1. Take baby steps
Break down complex situations into smaller, more manageable tasks, says journalist Laurence Gonzales, who frequently finds himself having to cope with adverse situations. "How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time! The smaller the steps you take in a difficult situation, the better." By employing this simple strategy - like doing a practical task like housework in a stressful situation - you allay your anxiety, restore organised thinking and get your brain back on track to help plot your next move.
2. Deny denial
Gonzales says, "One of the first stages of grief and other forms of adversity is usually denial. We refuse to accept that bad things are happening to us." Sandy Miller, whose brother was arrested wrongly, says her immediate reaction was one of denial. "My first reaction was to keep it quiet and not tell anybody. As the case dragged on,I realised it would hit the press at some stage anyway," says Sandy. "Allowing others to know helped me to cope with the reality of the situation, and face the consequences rationally." The quicker you accept the reality, the better your chances of moving on.
3. Bounce back
The biggest lesson for life coach Jana Beutler Holland, after working in a juvenile court, was learning what makes people resilient. "Just as there are some children from great families who mess up, there are, too, many children who come from dysfunction and despair, who somehow make it, and somehow survive amazingly well - despite poverty, affliction, criminal families, lack of education, and a lack of social or moral values or role models." The answer, she discovered, lay chiefly in love, support and opportunity for growth. "Those who have an internal locus of control, a sense of purpose and support structures learn to be resilient and go with the punches," says Jana. Now is the time to draw on your internal strength.
4. Don't panic
"As a young child, I was thrown into a pool by one of my brother's older friends. Though I have been afraid of water all my life, the one memory that sticks with me from that experience is that I intuited that I would drown if I panicked," says Carl McDonald, now 70. Resisting panic is also the first lesson that survival course instructors teach. Trauma counsellor John Dokes explains: "Whether it's a natural disaster, civil unrest or something more minor, the bottom line is that panic can lead to death. In the pool situation, by remaining calm and relaxing your muscles, you can actually gradually bring your head above water. Once you are calm, you are much more likely to resolve the situation ina positive manner."
5. Surrender, but don't give up
Pessimistic though it may sound, imagining the worst possible outcome allows you to relax and accept it. "In a survival or terminal illness situation, many learn to accept that they may die. Once they do, they find a sense of peace about it," says psychologist Jana Lund. "They stop trying to control things they have no power over and focus on those actions they can take. It sounds almost contradictory, but by accepting your limitations, you diffuse the emotions that can work against you."
6. Be pro-active
When her uncle's left hand was amputated after being injured in an accident with a log splitter, inspirational writer Deanna Mascle learnt a valuable lesson, "It was devastating to those who love him and certainly no one would have blamed my uncle for becoming depressed and grieving." However, instead of choosing that path, says Mascle, her uncle focused on what he could do, rather than on what he couldn't. "And if he discovers something that he can't do one-handed then he puts his considerable problem-solving abilities to work on a solution. He isn't simply reacting to a tragic accident, but proactively seeking solutions."
7. Get support
There is no need to do it alone. Ask for help. While diet, health and scientific research may come up with interesting theories of longevity, one common factor amongst survivors of adversity tends to be their connection to other people, says Mascle, regardless of religion or ethnic background.
8. Ditch the past
In a nutshell, victimhood is caused by being a prisoner of your past, says Rohini Singh, author of The Only Way Out is Within (Hay House). "You feel betrayed and let down by circumstances, people, and perhaps life itself. Energetically, you're wounded and bleeding. Obviously, you'll feel joyless and drained. Burdened with it and expecting it to repeat itself, you'll allow the very people or circumstances ‘cheating' you to continue to repeatedly ‘abuse' you," she says. By giving up blaming and complaining, you take charge of your life, assume responsibility for your state of physical, mental, emotional and spiritual well-being and give up the burden of manipulating all the circumstances and situations you face, says Singh.
9. Be practical
When crisis strikes, everyday life seems inconsequential and insignificant in the face of the disaster, but it is often those little routine measures which keep the fabric of normality in place. For Joan Didion, author of A Year of Magical Thinking (Fourth Estate), in which she describes her reaction to the sudden loss of her husband, the solution was food. "When someone dies, I was taught growing up in California, you bake… You drop [the baked goods] by the house. You go to the funeral. If the family is Catholic you also go to the rosary, but you do not wait or keen or in any other way demand the attention of the family. I will not forget the instinctive wisdom of the friend who, every day for the first few weeks, brought me a quart container of scallion-and-ginger congee from Chinatown. Congee I could eat. Congee was all I could eat."
10. Laugh last
Using the example of a man ensnared by a bear trap, self-help writer Jon Glassett expounds the following theory: "The greatest weapon against adversity is laughter. No matter how serious the situation, you can - with time and proper training - wield laughter as you might a sword or chainsaw. Reach down into the depths of your bowels and muster a laugh so intense - so disturbingly hysterical - that immediately the situation takes on an entirely different tenor." In fact, adds Glassett, experts in this technique have managed to generate enough leverage using ‘crazy laugh' that bear traps will actually spring open and leg wounds will spontaneously heal.