Healthy coping: A process of learning and growth

Alexia Georghiou is a speaker, coach and author. She is also the Founder and Principal Consultant of The Resilient Pathway

Have you experienced tremendous change and loss? This is called grief. Anytime we experience a loss or go through a change, there’s a process that we naturally go through as human beings.

Let me tell you about the SARAH model of change. SARAH stands for the steps that we go through. They may be linear, they may not be. It can get messy.

S is for shock.

A is for anger.

R is for the reaction.

A is for acceptance.

H is for hope.

And we’re going to add G for growth. We can grow in grief.

When something happens, our system, even physically will respond. Can you think of a time when you heard news or you saw something with your eyes and you were literally in shock? This is normal when something unexpected occurs and it’s really important for us to have support so we can navigate these emotions. When we start feeling anger, this is a good sign that we are coming away from the shock.

Even a small change can cause anxiety. Anxiety is not a bad thing. Anxiety is natural to have in response to certain events. The word “anxiety” gets a bad rep. Another word we can use is “stressed”. People are much more comfortable with “stress”, but it’s okay to say “anxiety” because change causes anxiety. Loss causes anxiety, and it is part of our normal human condition.

Feelings that demand to be felt

So when we start feeling that anger, that’s good. We’re connecting the mind and the body. During that shock phase, there may be a disconnect because it’s too much for us to process at the moment.

Anger feels powerful. The root of anger is sadness and fear. We feel more vulnerable to admit these emotions. To say “I’m sad about this” or “I’m really afraid”. Happiness involves acknowledging our emotions, talking about them, feeling them, processing them, and stating, I will have hope. And that’s why we’re talking about growth in grief and in pain, because you can keep your happiness regardless of what happens and grow.

So we’re processing that anger, we’re acknowledging this underlying feelings of sadness and fear. We deflect, we blame, and we do everything but take responsibility. There are things that we can control, including our response, and there are things we cannot control: the response of others.

This is an important time to acknowledge “I’m in this stage, and I just need to accept. And if I didn’t make a good choice and what happened was partly a result of it, I’m human. I’m going to forgive myself, and I am going to move on and move forward”.

Think about: what could I have done differently? What am I learning from this scenario. The road to growth is sitting down with calm emotions and looking at the situation rationally. So we’re looking at having realistic optimism, where we look towards the future and look at making any changes that we need to and processing those emotions.

How do we regulate those emotions? Just think about what calms us down, what makes us smile. When things are going well, we practice these natural strengths and skills that we have. But when things don’t go well, we forget. So have a list. Make a list of things that help you feel better. Perspective will shift the more we can calm ourselves and regulate those emotions.

Getting past grief

The next step is acceptance. So we are accepting the reality of the situation and we are saying “this is what has happened, this is what is occurring and I just make the choice. I’m accepting this”. Have you ever stated this? That I accepted this and I let go of what I can’t control?

Take a moment to practice gratitude because that rewires the brain that puts our brain in positive. We are lifelong learners. We are on a journey. Happiness is a journey and we will always learn and grow if we make the decision to do so.

Hope is an intentional act. It doesn’t just happen. When we are in that shock phase, we lose hope. And so now we’ve gone through the steps and we have accepted the reality. We’re calm and we’re making a decision that life goes on. It may be a different reality and that’s okay.

We’re going to work with it and adjust. This process may not be linear, it’s not supposed to be and it’s okay if we go through this cycle every day, several times a day. The normal process of grief is about six months of just not feeling okay. And after that, if it lingers, It could turn into depression. We need to remember that our choices do not only affect ourselves, our choices affect others.

When we build the community, connection is the key to happiness; community and feeling that we belong. So when we’re challenged in life, we can remind ourselves and those around us when we see them challenged, that this is normal. This is just part of the human condition. And when we realize that, we can see there’s nothing wrong with me, there’s nothing wrong with you, we’re just going to support each other and heal from this.

Happiness is a choice and it’s related to hope so keep that hope alive.

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