Control that crisis

Life transitions”, “life crisis”, “opportunity for change” – these are all different terms for the same phenomenon, and depending on the one we use, the approach to the issue varies greatly. In this short article, I invite the reader to get acquainted with these various views on the subject and I propose some options for coping and gaining control over life crisis.

 

Have you ever felt, when going through hardship, that it would be great to just fast forward in time and see how the current life situation will affect you in the long run? In five or 10 years will the present crisis seem insignificant? Or even better, will we feel empowered in the long run and able to deal with the challenge? Can we see ourselves as integrating our adverse experience into our self-concept and personal narrative? All this would be really beneficial to know in advance. Unfortunately, when we are actually involved in the tough situation, our perspective is often narrowed down to only seeing the obstacle and feeling in despair and hopeless.

What are “life transitions” and how do they affect us?

There are a number of situations that belong to this concept: a change of school or workplace, graduation, marriage or divorce, the birth of a child or when they leave home, moving to another city / country or moving back home. Usually, we differentiate between normative crisis (e.g. puberty, starting college, becoming a parent, retirement, etc.) and major life crisis. The latter is sudden, unexpected and irregular, such as a car accident, the death of a loved one, or a severe illness. Occasionally a normative life crisis can cause upheaval to the extent that it becomes a major life crisis.

Generally speaking, life transitions involve a discontinuity with previous life events and – in accordance with this – call for letting go and adapting to something new. In some cases we ease through the changes without hardly noticing, but more commonly they cause a disruption in our equilibrium and getting back on track may pose a greater challenge. Coping with the situation depends on a number of factors: the magnitude and the impact of the event; on personality traits such as flexibility, optimism and problem-orientation; and on social circumstances and previous experiences with transition and adversity.

 

Understanding the effect these have on our self-concept and on our perception of the world is essential: Adapting to a new situation goes along with experiencing something unfamiliar about ourselves and having to integrate the unknown into the existing. As we know, familiarity gives confidence, whereas novelty is often linked to fear and thus results in inner turmoil and tension. All this calls for intensive self-exploration and working through related anxieties.

How can we improve our ability to cope?

There is no singular solution to dealing with crisis, and self-help strategies such as “Think positive” and “Try to understand and solve the problem” often only offer limited support. However, a conscious approach can actually do a lot in improving the situation. Here are some ideas on this:

  • In-depth understanding of the issue is definitely an asset. When going through a crisis, we commonly forget to slow down and analyze the situation, or on the contrary we become over-involved in a one-sided perspective and can’t stop fixating [ruminating … good word but non-native speakers may have a hard time with it] on the same thing over and over again.
  • Being mindful of what is going on, how it affects our lives, our self-image and our relationships is a key to the approach. We can start by asking ourselves what the current issue means to us and to our concept of ourselves and the world.
  • Making links between past experiences and the present is also essential. When feeling locked into one singular approach we should try to mentally “experiment” with other perspectives on the matter.
  • Sharing the experience is crucial, even though this can be a challenge due to related feelings of shame, isolation and mistrust. Opening up about our anxieties can offer emotional release, social acceptance and new perspectives about the situation.
  • Seeking professional help in the form of counselling or psychotherapy is another option, especially when the negative feelings prevail or if they are overwhelming and have a significant effect on our well-being. Acknowledging the problem and turning to a professional is actually a significant step towards regaining control and mastering the situation.

 

If any of this seems familiar to you, feel free to contact me or any of my colleagues at FirstMed for assistance. Our center offers complex psychological support to clients in a safe and pleasant environment.

 

Adrienn Kroó is a Clinical Psychologist with substantial professional experience in dealing with international and multicultural clients, and a wide range of mental problems. Her practice has a particular specialization in trauma, crisis, anxiety and stress-related issues as well as cultural transition. She spent part of her childhood in the US, studied for several years in Germany, and is passionate about working with people from various backgrounds and life experiences.