Sometimes things do not happen the way you think they would, and then you get disappointed. How best can you cope with this?

You just failed a math exam and you tell yourself, “I never do well in math”.

Your best friend did not talk to you in school today and you think, “I am the only one she hates.”

The children on the bus called you a “fat slob”; you despairingly say, “I am a loser”.

While it is both normal and natural to feel upset when things go wrong, you must remember that how you deal with a problem is more important than the problem itself. In fact, everyone, including the top ranker, the all-rounder and the most popular kid, faces setbacks.

Moreover, events per se do not cause us to feel happy or sad, but how we think about them does. For example, if you know that your friend is a forgetful person, you will not feel hurt when she does not wish you on your birthday. Likewise, if you tell yourself that you got poor marks in a test because you had to attend a family wedding, you are less likely to feel miserable.

Don't give up

How we interpret events, thus, determines how we feel. In fact, we all talk to ourselves, in our minds. Psychologists refer to this as “self-talk”. The first step to avoid falling into an abyss of pessimism is to observe our self-talk. By paying attention to our automatic thoughts, we can then challenge them, especially if they paint a picture bleaker than reality.

For example, Sonu has just found out that she has to repeat Std. VIII. Her first thoughts are, “What will I do? My friends will think I am a dud. I will never be able to make new friends with the younger class. My parents will hate me for life.”

Once Sonu becomes aware of her self-talk, she has to look for evidence — both pro and con — to challenge the beliefs she holds about herself. Is it true that her friends will think she is a dud? While she is not so good at studies, her friends admire her drawing and singing talents. Even though it will take time to make new friends. Will her parents hate her for life? Yes, they will be upset initially, but will end up supporting her like they always do.

Once Sonu tells herself that all is not lost she is better able to cope with distressing news. Even though she still feels bad she has lost a year, Sonu is able to muster enough strength to try again. The battle is not lost when we fail, but when we decide to give up. Finally, you must remember that success is not possible without failure.

(The author is Director, PRAYATNA, Centre for Educational Assessment & Intervention.)

When the Going Gets Tough

How we interpret an event is more important than the event itself.

Everyone fails at something at some point.

If you are feeling down, talking to someone may help you identify and challenge your negative self-talk.

There is nothing wrong in seeking professional help.

Writing down how you feel can help you cope with strong emotions.

If you are feeling low, do something you enjoy; do not allow yourself to wallow in your thoughts.

Exercise regularly as it will help you keep your stress levels down.

Cultivate hobbies that you enjoy.

Says Anju, Director, Sneha:

Children have to be made to understand that being pulled up for scoring low marks, reprimanded for a certain behaviour or being criticised in front of the class is something that can happen to anyone - a regular part of school life - because most of the time they begin to think 'why me?'. This triggers off a feeling of embarassment. It is important that they ventilate what they have been through and what they are feeling to others, preferable an elder, whom they feel comfortable with. It could be a parent, grandparent, aunt or even a teacher. Children should NOT bottle up their emotions.

You can also reach out to organisations that offer help or emotional support when you are feeling very low and depressed. Or even even if it's just somebody you need to talk to, just call any of these helplines...

National helplines:

Aasra: 022-27546669

Maitreyi : 0413-233 9999

Sneha: 044-24640050, 044-24640060

Roshni: 040-7904646

Saath: 079-2630 5544/ 2630 0222

Sumaitri: 011-2338 9090

The Samaritans: 022-32473267

Lifeline Foundation: 2463 7401/7432/ 2474 5886

Website: http://www.befrienders.org/helplines/helplines.asp?c2=India

(Input from Madhumitha Srinivasan)