Psychologist's motto: Be prepared

No one wants to think about rain on a sunny day, and few like to look forproblems when things are going fine. But psychologist Lisa Aspinwall, Ph.D., of the University of Maryland, notes that those who anticipate crises can reduce their impact and even prevent them altogether. She calls this approach "proactive coping," and describes five steps for spotting storm clouds on the horizon--and making sure you're not soaked in a unexpected shower.

Think ahead. This means saving for a time when you're strapped; making friends now whom you can lean on later; and taking care of your health so that you're strong enough to take on life's adversities.

Be willing to face bad news. Surprisingly, it's not the gloom-and-doomers who detect potential problems most easily; it's the optimists, who don't let bad news get them down.

Appraise a potential problem carefully. Psychologists give the name "anticipatory coping" to efforts to deal with a well-defined event: scheduled surgery, an upcoming exam. But proactive coping responds to more ambiguous stressors--so its practitioners must remain flexible and open.

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Practice anticipation. Smart coping strategies, says Aspinwall, are first learned within families. She suggests allowing your child to anticipate upcoming events and prepare for them: shopping for school supplies in August, packing a lunchbox the night before.

Listen to feedback. Even when proactive coping fails to avert a crisis, says Aspinwall, those who have given the situation some thought will be better educated about their plight--and better prepared for the next one.


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