to us how we approach a difficult and uncomfortable situation: whether we let it crush us or try to change our way of thinking and, consequently, our actions.
Life’s difficulties teach us humility.
When we feel that we are losing control of something or that something is frustrating us, it is worth asking ourselves key questions:
- Who am I?
- What is important to me?
- What values are close to me?
For example, if we base our identity and well-being mainly on our job or material status, it will be hard for us when we lose a prestigious position. And here we come to something that is important but difficult to accept in today’s world: humility.
Very often, a crisis allows us to verify our status quo based on certain roles we play and identify with. It teaches us humility in the face of life. It allows us to look at our emotions instead of “sweeping them under the carpet”.
Because in order to recover from a crisis, we must first admit that we feel it. Do not deny it, but look at yourself with care and kindness. It’s worth letting yourself feel the emotions and expressing them out loud or even crying in a conversation with someone close who doesn’t judge or give advice but listens empathically. If we don’t have such a person, we can use the help of a specialist.
Whether we are currently dealing with a crisis (a threat to our status quo) or a trauma (life-threatening), the experience invites us to stop in our tracks. Difficult events can spur a life review. If we dare to look at them and work through them, we have a chance to come out of the crisis stronger.
The hero or the victim-we choose our own role.
There are many situations in life that we perceive as difficult or uncomfortable. Someone has treated us badly. We have experienced some disappointment, loss, or failure. Current, globally difficult circumstances for many people arouse anger, sadness, frustration, and often also cause a sense of guilt and lower self-esteem.
Not everyone, however. Some people cope with the situation quite well. They see it as a life lesson to be learned and see it as an incentive to do things differently.
These are proactive people who feel they are the masters of their own destiny and want to have an impact on what happens to them. However, many people approach the same situation in a different way.
They feel like helpless victims with no say in their lives, and their reactions are passive or reactive. Their attitude is referred to as “learned helplessness.” (1) This term was popularized in psychology in the 1970s. Martin Seligman, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania,
Name what you are feeling.
A Crisis Situation: If our life has broken down as a result of some event and we cannot cope with it, we speak of a crisis situation. If it is prolonged and we feel completely broken and helpless, it is a state of crisis.
Stressful situations occur when we cannot cope with a serious difficulty alone.
Trauma: This word is overused to describe a crisis or stressful situation. Trauma is defined as being confronted with an immediate threat to one’s own or a loved one’s life, or possibly being a witness to such a situation (e.g., fatal accident, murder, rape).
Some consolation may be that a crisis is a communal experience. Trauma causes extreme nervous system stimulation and traumatic stress that is worth working through in therapy.
The mindset of people with learned helplessness is dominated by the belief that everything happens to them without their personal influence. They see themselves as dependent on others, often have low self-esteem, compare themselves with others, and make judgments.
At the slightest difficulty, they give up, stop acting because “it won’t help anyway”. What fundamentally differentiates proactive people from reactive and passive people is their mindset.
In the process of self-development and especially in recovering from crisis situations, “mind hygiene” is extremely important. Our thoughts about ourselves and the world have a key impact on our lives. It is important how I perceive myself, whether I separate facts from “interpretations,” which are filters we put on events based on past experiences.
How to get out of the trap of your own thoughts
The breakthrough that can help us break the deadlock in a difficult situation is to accept it: “I have no control over what happened, but I do have control over what I do about it. If I blame others or myself for the circumstances that have arisen, it is difficult to move forward.
Acknowledging what it is, even when it is uncomfortable, and taking action for the future is the first step to bouncing back from the crisis like a springboard. It is very important to be gentle with yourself in this situation.
Let’s give ourselves permission to feel and experience emotions such as sadness, frustration, anger, and rage. Let’s observe what is going on inside of us without suppressing anything. Let’s open ourselves up to these emotions and let them flow through us.
No matter how uncomfortable, unpleasant, or painful they are at the moment, remember that they will eventually pass. During such a release process, let us breathe deeply and slowly. If you’ve been in a crisis situation before and managed to get out of it, you will probably be able to handle it on your own when the next challenge arises.
Self-awareness, our way of thinking about a crisis (drama or challenge), our way of thinking about ourselves (victim or hero), and how we function in life are fundamental. If we notice that we cannot cope with difficulties, that the situation is beyond us, or that it evokes too many emotions that we often use stimulants to soothe, it is already a signal that it is worth using the help of a specialist.
When we are aware of what is happening to us, we have resources (skills, experience, support in ourselves) and we want to go through the crisis situation more consciously, it is worth turning to a coach.
On the other hand, when we feel powerless and don’t know what’s wrong and how to deal with it, we should see a psychologist or a therapist. It is very important to take care of your mental well-being. We often forget about it. Let’s develop love, kindness, and gratitude in ourselves every day. This supports our psyche.
It is also worth devoting time and attention to self-analysis in order to know ourselves better, to know what serves us and what weakens us. Just as no doctor can make us healthy, the best psychologist or coach cannot make us feel good. It is our responsibility.
You can use this method whenever you start to feel the first signs of anxiety.
S-Stop Stop. Stop what you are doing, thinking, or saying for a moment. This in itself takes you out of the rut that leads to unpleasant feelings and sensations.
T-Take a Breath. Take a few calm breaths. Deep breathing signals the parasympathetic nervous system to calm the body and change the state of mind.
O-Observe. Look at the situation like a movie (from the perspective of an observer, not a participant). Pay attention to what is happening outside and inside of you. Maintaining enough distance will help you free yourself from distortions (your interpretations), and thus you will look at the situation more objectively.
P-Proceed. By being aware of how the situation actually is, you can choose your reaction and decide on appropriate solutions and behaviors.
Four levels of involvement
This exercise is for use when you are facing a major life change or a difficult moment. Its author, Alan Seale (2), describes four levels of our engagement (attention), or how we function in the face of challenges.
1. Drama level: this is action and reaction without deep thought. The questions you may be asking yourself are: why me?, why did this happen to me?, whose fault is it? You hold yourself accountable, you accuse, you react emotionally.
By being present at the level of the drama, you put yourself in the role of the victim. You live with the feeling that not much depends on you, that “they” are to blame for what happens.
2. Situation Level. You direct your attention to the facts and try to find solutions to problems as quickly as possible. Typical questions are: how do I get rid of the problem as quickly as possible, and what is still to be done?
You don’t delve into the cause of where the situation came from or what it might mean. You try to change it as quickly as possible. The risk is that by not getting into the root of the problem, you cause the situation to possibly happen again. And this is what often happens.
3. Level of choice. Here, instead of talking about the quickest possible solution, you think about your reaction to what is happening. What approach do I choose to take to what it is? What is it inviting me to be? What is my role now? What is the way I choose to engage with myself? This feeling often relieves a lot of stress and gives a life of greater psychological comfort despite the difficulties we encounter.
4. Opportunity Level. The deepest level and giving the most valuable information. This is where the most important changes take place. The questions that arise here are: what does this situation inform me about? What does one want to be revealed here? What new possibility does this bring?
Talking at this level (with yourself or with others), you will see that problems do not appear without reason. Something more important wants to reveal itself through this situation.
There is a correlation between the level of drama and opportunity. The greater the drama (problem), the greater the opportunity to realize something significant. This is an invitation to discover the core (the level of possibility and choice) and to use one’s potential to the fullest.