When Adversity Strikes – Keep Hope Alive Back »

Written by Mark Britzman, former SDSU Extension Character Education Specialist.


It is very hard to know why bad things happen to such good people. However, 90% of individuals will experience at least one serious traumatic event during their life. These events, such as an early fall blizzard that devastated cattle and put enormous stress on many ranchers in South Dakota are incredibly challenging but possible to deal with.

Stress in life is actually a good thing as it motivates us to accomplish meaningful tasks. However, when it appears that terrible events exceed our capacity to cope, distress can take its toll on one’s emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. The by-product can be feeling demoralized, hopeless, cynical, and angry. These negative feelings are exacerbated if one has difficulty changing a mindset that focuses on broadening one’s perspective and re-building.

The key to build your tolerance for stress and actually bounce back from adversity, trauma, and threats to one’s livelihood is called resilience. This is a choice but is easier for some, especially when they cope in a healthy manner. In an excellent book entitled, Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges, Steven M. South wick, M.D. and Dennis S. Charney, M.D. advocate the following practical advice for becoming more optimistic which is the fuel for overcoming adversity and jumpstarting positive energy to elicit the following resilient factors:

  • Try to remember that difficulties to not last forever. Take one day at a time and do not borrow problems from the future that may not occur.
  • Where there may now be pain, over time good things will likely return.
  • Keep the adverse even within limits; don’t let it pervade other areas of your life (i.e., family relationships, etc.).
  • Think of the strengths and resources you can use to help deal with the problem.
  • Notice what is good, for example, acts of kindness and altruism are antidotes for stress and it is actually better to give than receive.
  • Relay on your religious or spiritual beliefs to remind you that there is very likely a great purpose go gain a healthier perspective and give you strength to face your fears.
  • Try to do the “right thing” and dig deep to find the character strengths within you even though it feels like there is a cost for you pay.
  • Please remember that social support is the biggest buffer of stress and isolation is typically the recipe for psychological disaster.
  • Lastly, be reminded that there are things you can control such as healthy eating, prayer and meditation, and appropriate amounts of physical activity and then recover and sleep.

You do not have to look at your situation from “rose color glasses” as the situation is bad. However, please be reminded that most all individuals that cope in healthy ways overcome adversity within a relatively short period of time. Consequently, keep hope alive.

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