How Adaptation Helps Us Cope With an External Crisis
When a person has a crisis, a system of defenses begins to work, which are aimed at maintaining the integrity of his psyche. In difficult times, people think that they cannot cope with the current state of affairs, but in fact, they adapt to something new and try to integrate this new into their familiar life – this is how adaptation works.
Crisis and Its Signs
A crisis is an abrupt change in something. It can be internal, for example, a person becomes dissatisfied with his life or he overestimates his life goals – that is, a turning point happens only in his life while nothing changes in the rest of the world. An external crisis, on the other hand, is caused by an external event. This can be a move, a job change, marriage, a jackpot at a Gates of Olympus slot machine, and social upheaval. Let’s talk about external crises.
So, it all starts with an external event, after which a person’s life changes. Because of them, people may find themselves in situations they have never been in before, which means that they don’t yet have the experience and solutions for “what to do”. At this stage, there may be signs of a crisis:
- Anxiety. The person constantly feels anxiety, it can take over him/her completely.
- “Emotional Swings.” The person experiences different feelings, which quickly replace each other, for example, at first he is happy, and in a second, he is seized by anger.
- Physiological symptoms. This can be a headache or a lump in the throat, as well as disorders of sleep and appetite.
- Cognitive disturbances. The person’s memory deteriorates, concentration decreases, and his thoughts become incoherent.
- Increased communication barriers. If the person experiences difficulties in openly sharing his experiences with close people, with the onset of a crisis, he is likely to stop talking about his feelings at all, hiding, for example, behind computer games.
Changing Values and Internal Guidelines
A crisis caused by external circumstances pushes a person to sort out his internal system of values and find his place in the new system of the world order with which he is confronted. This can be thought of as an invisible process of constant checking of internal reference points against external ones.
Let’s imagine a picture of a group of people gathered for a picnic by a lake, but there is discontent and apprehension on their faces. And that’s because the weather is starting to go bad. If the background is removed, we are disoriented and try to understand or fantasize why people are in a bad mood.
Almost the same thing happens when a person needs to adjust to new circumstances and accept uncertainty in the future. We could say that the background is a representation of our future, and it’s important for us to have a fantasy about it or to make plans for it, otherwise we will be disoriented. This happens to us when external circumstances suddenly change.
Stages of Adaptation
The experiences that help one to live through an unfamiliar situation are formed during adaptation, that is, in the process of adjusting to a new or changing environment. There are stages of adaptation to the new reality:
- Shock and numbness. When an external event occurs that provokes a crisis, the human psyche reacts to this event by means of shock and torpor. They arise to slow down the psyche or to keep it from being destroyed. That is, the person slows down or freezes at all, also in order not to take hasty actions, on which a lot may depend. This is how the system of self-preservation of any living organism works.
- Denial. Thoughts that life has turned upside down and nothing will ever be the same again can be frightening and unsettling. This can make a person feel like they are not coping. In response, the psyche turns on a defense mechanism such as denial.
- Anger. Over time, the person gradually integrates into the new reality and realizes that he or she doesn’t agree with the external circumstances. Anger emerges, and with it a surge of energy and strength to do things that will help one live on. Anger brings a person out of his stupor and at the same time prompts him to commit rash actions, because at this stage thinking cannot keep up with his emotions.
- Restoration or search for a new meaning. A person can move from one stage to the next and back again several times, until he or she has created a suitable foothold for himself or herself and has faith in the future. But if a person gets stuck, it usually looks like this: “I understand that I cannot live as I did before, but I also cannot accept the changes that life offers me.” As a result, the person feels constant anxiety or sinks into depression.
- Creating a new meaning, making a decision. Without living through the previous stages, the person won’t be able to overcome the crisis and accept his or her new role in this world and the new world itself. As a result, the person must have a new experience that brings him/her to something he/she was not familiar with before. Only then will the person be able to lean on this new experience and on his feelings as reliable and to imagine himself more clearly in the future.
To help you adjust faster or more successfully, help yourself and rely on advice:
- Awareness that all feelings that arise during the adjustment period are normal. But if you feel stuck at any of the stages, and it hinders your well-being, it’s worth seeking help from a professional.
- Support gives you a sense of security, so it’s okay to seek it, to feel your need for it, and to give it to others.
- Seek support in everything – in your habitual or unaccustomed activities, in your main reference points, feelings.
- Allow yourself to learn new things, to benefit from the experience, even if it turns out to be painful. Live the experience, and if it’s difficult to do it yourself, ask for help and support.
- You cannot influence or control global events. If you manage to accept this, you give yourself an opportunity to rest from stress.
- You don’t know what lies ahead of you, and the circumstances that exist now can only influence you for a limited amount of time. If you imagine your future in a negative way now, it won’t necessarily happen to you.
- Become fully informed about what is happening, analyze your situation, replenish your resources, look for opportunities and the right solution for you.
- Learn to identify what is important and make plans, no matter what.