girl riding bike in forest

How do you cope with the unexpected?

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How do you cope with the unexpected? Many of us are moving through life so fast we rarely stop to think about what’s going on… really going on. Truth be told, life is always throwing something our way. Something unexpected… whether it’s a car breaking down, an accident, a tree falling over on our fence, an illness, or a world pandemic (you knew I had to mention it).

Maybe you’ve been running ragged shuttling your kids from one place to another (well, up until Coronavirus grounded us all), maybe you’ve been fraying at the seams because relationships are more tense, maybe you’re unravelling because you’re working on too many work projects (from home) while taking care of your children or aging parents.

A few years ago, that’s exactly what happened to me. In episode 1 of my podcast, I tell my story of plodding along in life as if tomorrow was guaranteed and then, in a matter of seconds, realizing nothing is ever guaranteed.

On a sunny, warm Thursday afternoon, in an instant, everything changed and my life shifted. My focus shifted. My priorities shifted.

I was not good at self-care, I was good at caring for others. My way of coping with stressful situations was humor (it still is), more like a fine line between ironic humor and sarcasm. And if you don’t think that’s awkward, you should see me at a funeral! In the depths of the seriousness of the situation, I try to find the things I remember about the person that brought light into the world. Things they said or did that provided joy and laughter. Probably not the right time, but it’s how I cope.

Coping with the unexpected is an art that is expressed differently in each one of us. In the darkness of my own existential crisis, I remember feeling like Raggedy Ann as I walked out of the surgeon’s office (after our first meeting); like an animal caught in a trap unable to free myself as I sat with the harsh reality of what was to come. And then it came… my raw, uncensored humor (again, bordering on sarcasm).

But that’s what got me through. Humor.

When we look at the state of the world today, there is nothing funny about people getting ill and dying. But without humor we die a little too.

There is something funny (even ridiculous) about the first fight with my spouse having occurred one month after we’d been quarantined together 24/7 over a cell phone malfunction. In the meantime, we had been good about making each other laugh about silly things.

As sad as it was not to be able to celebrate Passover in our usual way, I found solace in an online seder raising money for Coronavirus relief and beauty in an online concert by Andrea Bocelli for Easter.

Besides there always being something unexpected, the other truth in life is that we are all here by God’s Grace. Period.

There is an old Yiddish proverb (it has to be old if it’s Yiddish) that, “we plan and God laughs”. It speaks to the fact that we know little of how life will turn out or get in the way of our plans. And also, that even if we are doing everything right, and living a pious life, God will still send us challenges to make us grow. Maybe to develop those coping skills we need for unexpected situations.

Like… being quarantined in our homes for weeks at a time for our own safety. Like… people, loved ones, getting sick (and possibly dying) and hopefully recovering. We make plans of going back to “life as usual” but we don’t really know what that will look like.

So here are some ways that I cope with stressful situations and maybe they will help you too:

  • humor!
  • reading – anything – fiction, non-fiction, devotionals
  • writing – my thoughts, my worries, my frustrations, my desires
  • praying
  • playing – puzzles, Sudoku, word games
  • cooking (and eating)
  • cleaning or decluttering – one room, one drawer
  • physical activity – riding my bike, walking my dog
  • connecting – online, phone, email, FaceTime
  • music – listening and creating
  • nature
  • beauty – you can find this in art, music, nature (or being obsessed with makeup)
  • gratitude – start a gratitude journal and find one thing per day you are grateful for
  • self-care – take a bath with epsom salts or aromatherapy oils
  • any creative endeavor – photography, drawing, painting

Definitely not an exhaustive list, but enough to get you going for at least a couple days.

So, tell me, how do you cope with the unexpected?