5 Types of Adversity and Ways to Overcome Them

5 Types of Adversity and Ways to Overcome Them

Everyone has experienced setbacks, hardships, and misfortune. Whether it’s not getting a job, experiencing a breakup, losing a loved one, or facing a health complication, adversity is something no one can avoid. 

Without any adversity, life would be one straight and flat boring journey that prevents us from growing. This article explains the different types of adversity, how they can impact mental health, and ways to overcome them.

Annie Miller, Psychotherapist

“So adversity can be a positive thing for the brain to learn to change and grow if we have the right support in place.”

— Annie Miller, Psychotherapist

How Adversity Impacts Mental Health

During rough moments, we don’t often think of how the experience impacts our health. We just want it to be over and move on. However, adversity has a significant effect on our mental health which can contribute to mental, psychological, and emotional issues. 

Adversity Can Lead to Anxiety and Depression

“There are many studies linking adversity in childhood to mental health conditions, like anxiety and depression, as well as chronic health problems in adulthood,” says Annie Miller, a licensed psychotherapist in private practice and the owner and founder of DC Metro Sleep and Psychotherapy.

The Impact of Adversity

“Adversity can disrupt one’s sense of stability and security, triggering feelings of hopelessness, helplessness, and overwhelm. This happens because prolonged exposure to stress causes the brain to release stress hormones that put us in a state of high alert,” says Miller.

Overcoming Adversity Can Make You Stronger

Overcoming adversity with the right tools and support can make a person stronger and more capable as it creates an opportunity for learning that allows them to build resilience and improve their life.

Miller adds, “So adversity can be a positive thing for the brain to learn to change and grow if we have the right support in place.”

A Study Showed How People Cope With Adversity

One way we can learn about overcoming adversity is by asking those who have been through it.

A study interviewed resilient older adults with an average age of 71 and asked about how they dealt with the significant hardships in their life.

Results included three themes:

  1. Vital components of resilience: This includes beliefs and behaviors such as having a strong resilience identity, recognizing the ordinary, reframing hardship, activating social support, and practicing gratitude
  2. Strategies to manage adversity: Examples include reframing problems, positive self-talk, and being comfortable with vulnerability.
  3. Protective practices to mitigate risk: Examples include being kind to themselves and others, attending therapy sessions, and self-care practices such as exercise, meditation, adequate sleep, and spending time unplugging.

Emotional Adversity

Humans are emotional creatures. From sadness, joy, and anger to guilt, we feel emotions through all sorts of experiences.

Emotional adversity is when difficult emotions consume our daily lives and become barriers to our ability to function properly. 

Our childhood, past experiences, relationships, and environment shaped how we view and manage our emotions. If we are unable to process our emotions, it can lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms that create further challenges to our well-being.

For instance, the inability to manage our anger at someone may cause us to become violent, use verbally abusive words, and hurt ourselves and others.

How to Overcome Emotional Adversity

Acknowledging and accepting your emotions can be an effective way to overcome emotional adversity. “Recognize and accept the range of emotions you may be experiencing. Allow yourself to feel them without judgment or guilt. It’s OK to be upset, angry, or sad,” says Miller.

Mental Adversity

Mental adversity involves mental health struggles such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem, or trauma-related issues. An example is post-traumatic stress disorder

Miller explains, “[Mental adversity] can be seen in persistent feelings of sadness, worry, or fear, as well as changes in behavior, mood, or thought patterns. Individuals facing mental adversity may have difficulty concentrating, experience sleep disturbances, or generally feel on edge and have trouble relaxing or motivating.”

How to Overcome Mental Adversity

Although it things may or may not improve any time soon, a change in mindset, shift in focus, or support from community can help you get through the difficult experience. Our brain’s neuroplasticity allows us to adapt and change through adversity.

It may be helpful to remind ourselves we have the ability to survive and get through hard things, to acknowledge the reality of challenges without becoming consumed by them, and to reach out for support and shared strength, care, and comfort.

If your mental adversity is limiting you from feeling content and fulfilled throughout the day, don’t hesitate to seek professional help. A mental health professional can provide support, guidance and offer individualized treatment options for your needs.

Physical Adversity

Physical adversity is any issue related to the body’s ability to function optimally. Chronic pain, insomnia, digestive problems, physical injury, deafness, blindness, and obesity are examples of physical adversity. 

How to Overcome Physical Adversity

Overcoming physical adversity differs from person to person depending on their situation. It’s important to take into consideration your specific needs and follow the guidance of your healthcare provider.

Taking care of your body such as eating a balanced diet, getting regular exercise and sufficient sleep can be incredibly beneficial for your health and well-being. Mindfulness practices, meditation, and positive self-talk exercises can create a sense of calm and help you destress.

Miller, specializes in working with sleep disorders, chronic pain, and trauma and uses a variety of evidence-based techniques including CBT-i for insomnia, EMDR for trauma, and PRT (pain reprocessing therapy) for chronic pain says, “Telling yourself that it may be hard right now, but you’re strong and you can get through sends a hopeful message to your brain about healing.”

Social Adversity

Social adversity involves having trouble in relationships with others. This can mean being bullied at school, having issues making friends, dealing with overbearing parents, or being abused by a partner. 

How to Overcome Social Adversity

One of the ways to overcome social adversity is to distance yourself from and set boundaries with those who are causing you harm.

Surround yourself with those who uplift you, who treat you with respect and kindness, and who support and encourage your well-being.

A four-wave prospective year-long study asked participants about the most significant adverse events in their life, engagement with wise reasoning, and self-distancing. The study showed that working through adversity does not increase wisdom, but it does affect how you reflect on the adverse experience. 

Additionally, participants who reported self-distancing more from social conflict were more likely to have sustained wisdom compared to those who reported self-distancing less from social conflict.

The researchers suggested that it may be related to the mechanisms involved with how we process adversity including deliberative rumination and meaning-making.

Financial Adversity

Financial adversity involves stress associated with money and/or not being able to pay for your necessary basic needs.

Some examples include job loss, career issues, unexpected expenses, and loss of income due to other circumstances such as a medical condition, gambling addiction, or the death of a loved one.

How to Overcome Financial Adversity

Financial adversity is a common source of stress for many people. It’s important to identify the problems and understand your needs and your relationship with money. It may be helpful to create realistic goals, develop a plan, set a budget, and stick to it. That being said, capitalism can be exhausting and the values and beliefs that are upheld in Western society when it comes to money can be challenging on many levels.

If possible and desired, it may be helpful to seek professional help from a financial advisor who will be able to help assess your situation and offer potential solutions. Making an effort to educate yourself on money and finances by reading books or financial wellness blogs may be helpful as this is not a topic that we have been taught or guided in growing up.

Be patient with yourself during the process and remember to celebrate small victories along the way.


If the adversity in your life feels overwhelming and it’s difficult to carry out your daily usual routine, it’s crucial to seek professional mental health help. They can help you identify coping mechanisms, manage trauma and heal from the experiences.

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