Coping With Life Crisis
Before a drunk driver killed my brother, I often felt like I lived within in a circle of protection. While I had challenges in my life, I hadn’t experienced unexpected death. Tragic events happened to others, in distant parts of the world, far away from my backyard. But when he died at 32 years of age, I realized that I was just as vulnerable as anyone else. At the time, it shook my world. But, years later, I realized that I was a member of a very large club. It helped me have more compassion for others.
It seems unfair to me that some people seem to have so much tragedy! Their lives seem to be one sad chapter after another, with little happiness in between. It appears to be completely unrelated to anything they have done or not done. It’s hard to understand.
Then there are others who appear to have vacation lives! These individuals have one good fortune after another. Their biggest heartache is waiting in line at Starbucks! It is hard to figure.
However, those who have had more than their share of challenges are often waiting for the next bad thing to happen. They expect that the other shoe is going to drop. And, those with good fortune often expect that everything will work out. Their expectations of the future are based on their experience in the past.
Our expectations of the future, our sense of safety and security in the present, our understanding of our past, and our view of our unfolding life, comprise our “existential” outlook. Sometimes it can be summed up in one question—Why me?
Reaching milestone ages may prompt an existential crisis. Turning 30, 40, 50, or 60 raise thorny questions. Am I where I thought I would be in my life? What have I accomplished? What is behind me? What is ahead? It can be a tough time for many adults.
Major life challenges force us to stop and think. Developing a serious health condition, losing a job, the end of relationship, an unanticipated death of a friend or relative, or sometimes a major world event can send us into a state of anxiety. How am I living my life? Am I doing what I really want to do?
When I turned 60, I realized that if I wanted to do something, I needed to do it now. I realized that the clock is ticking, and my productive years have a limit. I can’t afford to put off what I want to do to some distant tomorrow.
I have had the opportunity to work with many individuals newly diagnosed with cancer. Frequently, these adults are catapulted into existential distress. Facing their mortality, they ask themselves the big questions about their life.
These existential crises often prompt men and women to seek counseling. Their distress, confusion, doubts, or worry moves them to seek help to solve their dilemmas. Many adults come for therapy during these “existential” crises. It is a good time to talk to a counselor and to reflect on and consider your life.
I often tell adults that you don’t have to wait until a life crisis to question how you are living your life! You can do it any day you wish.
To some degree, all of us have a picture of how our life “should” unfold. We nurture the illusion of control. Our vision of the future rarely occurs as we imagine. There are many unexpected twists and turns along the way.
So what can you do when you have an unanticipated event come your way?
- Remind yourself to live in the present. This is one of the biggest challenges of our life. When we live in the moment, we let go of worry about the future, and we can see what is happening around us, now, more clearly.
- Have confidence in yourself! Know that whatever happens, you will find your way. You will gather information, resources, and you will be able to cope. It can be hard at first, but you will adjust to new circumstance.
- Life is change. This is a fact. Nothing stays the same. This simple fact reminds us not to get too comfortable with our present circumstances.
How have your life crises changed you?