#Mental Health

Dealing With A Crisis And Why It Is Important To Bounce Back

Dealing With A Crisis, Puja Puneet, Carolyn Malsawmtluangi
Dealing With A Crisis: Our current crisis of the pandemic is not only individual but also a social one, but remember a crisis forces us to tackle the problems related to the aspects of lives we have mostly ignored.

In 1921, when Franklin D. Roosevelt was 39 years old a severe attack of poliomyelitis resulted in total paralysis of both his legs. He used the health crisis as a turning point in his life and emerged stronger and more courageous. He returned to politics and became Governor of New York and later became President of the United States of America. Throughout this, he could not walk and would move in a wheelchair. As he got himself out of a health crisis, he also got his country out of the economic crisis of the Great Depression. During his presidency, he developed hypertension, bleeding haemorrhoids which caused severe iron deficiency anaemia, malignant melanoma. At this time World War II had started and he was leading his country. He developed hypertensive cardiomyopathy when his country was facing a national defence crisis. Later his condition worsened and he developed congestive heart failure. At the same time, he was being instrumental in bringing allied forces together which would shape the fate of the world after world war. His health was deteriorating but still, he didn’t give up. He ran for the presidency again and won. A few months before the final victory he died due to an intracerebral haemorrhage. Roosevelt was a great man and one of the most important qualities which made him great was -Resilience.

What is Resilience?

Resilience – It’s a person’s ability to cope with crisis and adversity. It is not being unaffected by the crisis but about bouncing back from the crisis within a reasonable time frame. Currently, our society is grappling with the crisis of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people are infected by the virus, many are struggling to stay alive and many have succumbed to the virus. Untimely deaths of family members are major adversities for a family. Our crisis is not only on individual levels but also on a social level. We are short of beds, oxygen, ventilators, vaccines. The crisis also involves economic hardships as businesses are shutting down and people are losing jobs. Can individuals and society bounce back from this crisis? Can we build the quality of resilience in our lives and institutions to come back victorious from such a crisis? The answer is yes, for that we need to understand what is a crisis and what exactly is resilience.

Biologically, when faced with adversity our hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated which leads to the secretion of the chemical Cortisol. Although the short-term release of cortisol is protective and adaptive the long term exposure to cortisol can be harmful leading to immunosuppression, hypertension, heart problems.

Crisis

Crisis causes two major issues – the first is, it obstructs our planned path. Pursuing any goal requires planning and when we are unable to walk on the desired path, we become anxious. The second problem crisis creates is, it forces us to tackle the problems related to the aspects of lives we have mostly ignored. Some problem we are not prepared for suddenly becomes magnified and that can be quite overwhelming for most people. Biologically, when faced with adversity our hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis is activated which leads to the secretion of the chemical Cortisol. Although the short-term release of cortisol is protective and adaptive the long term exposure to cortisol can be harmful leading to immunosuppression, hypertension, heart problems.

Resilience is about accepting the uncomfortable often horrifying reality. Accepting that situation, then making necessary plans. Then taking steps to carry out those plans is the first step. Resilience is having a positive self-image and having self-confidence. It’s about accepting that we can get ourselves out of the crisis at hand. It also means the ability to take care of our impulses and extreme emotions. Getting thoughts of helplessness, hopelessness is normal during the crisis but if we don’t take actions based on these instincts and be patient, we usually find some way out in due course of time.

How to be more resilient?

  • Accept that the crisis is an important part of human life. As humans, we are flawed and limited. Because of our flaws, we will make mistakes and because of our limitations, we won’t be able to stop adversities before they arise. Crisis helps us grow because it brings forth important aspects of life we have ignored. So, accept that crisis is not only an inevitable part of life but also a necessary part of life which helps us to take charge of the situation and helps us grow in our lives.
  • Set aside 40 to 60 minutes to think and talk about the crisis. Don’t think or talk about it otherwise. Our default mode is the rumination of thoughts about the crisis. We will imagine everything that can possibly go wrong because of the crisis. We will keep on thinking about things that are possible but highly improbable. This causes thought distortion and we start catastrophising about the situation which means we start making a mountain out of the molehill. Note down ideas related to crisis during other times and quickly move your attention to something else. If you can do something about the crisis, put all your energy into doing something about it instead of only thinking about it.
  • Think only about today. If thinking about the future creates a lot of anxiety then focus your attention on the present after making necessary planning for the future. Sometimes thinking about today is also scary then think only about an hour. Put all your attention to the task at hand. If plans need a change then make those changes but don’t start living in the future.
  • Listen to your responses. If they are pessimistic and distorted then analyse, dispute and eventually derail the destructive aspects of your response. Don’t assume worst until it is proven to be so.
  • Do something. Despondency often leads to a lack of action. But actively work towards taking necessary actions. Probably what you will do today might not get you out of the crisis. But if you keep on doing something successively then eventually you will find a way out.

“If you cry because the sun has gone out of your life, your tears will prevent you from seeing the stars.”…. Rabindranath Tagore

Dr Chinmay Kulkarni is a psychiatrist practising in Mumbai. He believes that mental health is an ignored topic in India and millions of Indians are suffering in silence because of this. The views expressed are the author’s own.