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Coping Mechanisms Through Major Crisis And Change

We have all had to learn to cope over the past months of this pandemic. There are many other situations or seasons where we need to cope too. Some are short, some are longer. They can often become seasons of deep learning and change, when we see the opportunity they offer and lean into God’s purposes of becoming more like Jesus.

Some seasons where I had to learn to cope and go deeper were:

  • My wife going through an extended season of illness (cancer and it’s repercussions).
  • Passing on a significant leadership role and then transitioning to a different (less direct role of leadership), resulting in a loss of relationships.
  • Being pushed out of a role and team without explanation.


As you keep reading, what are seasons, past and current, that you want to reflect and learn from?

For those who want a quick summary, here it is:

  • When finding yourself in a challenging season, instead of avoiding reality and denying what is happening, take time to pause and reflect.
  • Accept what can’t be changed and accept where you can change. Then intentionally engage with taking steps that help you cope and overcome.
  • As important as making internal and external changes are, I have found one predominant question or thought that is most helpful: Who am I becoming through this, or as who do I want to emerge from this? What aspect of Jesus’ character is God forming in me? What would loving God, my neighbour and myself tangibly look like in this season? To love matters the most. It’s that simple.


What is coping?

The word carries the meaning ‘to get by’, ‘to manage’, or ‘to shift’. This implies that it’s for a season, not forever. You get by until something is over or ended, or you shift to something else. It implies an intention: to face and deal with problems and challenges in a satisfactory or successful way.

Coping helps us focus on what should truly matter in the season we are in. There’s a helpful way and an unhelpful way to coping. Challenging seasons bring out both – the avoidance to change and the intentional engagement to change resulting in action.

Avoidance

“This is not happening”. “It will change”. “Just wait and see”. “Healing will come.” “They will change their mind”. And then, not only days but weeks go by and still nothing has changed. It might have gotten worse…  and I’m still in the same place.

When I deny the reality I experience, I tend to avoid making a decision. Yet, making a decision with the best of my knowledge and understanding is better than avoiding making one. I can adapt most decisions as I become aware of new information and see what is or is not working well (I’m not talking about detrimental decisions that cause you or others great losses, pain or harm.) 

My indecision is also a decision: “I don’t need to change.” “Things will work themselves out.” It’s more fatalistic, it’s passive and it’s not faith. Faith expresses itself in love. Love acts. When I take steps forward, I create hope. When I avoid the changes I need to make, I likely fall into unhelpful coping mechanisms to dull the pain and mental struggle I experience. Judging others and being cynical or playing the victim are also coping mechanisms… just not helpful ones.

What are you denying or avoiding?

Acceptance

So, what if this won’t change? I need to acknowledge reality and accept what won’t change. I need to accept that what was ‘normal’ might never be ‘normal’ again. Instead, I can fix what can be fixed. And what can’t be fixed, I acknowledge and manage.

It also means that I need to accept that I may not fully understand why this happened. Accepting this fact helps me not ruminate and procrastinate. It also means for me that I accept discomfort and become comfortable with not knowing or having the perfect solution. Because learning is in the discomfort zone (and no learning in the comfort zone). Accepting relational losses. Accepting that I cannot change others; I can only change my own attitude, perspective and response.

For me it was to accept that God might not heal my wife and that recovery will take years. To accept that others did not want to work together anymore and that I would not know their reasons. Or, that after passing on leadership, I was no longer needed. (which actually was a good thing.)

I am still learning to recognize and accept the feelings I experience: the good and the difficult ones and that they provide important data of what is going on and finding a way to return to joy and hope. I found journaling or processing my experience with a trusted friend really helpful. Some things just needed to be ‘said’ in those contexts to gain clarity. It gave me a soberness that came from not finding my identity and value in my role or ‘ministry’, but in God alone. What peace came from repentance and confession and experiencing God’s acceptance.

What do you need to accept? What do you need to let go?

Action

Face it: since this problem won’t change or go away, you and your family, or your team, still need to live well with the uncertainty or changed context.

Take time for reflection and then take action. Be prayerful. Listen to God. Develop a plan or strategy for what coping needs to look like for you, your family, your team. Even if it’s just a small step!

Do what’s difficult (that conversation I postponed for months… get started on exercise… writing a blog and publishing it… be honest with myself and others… making that decision I procrastinated…).

Don’t go alone. For me, finding and processing with allies was really helpful. Asking for their perspective broadened mine. Expressing what was difficult lessened the pressure. Honesty brought relief. It meant finding new rhythms and routines that were healthier.

Reflection helped me rediscovering (or realigning) more deeply what my true worth, purpose and calling in God are.

It also meant eliminating or minimizing negativity (self-talk) and managing toxic relationships better.

I needed to accept what I cannot change and don’t have control over. And instead focus on what I can influence daily: my attitude and mindset to love. It’s may be a bit like a reduction process to get the best flavours for a sauce. Little by little the essence comes through. Love comes through. What would love do or say or be like in this situation? Reducing, eliminating all my opinions, biases, values, beliefs and behaviours to simply love. That is the greatest commandment after all. What else should matter more?

How can you best adapt and make changes to live and work well? What routines and rhythms do you need now that sustain you? What can you stop doing? What should you start doing instead? What helps you stay sane and healthy? What’s the opportunity for you in this season? What are your priorities? What do you need? Who can you enlist for support and wisdom?

A final thought

This has become far more significant and a guiding factor for me in these seasons. Who I am is how I lead and live. Who am I truly? Who has God made me to be? When I am fully human and spiritual, how do I live? Who do I want to emerge as when this is over? In what ways did I bring joy to the Father? In what ways did I bring hope?

“Above all things, put on love…

Colossians 3:14

I encourage you to take time on your teams to talk through coping strategies so you can learn from one another.

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Optional list:

Symptoms when not coping well:

  • withdrawing, isolating to avoid hurt/pain
  • feeling emotionally numb
  • blaming, playing the victim
  • feeling restless or agitated
  • lack of motivation and not doing what you usually enjoy doing
  • lack of constructive use of time
  • ruminating and wishing things would go back to how they were
  • ignoring what is going on and numbing our difficult emotions
  • praying that God will change the others


What are your symptoms or indicators that you are not coping well?

What are you going to do about them?

Symptoms of coping well:

  • pausing, taking time to reflect and decide
  • facing what’s difficult, disappointment
  • being open, honest about what was difficult
  • being prayerful and honest before God
  • trusting God’s love beyond my circumstances
  • practicing gratitude
  • talking, reflecting on what’s difficult and looking for support
  • asking for help, input or support
  • stopping to blame others or circumstances: taking proactive steps forward
  • ruminating less about the difficulties/hurt/disappointment/loss
  • thoughtfully dealing with situation: seeing what you can and what you can’t change
  • developing order and rhythms that sustain you and others, internally and externally
  • targeting what the problem is and taking ownership to where your ownership is. making your change/moving forward not dependent on others or circumstances
  • experimenting and adapting the solutions and strategies
  • my inner change is more important than the outward change
  • outward change helps me internally
  • praying for my heart to be tender towards others
  • practicing empathy
  • eating well
  • exercising
  • breathing
  • relaxing
  • doing what is good for my soul, spirit, mind and body

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