Problem-Focused Coping: How to Bounce Back with Strength You Didn't Know You Had

by Al Siebert, PhD

THRIVEnet Featured Story - Fall 2002

Elizabeth Story-Maley's New York City apartment, where she lived with her husband and young twin sons, was six blocks from the World Trade Center Towers destroyed by terrorists on September 11, 2001. In the days and weeks after the towers collapsed, the air was so thick with dust and smoke that she and one of her sons were constantly gasping for air. When they developed asthma and severe breathing problems, she spent most of her time seeking medical help and treatments.

"We were just ordinary people," she says, "I had no idea what kind of person I would be in a crisis. Now I know I'm a better person because of what I've been through. After the terrorist attacks I saw a lot of people being emotional. I thought to myself 'That's not going to fix anything.' I decided to do something positive so when I look back on these awful events I could find the good in them."

Elizabeth started Breath of Angels, a nonprofit foundation affiliated with the American Lung Association, that has raised over 1/4 million dollars to help residents and rescue workers with respiratory problems brought on by their exposure to the dense dust and smoke in New York City after 9/11. "For me," she says, "it's helped to bring into focus the choice we all have, to live life on the periphery or to take an active role."

Elizabeth's way of handling her family's health problems and then problem-solving ways to be useful to others struggling with the same breathing conditions is a wonderful example of resiliency in action. When people are hit with extreme misfortune, the least resilient people dwell on their emotional distress. The most resilient people engage in problem-focused coping and find ways to be useful.

* Read about Elizabeth Story-Maley and other resilient people in "Bouncing Back" by Marnell Jameson, Woman's Day magazine, October, 2002, pp. 67-70.

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