How to cope with the unexpected?

by: Kris Kirilova

Kris is a counselor & owner of Career Life Choices – a counseling practice in Arlington Heights, IL.

Let’s face it unexpected events can make us stressed, uncertain, and question the path we are on. Even positive changes can bring some excitement but also adjustment and new challenges. So whether this is a positive change- a birth, promotion to new city or unexpected breakup, we just have to face a new day with different circumstances. I hope that you have some advance notice or an intuitive feeling so this is not a complete shock.

How to do you cope when life is serving you something unexpected?

Acceptance. When life throws us some hardship, our first response could be a denial or disbelief. You may want to stay in denial for a while as a way to protect yourself. You may be thinking your partner is just threatening to leave, and he/she will be back. May be that promotion seemed to be yours until you were passed again.

Some people stay in disbelief to avoid the despair, not really prepared to face reality. Acceptance is a gradual process, and if you’re not ready, you can take small steps. Remember you can only change yourself and your response to events. Accept what you cannot change.

Acknowledge your feelings. You may experience a wide range of feelings from confusion, fear to sadness or relief. The longer you try to hold on to the old, the longer it will take you to recover. Allow yourself to be sad or upset if this is a loss but also pay attention to what might be the silver lining. What’s the meaning of all this?

It is often helpful to have a therapist or someone close that you help you sort through this. Sometimes the universe brings us change quicker than we expected. Sometimes we just don’t have the courage to move forward until we find ourselves in a new place.

Face what you’re most afraid of. Things can look really overwhelming until you’re willing to lean in the uncomfortable. Counseling could be helpful to explore your fears in a safe place but you can also journal. Tune in and see what is keeping you stuck. Learn to be an observer of what’s going on inside your skin. If we know our thoughts and emotions they tend to scare us less. You want to move in the direction of love and courage, instead of fear.

Where do you look for strength when you are afraid? If fear is getting in the way, how do you develop the inner strength that you can handle this. Part of this is developing a flexible mind, staying in the present, and trusting this will lead to a new positive growth in your life. 

Reframe. See the unexpected situation as an invitation to change and evolve. When there’s pain, we are far more inclined to take risks, to take action, and look deep down inside. Get to know who you are and what’s meaningful at this time. Keep in mind this may be an unfamiliar territory, and you may have to improvise or attempt new solutions. This may be a call to deal with our challenges in new ways that create more meaning and wholeness.

Do something different or make new choices. The new situation may require you to break old habits or respond in new ways. Your default way of handling this, may be outdated, and this is a time to come up with new strategies.

Doing the same old things – working endless hours or avoiding the truth, the debt or facing your partner – may no longer work. Whether it’s negativity, passivity, avoidance, this is a call to do something different.

Practice compassion and being positive. Even though you may lack all resources to manage this change, accept this as a challenge to grow and practice compassion. Learn how to love yourself, cultivate kindness and notice what makes you light up.  Use mindfulness to connect to your wise mind for some guidance and compassion. Set an intention to surround yourself with positive people who help you become your best self.

Counseling can be very helpful during the time. It takes energy, strength and courage to keep reinventing yourself. This could be a new chapter or an invitation to develop, re-connect with your purpose, and become more alive, more of yourself. Unexpected situations often have the potential to open doors to new possibilities, and help us expand in new ways.

What is one small step that you could take to help you move forward?

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