How to Stay Emotionally Strong in the Face of Big Changes
  Vijai P. Sharma, Ph.D

 When AT&T broke up in the '70s, two researchers, Maddi and Kobassa, studied how the middle and upper class executives handled the enormous change that totally disrupted their lives.  Some were going to lose jobs, relocate, or be compelled to take an inferior job.  It was unpredictable how the "chips would fall" in the process of deregulation.  The two researchers followed the executives for a period of seven years to study the impact of such a stress on their health.  

 Actuaries who are in the business of predicting the effect of stress and disruption on health would predict that one in five executives in the above situations would become severely ill and five to seven out of one hundred would die.  Interestingly, who lives and who dies does not depend on the status of an individual's physical health, but on the attitude of the mind.  

We all want to, and try to be strong when we face a crisis that threatens the safety and survival of our family, our health or our job, but only a few stay strong and intact through the process.  Some even thrive on the challenge of a crisis and become more creative and competitive.  What accounts for the difference?  The researchers attributed the difference to three attitudes of the mind in the face of a crisis. They called them "the three C's." These three C's or attitudes can make you crisis proof.  Interestingly, these are similar to the attitudes that help people to recover from a life threatening illness.    

The first "C" in the three C's is the "Challenge" attitude, that is, viewing the change and disruption as a challenge rather than a threat.  Those executives in the study who felt overly threatened by the change mainly expressed anxiety and didn't find much relief. This in the due course physically wore them down.  

Those executives who viewed change as a challenge did well. They said to themselves something like, "This looks tough, but I've faced tough challenges before.  I can do this."  They recalled the various challenges of their lives and the successful ways in which they handled them.  What they said to themselves reduced their anxiety.  Such memories of past accomplishment gave them confidence to deal with the challenge.  
The second "C" in the three C's is the "Commitment" attitude, that is, making a commitment to deal with the crisis, instead of denying it or pretending it doesn't exist.  Those executives in the study who denied the reality or played down the problem, got sick.  When the reality overwhelmed them, their physical resources couldn't deal with the demands of harsh reality.  

Those executives who made a commitment to change did well.  They analyzed the reality of the situation carefully.  They made a commitment to change in order to take care of their own needs.  They also committed themselves to change for the sake of their family, their company or something else, that was bigger than just themselves.  A good example of this is when people work for a cause or calling.  No ordeal or no obstacle can get them down. 

The third "C" of the three C's is "Control" attitude, that is, taking control of the situation instead of languishing into helplessness.  Those executives who perceived themselves helpless felt that the forces beyond themselves were in full control of their lives and there was nothing they could do to influence the situation. Someone described it rather poetically, "It was as if they allowed themselves to go through white water rapids without even trying to avoid the rocks."  You guessed it right; those who perceived themselves helpless tended to become sick. 

Those executives who felt they had to at least attempt to steer their raft around the rocks, were determined to make the best of the situation.  They believed that they would have some control over how the events would turn out.  They accepted that they could not control all the external forces that confronted them.  They knew that they couldn't control the events.  They just wanted to make sure that they controlled their own reactions to those events.  As a result, they coped better.  More opportunities came their way.  They did more problem-solving thinking.  They said to themselves something like, "I will make sure that some good will come out of it."  They, in fact, had better outcomes.  

Take note of the three mental attitudes, challenge, commitment, and control.  These attitudes will lead you to actions and actions will lead you to the best possible place in the tough times.  Remember you can't control certain events some of the times, but you can always control your reactions to them.  This, in essence, is the freedom human mind has.   Nobody can take away this freedom from us.  The freedom to react as we choose is our real freedom and our fundamental right.  .    

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