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Helping Ourselves Through a Challenging Experience


by Mark D. Lerner, Ph.D.

Chairman, The National Center for Emotional Wellness


Although we can't change our circumstances, we can choose how we respond to them. While our physical condition may dictate which strategies we can use, the following are twenty-five suggestions from the book CrisisNotes: Practical Suggestions for Living Through a Challenging Experience (Lerner)—there are hundreds more. Many people have utilized these suggestions while grappling with adversity.


1. Surround yourself with your family and loved ones.


2. Talk about what's happened, tell your story, and allow yourself to feel.


3. Try to obtain facts about your what's happened.


4. Allow trusted family members or friends to help you make important decisions.


5. Spend time with people who listen more than they speak.


6. See your reactions as normal responses to an abnormal event.


7. Let yourself cry with a special friend.


8. Never apologize for showing your feelings.


9. When you're feeling overwhelmed, take a slow deep breath, inhaling through your nose, hold your breath for five seconds, and then exhale slowly through your mouth. Upon exhalation, think of the word “relax.” Repeat this process several times.


10. Tell children the truth, at a developmentally appropriate level, taking into account the unique

characteristics of the children.


11. If you find it difficult to concentrate when someone is speaking to you, focus on the specific words being said, and slow down the way you are speaking.


12. Know that it's okay not to be okay, right now.


13. Draw upon past experiences to help you to cope today.


14. When making decisions, try to keep yourself in thinking rather than feeling mode.


15. Know that you are not your body. While your body may be broken, it does not mean that you are.


16. When feeling emotionally overwhelmed, change what you are doing.


17. Recognize that what you think will affect the way you feel.


18. Avoid avoidance.


19. Know that others may say things to try to help you to feel better quickly. They may need to feel

better quickly.


20. Remind yourself that you will get through this.


21. Listen to soft music.


22. Speak with a counselor or therapist.


23. Excuse yourself when people speak of others who have had the same experience.


24. Avoid people who have all the answers.


25. Realize that you are not your illness or injury.



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