Dealing with adversity is something that's been on my mind a lot lately. I recently started an interview series on Money with a Purpose to talk to people about the topic.
Adversity comes in all shapes and sizes.
It can be big things like cancer, abuse, job loss, divorce or losing a loved one. It can be a lot of annoying little things too.
Things like car trouble (which can be a big thing), job stress, relationship stress, your daily commute (big where I live), an annoying neighbor, and many other day-to-day hassles in life.
These are the “death by a thousand cuts” type of adversity that can grind at us if we let it.
We have a couple of options when faced with adversity. We can allow it to get us down and control us. Or we can take steps to control how we respond to what comes our way.
The second option is the one that helps us rise above it. That's what we'll focus on in this post.
(Special invitation: If you'd like to consider being interviewed for my series on overcoming adversity, please let me know in the comments below or contact me here)
When trouble comes
When difficulty comes, our first reaction (at least mine) is often one of panic. I mean, sometimes the physical takes over. The adrenaline rush often happens quickly and, by definition, spontaneously. Adrenaline is the body's hormone that spurs the flight or fight instinct. You feel it in your stomach, like a feeling of falling or something similar.
Symptoms include increased heart rate, sweating, heightened senses (fight or flight), nervousness feelings (jittery), and rapid breathing. If you're about to get hit by a car or walk off a cliff, adrenaline can save your life.
Adversity, whether from physical or life events, can lead to unwarranted fear and dread. That's where the problems arise. When we don't recognize the effect adrenaline has on us, the result can be damaging to our physical and mental health.
When adrenaline turns into fear, the body continues to produce cortisol. WebMD calls cortisol the body's stress hormone. If we continue to think fearfully about whatever adversity we face, our cortisol levels stay elevated. Over time, this can lead to anxiety, depression, and a host of other physical and emotional problems.
That's how something the body produces to protect us (adrenaline), when left unchecked, can cause us problems of our own making (fear, stress, anxiety, etc.).
Lessons from my interviews
The series began soon after I told our story of dealing with an addicted son. The outpouring of comments, questions, and encouragement from this prompted me to invite others to tell their stories.
To date, I've featured three interviews in the series. The first was with Deanna at Ms. Fiology who overcame drug addiction. Next was Andrea from Saving Joyfully who told her story of growing up in an abusive household. Next up was Billy B. from Wealth Well Done. Billy spent ten years in prison beginning at age 21. While there, he decided not to let the sentence and time in prison define his future.
Deanna, Andrea, and Billy B. all have similar characteristics in their ability to overcome their demons. I'll highlight a nugget from each that can offer hope the next time you're dealing with a big obstacle.
The role of faith
For Deanna, Andrea, Bill, Cathy (my wife) and me, God plays a huge role in our dealing with adversity.
From Deanna: “When I had this vision, I got down on my knees and prayed for the first time in a long time. Nothing monumental happened, but I did throw away my drugs.” ‘
From Andrea: “You want to recognize and accept your emotions and healthily deal with them. In my situation, this meant finding faith in God and seeking His guidance.”
From Bill: At that moment I decided to create a new personal identity away from drugs, and start pursuing God rather than my selfish ambitions.
Several passages from Scripture guide help me in dealing with adversity.
Ecclesiastes 7: 14 – “In the day of prosperity be joyful and in the day of adversity consider: God has made the one as well as the other, so that men may not find out anything that will be after him.”
Job 2: 10 – “Shall we receive good from God, and shall we not receive evil?”
James 1: 2-3 – “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness.”
Even if you're not a Christian and don't believe in the Bible, there are life lessons we can learn here.
First, we are not entitled to go through life without adversity. No one gets through unscathed (Ecclesiastes). Job learned that in the hardest imaginable way. He persevered and came out on the other side stronger and richly blessed by God.
The passage from James offers guidance on how to deal with adversity. Ok, I have to honestly say I've never considered it pure joy when going through tough things. Here's the message. James tells us trials produces steadfastness. In other words, they can strengthen us.
Billy B. says this very well in summing up his choices in prison: “Focus on impacting the things you can control.” He could have allowed his circumstances to define who he was. He didn't. He chose to focus on his faith, on learning as much as he could about leadership and overcoming. The results of these efforts are evident in his life now. They worked.
Deanna and Andrea made similar choices. They took control of the things over which they could. Like Bill, they didn't let the circumstances dictate their destinies.
Look, I'm not saying these are easy things. I am saying we have a choice. Does it take courage? Absolutely! Does it take perseverance? Of course? Will it be tough? More than likely.
For the four of us, faith in God, hard work, perseverance, and being surrounded by a caring group of supporters helped pave the way out of our messes.
Adversity and stress
An adrenaline rush, left unchecked, can cause unintended physical and mental consequences. These consequences bring on stress. We've already discussed what fear can do to you physically and mentally. What steps can we take to get our fear and anxiousness under control?
Let me offer a partial list.
Four steps to reduce stress
- Slow down your breathing – Though this may sound like an oversimplification, it's not. Slowing down breathing lowers your heart rate. A lower heart rate tells the body it doesn't need to fight. It calms the nervousness in the stomach and can lower blood pressure.
- Healthy eating – Diet has an outsized impact on our physical and mental health. Many of us, when stressed, self-medicate with food. Food addiction is an unchecked killer in America. Food is legal. It's required to keep us alive. However, too much of a good thing causes health problems. Obesity causes heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other health problems. Rather than reducing stress, overeating increases it.
- Exercise – You knew this was coming, right? It's true. There's nothing Cathy and I do that helps us manage our stress level more than exercise. Though we do other things, our number one choice is Yoga. Specifically, hot Vinyasa Yoga. Also called power yoga, we practice in a room heated to 95 degrees and 40 percent humidity (in our studio). The heat helps with flexibility and sweating out a lot of the junk in our bodies. Vinyasa flow is a very active, intense workout. Calm breathing is a significant part of what instructors emphasize in yoga. We hear throughout the class that yoga is a breathing exercise. That breathing carries over into day-to-day life (see #1).
- Communication – Talking through things with a trusted friend, colleague, spouse or significant other helps sort through the adversity. When you speak about it to someone else, it often sounds less intense than it was in your head. Sometimes, the person doesn't even have to say anything or try to fix the problem. The ministry of presence, just being there, is often all it takes. Holding things inside can make them worse than they are. They can build up and blow up when finally released. Talk it out with someone. It's a much healthier way to go.
To be perfectly honest with you, I had a hard time writing this post. Talking about my Christian beliefs in this day and age can be risky. And I'm not trying to evangelize anyone (though if God causes you to think about your faith, I would be delighted)
I find a lot of wisdom in the Bible. When considering the three passages quoted earlier, I hope you can see the principles apply when dealing with adversity.
Whatever your method, if you let adversity turn to fear, and let that fear define you, it will bring you a lot of problems (physical, emotional, relational). And no matter our beliefs, all of us have to take action to overcome adversity.
When you read how we overcame our adversities, you see we took action. We made conscious choices about how to respond. We all engaged in some version of the four steps listed above throughout our journeys.
You've heard it said many times: “anything that's not growing is dying.” I'm not sure where that originated, but I believe it to be true. Inertia will not get us through adversity. Feeling sorry for ourselves will only make it worse.
Instead, let's make a choice to grow from the difficulties we face.
If we do, experience tells us we will come out on the other side of it stronger and better for it.
Now it's your turn. What adversities have you faced? How did you deal with them? Do you feel stronger as a result of going through them? What methods worked for you? Let me know in the comments below.
(Reminder: If you'd like to be interviewed for my series on overcoming adversity, please let me know in the comments below or contact me here)
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