To whom or what do we turn today in moments of crisis? Here’s a look at how different people across the country have reacted and the lessons it holds.

Life in the 21st century with its attendant stresses and strains and minus the cushions and shock absorbers of the earlier decades – the joint families, family doctors, priests and astrologers, favourite teachers - is a challenge, to say the least.

When stricken with an illness or grappling with a marriage on the rocks or a bad patch in one's career, or when faced with a crisis or tragedy, like losing one's loved ones in a terrorist attack, what do people turn to for solace and comfort? Are there any significantly newer comfort factors now when compared to the bygone era? Or have things not changed much?

Leaning on family

Despite western influences, relocating to further careers and small nuclear families, the family still remains a haven of hope and comfort; a unit that people automatically turn to for succour during trauma.

Actor R. Madhavan aka Maddy (of “Alaipayuthey”, “Kannathil Muthamittal”, “Rang de Basanti”, “Guru” and “3 Idiots” fame) says “My refuge during a crisis has always been coming home to family: my parents Ranganathan and Saroja and wife Sarita. I think best when I am with them. Incidentally, a film not doing well is not a crisis. As far as issues related to work go, I fight my battles alone as I am the one who knows all the ramifications.”

Divya, a finance professional who, along with her mother and her husband, nursed her father through colo-rectal cancer, multiple surgeries and attendant complications, says, “The key comfort factor is family support. My mother was extremely strong and dealt with my father's illness with a lot of faith and my grandmother was the strongest of all, having seen so much in life. My husband, who is calm and unruffled and very practical in a very nice way, was there a lot of the time. For instance, outside the ICU, you don't have a place where you can sleep. Very often my husband would talk my reluctant mother into going home and he would stay back.”

Another great lifeline is trusted friends with whom one can bare one's soul, whose judgement can be relied upon totally and who can hold up a mirror to one's problem.

Ashok Jacob*, who is coping with a marriage that turned sour much against his wishes, says “Apart from the family closing ranks, as one moves from denial to acceptance, the people you talk to next are very close friends who put things in perspective and who are the rationalising factor. Often you tend to think that half the blame for the problem is yours, but friends help you focus on the positives.”

One key change in our social fabric is that problems are no longer kept under wraps and hidden away. People are as willing to share their stories as there are hands and hearts ready to help. Technology too has made a huge difference and also offers a certain degree of anonymity.

Model and entrepreneur Shwetha Jaishankar who recently went through a personal crisis, says, “What's good is that today people are a lot more open about situations that don't work. Online forums and books help a great deal.”

Attitude matters

What really seems to count is one's own attitude. Even in the face of unspeakable tragedy and trauma, people with the right bent of mind have managed to come out reasonably unscathed.

Journalist-turned-entrepreneur Santanu Saikia, who lost his wife Sabina Seghal Saikia in the 26/11 Mumbai blasts, says, “I felt that we must learn to handle the event with compassion, empathy and forgiveness. We have forgiven the terrorists because they didn't know what they were doing. But it hasn't been easy for us. My son still doesn't talk about the event and my daughter grew up overnight. We still have ghosts to exorcise. While I have grappled with the logistical and infrastructural problems around the home, I am not sure if I have been able to handle the emotional aspects.”

A positive never-say-die spirit is both the right prescription and comforting factor during a life threatening illness. And certainly goes a long way in accelerating healing and helping conquer illness. Positivism also comes to the rescue and helps people in facing up to testing times. Instead of going down under, these survivors actually bounce back with a vengeance.

Sudhir John, MD of a paint company whose factory was completely gutted twice over, says, “There is nothing that can give one comfort and we just have to pass through a bad phase .There will be hard times but I believe God has given me the necessary strength”.

Practical approach

Apart from the right mental attitude, a practical approach to the problems on hand and tackling the things that warrant immediate attention helps address the crisis and comes with the bonus of providing some comfort too.

Divya remembers, “My mother blocked out some concerns and simply took it one day at a time. I prepared for the worst. Being in planning a lot of my life, I would mentally simulate situations and how I would feel, have a good cry perhaps. Later I would just do what needed to be done.”

When coping with a crisis, there is always the temptation of seeking the easy way out and choosing to drown one's sorrow in a couple of swigs, binge eating or comfort food. But some people who don't have family and friends turn to pets for some unconditional love. And, believe it or not, plunging headlong into work is yet another comfort factor.

As Divya says, “A crisis can suck you in completely. Work provided the much-needed counter-balance”.

Noted danseuse Vani Ganapathy says, “Dance (Bharatanatyam) was a major comforting factor. Not only is it good exercise, it's also a sort of meditation and yogic discipline. It helped me take my mind off my crisis and spend my energies in a positive way rather than get depressed. Abhinaya (emoting) was useful to get rid of negative energies.”

What about time, the great healer? Does its inexorable passage dull the pain and provide perspective and comfort? As Shwetha Jaishankar says, “It is what you do in that time that is important. You have to consciously work through the problem. You can't just put a bandage on a wound. You need to put the right stuff on it.”

Faith as anchor

And how can one forget faith? Does it serve as the much-needed anchor? Is spirituality a more durable solution for coming to terms with crisis?

Ashok recalls, “I am usually always late for service. But the few moments of silence I used to enjoy in church after that gave me perspective, belief in something over and above worldly things and was very calming to the soul.”

Shwetha Jaishankar discloses, “I discovered Vedanta and spent time in Rishikesh. Slowing down, turning to yoga and inner reflection made a difference. People say you should keep yourself busy so that you can take your mind off a problem. But I believe that if you want to see your reflection you need still water and not running water, which is why a sedate pace is more conducive.”

Professional help

Finally, how about seeking professional help? Does it figure in the options list or is ‘shrink' still a feared word? Ashok reveals, “I sought help when my wife and I were still together. It's only after a complete breakdown that I began hurting even more. Sometimes even the best counsellors can't help. I would recommend it only if one feels comfortable.”

And what better parting shot than this one from Shwetha Jaishankar. “One sometimes derives comfort from doing things for those less privileged. Life isn't easy for anyone.”

* Names changed