And life goes on...

Jul 6, 2014:

DH illustration

When life throws lemons at us, we are told to make lemonade. For some of us, that lemonade turns out quite sweet. The secret, says SHEILA KUMAR,  is a functional coping strategy.

The sink or swim analogy is the most apt one in life. Staying alive, surviving, is all about learning how to deal with everything life throws at us. Stress has become so much a part of one’s life, stressors come in so many ways and forms, that stress management today is the vital key to a good life. 

Faced with the sudden flood of what the poet called vicissitudes of life, each and every one of us react in a distinctively different manner. Some of us sink, hands raised high for help. Some of us flail about madly, fighting the situation, trying to stay afloat. Still others ford the River Travail effortlessly and with clear direction of purpose.

What we all have in common though, is a coping strategy. This art of coping is sometimes instinctive, sometimes a learned or absorbed behaviour, but in all cases, it is definitely a survival skill. While the strategy itself might often differ, crisis management becomes easier if we have some resource, external or internal, which can serve as a crutch. 

Some of these mechanisms are effective, others are temporary refuges, and still others consist of plain denial; as in, keep denying one has a problem and it will soon go away. These tactics are either emotional solace-givers or problem-solvers.

Life lessons

Taking time out for oneself is another trick that works. It is so easy to be completely consumed in what you are doing and miss the wood for the trees. When things get hectic, it is useful to take a step back, close one’s eyes for a few minutes, and reflect on matters. This may not always solve the problems, but it does give one a sense of balance. Coping is not always about the downside of life. It is essential to have good coping mechanisms to help us enjoy life, too. A trip to the hills or to the seaside for some essential quiet time is an energy-booster. This is further enhanced if one can spend a few minutes appreciating something, anything, and then setting an intention to experience happiness and joy through the day.

In the modern world, it is so difficult to be alone with the distractions of mobile phones, social media and the internet. One calming solution is to go to a quiet area, turn off all electronic devices and give one’s mind the opportunity to weigh things, to see things from the other people’s point of view.

Affirmative action

Many people find that sharing worries and concerns with trusted friends can be helpful, given that often a problem shared is a problem halved. Still others read and listen to spiritual books by masters who seem to have ‘got it’, in order to gain a new perspective with an open mind. Doing things one enjoys doing, watching how things enter and leave one’s life, and taking time to appreciate nature at every opportunity are all important points on the coping roster.

Even as we each create the  tapestry of our lives, in times of trouble we are tempted to forget the bigger picture. When the trouble is past, we often regret the discordant thread we have woven into the picture. It is at this time that we must put down the needle and thread and take a break.

When life throws those curve balls, it helps to instinctively reach for one’s inner strength, lean on close friends, bend their ears for a bit, then go within to introspect. It also helps to go back to one’s daily business. Simply doing what needs to be done speeds up the coping process.

Last but definitely not the least, faith is possibly the biggest coping strategy for millions of people. Generally, it takes the form of a soul-nurturing perseverance that keeps the mind away from a sense of futility, builds up one’s fortitude and adds to one’s ability to endure.

In a deeply spiritual country like ours, it is difficult to discount the tangible and intangible benefits of support from spiritual gurus. They tell us to work on our attitude and build ourselves up when times are easy so that we are strong when the winds get rough. This is akin to strengthening the walls when the fort is not besieged so it can withstand the ravages of the siege that will inevitably come.


A cross-section of people tell us their cope secrets.

In every architect`s life, there are  moments when one is faced with a  whiteness of space. At these moments, I just sit back relax, open my copy of The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand and start reading. Visual imagery springs forth, a concept is born, design details flow, architecture is created! Every page, every para, every line in that book has meaning and depth. It is my Koran, my Bible and my Geeta, my philosophical religion.  It is my cope strategy.  Jaisim, Bangalore-based architect

It was my twentysomething daughter who put me on to Nichiren Daishonin’s Buddhism and the Soka Gakkai chanting ritual. Now I teach others. This chanting, at the deepest levels, taps into our essential being. After a while, all upheavals are treated with calm and equanimity. It’s literally finding the qualities we need to develop our lives. Sneh Jhala, homemaker in Jaipur

Life delivers both pleasant and unpleasant experiences, by turns. Good things and good times don't last forever but then, neither do the bad times. So it helps if one can have equanimity towards both extremes. Vipassana meditation gives a clear understanding of the constant change occurring within and without, and the impermanence of it all. Brigadier Gangadharan, Bangalore-based retired army officer.
I give in to the stress initially, weep buckets. Then I get over it, immerse myself in music, watch a lot of  music shows on TV. One thing I do not do is brood. And before I know it, that too, has passed. Sunita Malik, consultancy professional in Singapore.
My coping strategy comprises faith, faith in the goodness of the world. This faith allows me to detach from what must be detached, releases me from the pain of all that seems undeserved and enables me to find that undefinable force inside that lets me stay happy on the journey of life.  Padmavathi Rao, Bangalore-based actor, theatreperson.
Directing a theatre production or completing a play while actors are waiting for the script can really get my stomach acids up and running! What works best for me is a combination of Tai Chi and yoga. Tai Chi helps me regain my balance, both physical and mental, while yoga helps throw out toxins that stress might produce in my body. In dire straits, I stick my tongue out for a minute. Try it. It really works! Mahesh Dattani, Mumbai-settled playwright.

I  don’t think about stress much. When things get particularly difficult, I remind myself of the serenity prayer. It puts things in perspective. You know, the prayer that goes: God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference. Radha Thomas, singer/ author who lives in Bangalore.


When things become very hectic, I find it helpful to go into the countryside or to the seashore and to have some quiet time. This enables me to switch off from the hustle and bustle of a busy school environment and think things through. Closing my eyes for a few minutes, to reflect on any problems that I may have to deal with, also helps. Bryan Collins, educationist in Drogedha, Ireland.


Overall, I guess my coping strategy is based on the firm belief that there is a solution to every problem. I enjoy looking for and finding solutions. Then there is the spiritual side of me that believes that miracles take place every day. These two perspectives help me face life and whatever comes my way. Balance is the essence of life and one simple technique is to t stop pushing against what is happening. Step back and allow it to flow past like a river, resist the temptation to try and stop the flow. Pretty soon, fresh water will flow by. Khomi Acharya, engineer in Milwaukee, US.


Life throws a lot of things at you and unless you are a brilliant fielder like Jhonty Rhodes, you can't catch everything that comes your way!  Prayer is where I find my coping strategy. I'm always reminded of the Bible verse  "Proverbs: 3:5-6 Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make straight your paths." Rahul Prajapathi, Beijing-based IT professional.


My coping skills have been a combination of knowledge, right understanding, meditation, yoga, introspection and acceptance. I am grateful for my negative experiences as they have been my greatest teachers and I am thankful that I can appreciate the richness of my life and celebrate every small milestone. Mridula Nair, Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) practictioner in Bangalore.


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