According to psychology today, there are two types of responses to situations. There is problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. How you respond when unexpected problems occur says a lot about what type of person you are. We will examine a few types of reactions and how they affect your mind and body, and suggest better coping skills.

When we are in panic mode, have fear, feel like we are threatened with no escape, among others, our bodies immediately dump hormones into our systems preparing to either fight or flee. This is part of the nervous system response that deals with stress.

When things go wrong, we have a tendency to react automatically depending on our unique personality, past experiences, learned behavior, and level of self-awareness. There are definitely ways to manage your responses to stressful situations.


When you have to deliver important documentation 20 miles away and you discover you have a flat tire a mile from your destination. Your car has aftermarket rims, and you do not have a spare. Limping to the destination, because the mail must get through, you take care of business and call AAA for a tow.

You are told there will be a 30-40 minutes wait. You call your other half, explain the issue, examine the tire, discover it is down to the radial on the inside edge (a weekly visual of the tires didn’t catch this), and there is no putting air into it and driving home. A quick call to the local tire place and an appointment is made.

You pull out your Kindle, kick back and read. The tow truck arrives, the car is put on a flatbed (because it can’t be towed behind), and off you go. Traffic is bumper to bumper on the way home. You chat with the driver and drop the car off at the tire place. A Call to the other half goes unanswered. It’s about a mile home, you start walking.

Other half calls, comes and picks you up. A few hours later new back tires are on the car, and the car is back at home. The entire incident threw the whole day off, but, there was no overt panic. There was a fair amount of eye rolling and a couple of curse words, and then solutions were organized and implemented.

Unexpected expenses put a strain on the budget, but cars need tires. Hopefully, it’ll be another 3 years or so before tires have to be replaced again. But the day could have gone differently. This incident could have ruined the entire day, and a foul mood shadowed the rest of the day.

Initially, there is a spike in stress hormones. Yikes, what you going to do? Call AAA for a flatbed truck. Take it from there. The response within 50 miles of home is quite different from the response if you are 200 miles from home. There are other times when you will respond like a wound up jack in the box.


Frustration and annoyance escalating to full out anger activates the flight or fight response. This increases blood flow to your brain through the frontal cortex, making it difficult to form a rational thought. Adrenal glands activate and send adrenaline coursing through your system.

Blood pressure soars, your breathing increases and your heart starts beating a tattoo in your chest. This is an automatic reaction observed in just about every living creature on the planet. The fight or flight reflex is a holdover from the days where predators were a real threat to us. The body prepares to face or flee from perceived danger.

Becoming angry over something that is out of your control is not good for your health. Stressing your body by constantly cycling through fight and flight, and your normal countenance places undue strain on your mind and body. Cumulative stress can lead to all sorts of health problems.


Panic attacks can be triggered by anxiety, fear, feeling overwhelmed, or in unfamiliar situations. An immediate response that sees you unable to catch your breath, your heart rate sours, you can’t get enough air into your lungs. You feel light-headed and like you are about to keel over and die.

Swallowing may be difficult. Limbs may tingle, you may feel like passing out, your vision tunnels, and you may experience chest pain. Sweating or chills, nausea, and detachment are also common symptoms associated with a panic attack.

In the middle of a panic attack, you are not able to deal with the situation in front of you. You may not be able to even deal with the problem right this second. If you think about it, you go into a fresh round of palpitations. You cannot make any type of decision in this state. Your system has you locked down in fight or flight response again.

Panic attacks stemming from a situation that you cannot control can produce anxiety, stress, and worry over everything. Prolonged symptoms can lead to anxiety disorders.


Do you immediately feel defeated or inadequate, and unable to cope? Is bursting into tear your immediate response to a sudden crisis? Do you start sobbing, and block out what is happening? Do you physically run away and hide? Crying can be an automatic response to stressors. Is it appropriate for every situation?

Crying has positive benefits. Crying relieves stress, removes toxins, and lowers blood pressure. Crying is not the best way to face a problem head-on. When faced with a sobbing mess most people feel uncomfortable and are unsure how to proceed. Presenting a sobbing wreck when trying to get help may get pity instead of respect.

Crying is an automatic response to stress. How crying makes you feel is the crux of the matter. If you burst into tears every time something goes wrong, this may be a learned behavior to avoid facing the issue. It is time to find more appropriate coping skills and healthier ways to respond to adverse situations.


If ‘woe is me’ is your first response to an adverse situation, you are way past due to find more appropriate methods to deal with unexpected situations. Throwing your hands up and absolving yourself of all responsibility, and expecting someone else to come to your rescue every time is selfish and manipulative. Somewhere along the line, you have learned this behavior. It has gotten results for you so many times, it is now automatic.

Acting helpless, hopeless, and princess-like avails you to no one. After a while, people will not want to go near you because every time they hear from you, you are in the middle of a crisis you can’t cope with. This will create ‘the boy crying wolf’ syndrome. The one time you are really in trouble, no one will believe you. Learned hopelessness is not attractive.

Thinking you are helpless when faced with a problem is based in your self-worth. Your self-esteem and self-confidence, or lack thereof, is directly projected to the world by the way you react

Or perhaps you have picked up a princess complex and believe you are entitled to everyone else coming to your rescue. You are just that important. When you don’t get rescued you stomp your feet and pout.

You need to learn to take responsibility for your own problems and deal with them in a mature manner. You are not entitled to special treatment, and you should not treat people like they are slaves. Ask for help when you genuinely have a need.

Understand that there are so many situations that are out of your control. We live in a technical world; we are used to things occurring at warp speed, with information literally at our fingertips. Life itself operates at another frequency.


Is your first response to blame someone else? Do you feel that the world is out to get you and nothing you do works out? This is victimization. You play the victim in order to avoid responsibility. In turn, you use this as justification to become angry, upset, or even abusive.

Victimization is a defense mechanism. You are effectively putting blinders on and ignoring your part in the situation. It is a passive response. It prevents you from feeling any other emotion, therefore rendering you incapable of making good decisions.

You will waffle. You will let someone else take over. You will go along with someone else’s solution and then complain bitterly that it was not what you wanted. This is maladaptive, leads to stuffing feelings which will lead to explosions of anger and resentment.

The way people react to you will not be to your liking. You will find a few who will always take over for you. You rely on people bailing you out and use that to your advantage. Other people will ridicule you, treat you badly, or refuse to help you, and you will then feel justified to play the victim.

This is extremely unhealthy. You’re doing a great disservice to yourself hiding behind passivity and letting others fix your problems.


Mechanical objects break down, you get sick, and technology has outages. Physical objects degrade over time and Mother Nature has her own schedule. Other people are their own sentient beings, and therefore, you have no control over someone else’s actions.

The only thing you can control is your reaction. You. Your thoughts, emotions, and actions. That’s it. Just you. Remind yourself of this next time something doesn’t work as expected.

When something crops up out of the blue, take a deep breath, and start thinking about possible solutions before you even open your mouth or take action. Thinking things through will lead you to better outcomes.

There is wisdom in being prepared. Whether you gather material goods, or emotional arsenal, being prepared will allow you to automatically reach for the right response to most situations. Each time you solve a problem you will boost your confidence.


Being mindful of your emotions will go a long way to helping you cope better with the unexpected. When you feel yourself start to react, identify the emotion and why you feel that way. Are you angry, frustrated, scared, confused, worried, or do you feel that you are ok? Walking through the potential impact of that emotion on this situation will help you make informed decisions.

Don’t make things worse for yourself unless you simply cannot avoid it. If you act in anger be prepared for that emotion to be mirrored back to you. People who feel attacked will often snap right back or be less willing to help you.

Every one of us is built differently. How you react depends on learned behavior. Remember, behavior can be changed. You can learn new coping skills and how to regulate your emotions. Ultimately, it is up to you.


If you are interested, I have included a link to an infographic/article on Psychology Today that explains what core emotions are. Dating back to First Century Chinese, seven emotions were identified as a basis for all others. These are joy, anger, sadness, fear, love, disliking, and liking. Modern psychology has expanded on this concept to identify basic emotion and complex emotion.

To learn how to identify and set goals click the link.

Another helpful article explains how to identify and stop negative thinking.

How do you cope with the unexpected? Comment below or drop me a line.



  1. Hi! This post could not be written any better! Reading this post reminds me of my previous room mate!
    He always kept chatting about this. I will forward this write-up to him.
    Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thanks for sharing!

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