by Ian Stromberg, MSEd
Adversity:Adverse fortune, condition, or circumstance; a state opposed to well-being or prosperity; misfortune, distress, difficulty, hardship. – Oxford English Dictionary
Do you know a coworker, family member, or even a certain reader (*cough* *cough*) that is either the resident doomsayer or the uber “sending you positive vibes!” collector of happy thoughts? If it makes you feel any better, neither person is doing themselves any favors in times of adversity.
When faced with adversity, an accurate and healthy view of ourselves and what we’re experiencing can help us stay grounded in the realities of the situation rather than making it worse than it already is.
Adversity is those hardships and difficulties we contend with throughout our lifetime. A few minutes of news media browsing tells us we’re inundated with adversity. It unrelentingly rages against our resilience, and it comes in a range of severity and durations:
- Significant life events such as a death in the family, divorce, or a career change
- The day-to-day management of job or academic demands (or both)
- Financial hardships
- Family demands
- Significant environmental stressors like poverty; racism and microaggressions; the “new normal,” and the pandemic; war; or drought
There is little doubt that the situations listed are stressful. But we add to the severity of the stressor when a distorted and unrealistic mindset clouds us.
Why is understanding adversity important to my mental health?
Reflect on the stressful events you’re going through today. Now consider how this stress may be affecting you:
- Muscle tension, upset stomach, chest pain, and headaches
- Fatigue, sleep problems, and change in sex drive
- Anxiety, sadness or depression, irritability, and restlessness
- Lack of motivation, or inability to concentrate
The severity of how outside stressors affect us partially depends on our internal psychological view of ourselves and the world. People with low self-worth, depression, anxiety, or other mental health issues may have thoughts like:
- “I’m incapable of getting through this divorce.”
- “I can’t handle the unknown; whatever happens, it will be horrible.”
- “It’s unfair that I failed the test. The professor hasn’t liked me from the beginning.”
- “Of course, my car won’t start. Everything is going wrong for me.”
If you frequently get caught up in this type of negative self-talk, you’re harboring internal stressors that are likely to worsen an already stressful situation. Unfortunately, your body doesn’t care if your symptoms originated from self-induced stress or are caused by some external forces; the chest pain or fatigue feels the same. If you can healthily cope by realistically acknowledging your experience, you can better manage your stress.
So, I need to think positively, and my stress goes away?
No. Toxic positivity is like trying to walk off a broken leg: you’re just causing more harm than good. Ignoring negative emotions, undervaluing your feelings, or just thinking happy thoughts, is not the solution. Sometimes, looking on the bright side while in the quagmire of a difficult situation is impossible and invalidating. Worse yet, you won’t grow.
How do I move from unhealthy thinking to realistic thinking?
A competent therapist can help you process your experience and develop healthy coping techniques to adjust to your environment effectively and realistically:
- “My divorce has me feeling overwhelmingly sad. I’m doing my best, but I need to lean on my supporters to help me get through this.”
- “The past two years have made me think about what’s coming next. But I can’t dwell on something that hasn’t even happened.”
- “I’m disappointed that I failed the test. I need to change how I study if I don’t want to face this professor next semester.”
If you, or someone you care about, struggle with unhealthy thinking, give us a call. We have competent and caring therapists in all four of our locations - River Counseling Services in Platte, Sioux Falls Psychological Services, and Stronghold Counseling Services in Sioux Falls and in Yankton - who will meet you where you are, offering hope. That is our mission. You may schedule an appointment at the Platte office at 605-337-3444 or meet with one of our Sioux Falls or Yankton based therapists from your computer, smartphone, or in person at any of our clinics. To schedule an appointment, please call 605-334-2696.