What to do in the face of adversity

By Ellen Jackson

What to do in the face of adversity
It is a natural human response to focus on the negative during challenging times, but there are a number of strategies that can help overcome hardship. These are four steps to get you started

Devastated after an ultrasound showed our baby had a one in nine chance of chromosomal abnormality, I rang my closest friend for support. When my tears were spent, she said gently, “You know what? One in nine sounds bad. It is bad. But there’s an 89 per cent likelihood that the baby is fine. They’re good odds.” Instantly I felt a shift. She was right. I was intent on what might go wrong when it was far more likely that everything would be fine.

Adversity has us each in her clutches at times. Yet people can adapt incredibly well to life-changing situations. How? Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Longitudinal studies examining the lives of children from their early years through to their fourth decade have shown resilience is shaped by our internal attributes and learnt skills. Here are some of the skills you can develop to help face adversity.

1. Flip your thinking

My friend helped me deal with adversity by flipping my thinking. She gave me a positive perspective on a situation that felt negative. (As it turned out, I gave birth to a happy, healthy baby.) Humans are wired to focus on bad news. It is our negativity bias. It is a protective tool. But this system fails us if we focus solely on problems and ignore positive alternatives. We become anxious, hopeless and helpless. By flipping our thinking, we can find positives in life’s challenges, however small.

Try this: Think of a difficult situation or frustration that you’re facing right now. Next, imagine one positive that could arise from this situation. How does it change your perspective? Does it improve your mood?

2. Nurture Relationships

A working paper from the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University notes children who thrive following significant childhood trauma tend to have at least one stable, supportive adult relationship in their lives. This connection with another person gets them through. Psychologists call this social support. It has been studied for more than a century and is known to enhance our physical and emotional health and healing. The mechanism behind social support is intricate but the essence is that other people matter. Our relationships shield us from the negative effects of stress.

One solid relationship can be enough, but more than one is better. If you have a range of people you can turn to for help, it increases the chance someone will have experienced something similar to your current challenge.

Try this: Surround yourself with people who persevere, and nurture your important relationships. Make a list of the people you can rely upon when things get tough.

3. Keep moving forward

Psychologist Angela Duckworth is an expert in grit – the perseverance we need to overcome obstacles and pursue goals and dreams. She says gritty people possess two key characteristics: They have a long-term goal and they keep taking action towards that goal. To develop your grit and cope better with adversity, it is important to understand your bigger aim or sense of purpose.

Try this: Make dealing with your adversity a project. Set yourself a goal, or goals, and take decisive action on a regular basis. Don’t dwell on the past but focus on the future and allow that to pull you through.

4. Look after yourself

Resilient people eat well, sleep well and move often. They recognise that their emotional state is inextricably linked to their physical wellbeing. When we are down, we slip into bad habits and the negative spiral affects how we feel about ourselves.

Try this: Set yourself goals to get to bed earlier or practise relaxation techniques to improve your sleep. Move more often. Get outdoors. Eat nutritious food. Look after yourself physically and you will find that your emotional state improves too.

Learning to handle adversity is a life skill that protects us physically and emotionally. Conquer it and you set yourself up for a happier, healthier life.


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