how to cope

How to Cope

Though I love the holiday season, December has classically been a very hard month for me. Things are stressful. Money is tight. Everyone is scrambling to tie up their loose threads before sinking into the black hole of Christmas and New Years. This is the first year in recent memory that I haven’t been thrown through the massive cosmic joke more colloquially known as final exams. And, let me tell you, having 5-7 exams and papers all due right before the holidays didn’t really do much by way of contributing to my sense of equilibrium. This is the time of year when peaks and troughs that punctuate normal life are accentuated, and sometimes it feels like you’ve been thrown on a really tedious roller coaster. I’m up, I’m down, I’ve been thrown over backwards and it’s not even noon.

Bad things happen, and they happen all the time. Maybe you got a bad grade. Maybe your boss gave you an unfavorable performance review. Maybe you’ve just gotten dumped, and the world looks bleak and meaningless and all you want to do is hibernate so that you don’t have to think about or feel anything for a while. Or, maybe you’re just in a funk, and you can’t quite put your finger on who or what is causing you to feel so down lately. Learning how to cope with these sad tidings is one of the most important life skills you can cultivate, but it’s not always so easy. Sometimes, you lose perspective and get totally out of sync with the birds-eye view. And that’s okay. It happens to everyone. Here’s what to keep in mind when the doldrums hit:

  1. Take a look at the big picture. Step back and examine your issue in the context of your whole life. How much of an impact will this one event have on you in 5 years? 10 years? 50 years? Looking at it this way helps you put your problem into perspective so that you can more efficiently limit its ability to effect your happiness in the moment. Getting a bad grade in a course may seem like the end of the world now, but when you put it in its place in the context of your entire life, you’ll realize that one course will not impact your overall potential for success in any real, tangible way. And that’s pretty comforting.
  2. Seek comfort, but don’t wallow. Get advice and encouragement from your friends and loved ones, but don’t throw yourself a pity party. Instead, do something that will take your mind off of your troubles. Go for a walk with a friend who you haven’t caught up with in a while, see a movie with your partner, go for dinner/drinks with your roommates – it doesn’t matter what you do, just as long as you feel supported and active. When you allow yourself to wallow in your misery, it takes so much longer to get yourself out of it than if you get out there and clear your mind for a while.
  3. Figure out your next move. Take a cue from one of my favorite Frank Underwoodian proverbs: how does one devour a whale? One bite at a time. While you’re contemplating the long-term impact of your problem, scale back and figure out what it would take to get yourself back on track in the short-term and in the long-term. Plot out a series of general tasks that you can tackle today, tomorrow, a week from now, and focus on what you have in front of you. Pretty soon, you’ll look up and find yourself in a better place than you were when you were in the throes.
  4. Be kind to yourself. Here’s the thing. You’re a human. The world is a mess. Bad things happen to good people, and sometimes there isn’t a rhyme or reason to the hand you’re dealt. That part is out of your control. Here’s what is within your control: the way you handle yourself after the cards are shown. Give yourself a little space, take a deep breath, then chart your course. It’s not always going to be a straight line, but as long as you’re moving forward, you’ll be alright.

So there you have it. What are your most useful ways to cope?