Coping with Catastrophe


In the face of adversity, some give up, while others keep fighting. Here’s how you can belong to the second group.

Why is that some people dwell on failures and losses, while others seem blessed with the ability to brush adversity aside, pick themselves up, and move on? The difference between these character-types is ‘resilience’.

A resilient person isn’t exempt from grief or stress, but he or she may move through its stages — go from ‘denial’ to ‘acceptance’ faster, or deal with pressure better.

The good news is that experts believe there are things you can do to develop this quality, a trait that can sometimes prove life-saving.

The trick is to focus on adopting an optimistic approach (learn how to view a difficulty as a challenge, rather than letting it cripple you), establishing a purpose (an identifiable goal, a genuine reason to get up and keep going), and to develop confidence. It may seem like a tall order but experts believe it can be done. Here’s what they suggest.

When your finances are strained

Psychiatrist Dr. Shamsah Sonawalla explains that financial problems are the sort of challenge that everyone can expect to counter at one point or another in their lives. “In anticipation, it would be wise to build up your resilience, so when the inevitable occurs, you’re able to deal with it better,” says Sonawalla.

“Just being around loved ones, a pat on the back or a hug can lighten the mood, releasing oxytocin, a neurotransmitter that’s responsible for ‘feelgood’ emotions and which can make you ‘feel stronger’,” says Shamsah, highlighting that investing in family and friends is, therefore, a smart move for any businessperson. She also points out that one reason people crumble under financial pressure is that they’ve been ignoring all the small stressors they have been countering on a day-to-day basis, “and this may simply be the last straw. To keep this from happening, it’s important to be aware that your stress is mounting, and to take action to deal with it on a regular basis, whether that means distracting yourself with a hobby or talking to a friend or a counsellor. Don’t keep it all bottled up until you reach the breaking point.”

If you’re already facing a financial problem, Shamsah says, “If you can find a way to help someone else — in any small way, say by volunteering at an orphanage or an education program for the underprivileged — it would go a long way to enhance your basic happiness level.” She also recommends going back to the basics. “Connect with someone, so that you’re not alone in what you’re going through; ensure you’re sleeping enough, eat healthily, and exercise regularly. How you look after yourself will make a big difference to how well you manage stress or a major life event,” she says.

When your partner betrays you

A partner’s infidelity can make you feel angry, disturbed, and anxious, and psychotherapist Shalu Mehrotra believes this is perfectly fine. Mehrotra explains that these feelings are not responsible for the defeatist outlook that many develops in such a circumstance. Meditation and talking to a friend would, of course, help, Mehrotra says, but she has other advice too. “A lot of self-blame comes in — you start thinking perhaps the fault or shortcoming was yours, or you may experience humiliation, which is usually because of self-doubt,” says Mehrotra. She recommends countering this by reminding yourself that whatever your shortcomings may be, it doesn’t justify the betrayal, so you’re not responsible for it. “That will empower you, and make you feel stronger. Then, it becomes easier to take action, which could mean confronting your partner, taking a decision to separate, or you may decide to sort out things,” says Mehrotra. “Most importantly, understand that your relationship is just one part of your life — there are many other areas in which you may find a lot of happiness, whether it’s your career, your kids, or your social life.”

“View the situation objectively and then make a choice about your path ahead,” says Mehrotra, and she explains that this choice must be an informed one, a direction you have arrived at after weighing its emotional consequence carefully, not something you decided to do in the heat of the moment or because of societal of financial considerations.

When your health is affected

Self-awareness is the key to developing resilience, says psychologist Saloni Singh. With this, she says, one can arrive at acceptance, “and the next step is to find a solution for the problem,” she says. She believes that this affects a change in a person’s approach, “and instead of wallowing in self-pity, you start actively looking for what you can do now, given your resources. The aim is to become responsive rather than reactive to your emotions. When you feel angry or afraid, allow yourself to experience that emotion, acknowledge it, and then you can start thinking of what you can do to help yourself.”

Singh also reaffirms the need for strong connections and adds that ‘hope’ is a powerful source of strength. “By this, I don’t mean that you must keep looking for a cure, but that it’s vital to find something to look forward to. Setting a realistic goal for yourself or deciding to be a mentor to others, will give you that, and it will help you find a way back from the pain.”

When you suffer the loss of a loved one

Psychologist Nitika Gupta of Mpower–the Centre says that it’s important to start by understanding that people may be resilient to varying degrees. “The loss of a parent can send one to such depths of despair that he or she may not be able to work at all, while another may be able to accept this as a part of life,” says Gupta, explaining that while people may be inherently resilient, there are also ways in which one can inculcate this quality. Having realistic goals and succeeding in meeting those, for instance, boosts self-esteem, better equipping one to face adversity, says Gupta.

She explains that resilience can be built by working on exercises that involve self-gratitude and by focusing on your positive qualities. “You can stand in front of a mirror and tell yourself about the things that are positive about your life. It’s also beneficial to practice self gratitude, where you thank yourself for the things you have achieved” says Gupta.



  • Adopt a healthy diet, make sure you get enough sleep and exercise, and take the time to engage in activities that counter stress. Take care of your body and your mind will automatically be better equipped to cope with challenges
  • Take some time out of your day to practice yoga or meditation, or just to take a walk with a friend. Carving time out of your schedule to relax in this way can combat daily stress and leave you stronger
  • When you’re facing a difficult situation, try to shift your focus to the future — imagine that things will be better at a later stage, and try and paint yourself a picture of how the future looks. This should improve your perspective