Suffering, and coping mechanisms

Adesh Kumar Mishra
5 min readDec 11, 2021

Life is a gift of God; Human life is the most virtuous among all. Life is beautiful but has a dark side too. This dark side is known as suffering; suffering is as old as the history of humans and as definite as death.

All of us experience suffering in one form or other. Nobody wants it, but everybody has it. Let us go through a story from the life of Buddha -

Prince Siddhartha was a young and youthful man. Who had seen the life of joy, happiness; till he encountered an old man (he had never seen one before), a sick man (he did not know sickness), and a dead body at the funeral? Prince Siddhartha realized how fragile life is; what is the point of having fancy clothes, fancy ornaments, and servants when everything prince has, is temporary. At that time, he had an infant called Rahul and a loving wife. Siddhartha struggled in his everyday life afterward, as he wanted to know the truth of life. After a year and a half, he left his palace and tried to seek the truth. He found it after six years of his spiritual journey into Buddhahood.

Buddha defines desires and ignorance as to the root cause of suffering. Desire refers to craving pleasure, material goods, and immortality, all of which are wants that can never be satisfied. As a result, desiring them can only bring suffering. Ignorance, in comparison, relates to not seeing the world as it is. Without the capacity for mental concentration and insight, Buddha explains, one’s mind is left undeveloped, unable to grasp the true nature of things. Vices, such as greed, envy, hatred, and anger, derive from this ignorance. Buddha explains the eightfold path to end the sufferings. These paths can be divided into three themes: good moral conduct (Understanding, Thought, Speech): meditation and mental development (Action, Livelihood, Effort), and wisdom or insight (Mindfulness and Concentration).

Buddha in meditation

In this article, we will try to identify different types of suffering. And try to find out how it can be reduced? We can group suffering into three types -

  1. Physical Suffering — Physical suffering has its root in the physical world. It is an actual and logical outcome of its underlying causes. Examples include suffering from a wound, injury, loss of a loved one, etc. It is an unavoidable aspect of our life as you cannot control death, accident, and injury.
  2. Psychological Suffering — Psychological suffering arises from our unreasonable and unrealistic expectations. They do not exist rather than in the mind. The mind controls our thoughts; thoughts define our understanding and personality.
  3. Physical with Psychological Suffering — Physical suffering associated with psychological aspects includes chronic illness, chronic depression, etc. These types of suffering are difficult to deal with as they cause physical and psychological injury to the individual.

Now, the question arises, how to minimize them? Is there any way to cope with them? Are they going to be permanent? We will see how we can cope with these types of sufferings separately -

Negative coping — Negative coping is addictive and harmful to the person. Treating suffering with negative coping means making the disease worse than before the treatment. Let us see, some of them -

  1. Substance abuse — alcohol, smoking, drugs Substance abuse refers to the consumption of addictive and harmful chemicals to cope with the suffering. Examples include alcohol consumption, smoking, and drugs addiction. Substance abuse only makes the problem worse. Earlier, you were fighting with fewer problems: now more.
  2. Eating disorder — Some people eat untimely to overcome suffering. It involves eating sugary beverages, carbohydrates, which make you slow and less resilient to fight.
  3. Bottling up emotions (Holding emotions) — We tend to hold emotions to avoid confrontation or look strong. Bottling the emotions makes your problem worse as you start to fill yourself with thoughts that are damaging and harmful to your mental health.
  4. Buying stuff (Squirrel syndrome) — We love to buy things to make ourselves comfortable. But when we suffer, we tend to over shop. Like a squirrel, we collect stuff that we do not need. It promotes the desire for more. But the problem with more is that it is a never-ending phenomenon.
  5. Using other human beings — When we are in suffering, we look at other human beings to get out. In the process, we use them to satisfy our wants. The problem with this coping technique is that other humans cannot satiate us forever. It leads to more pain and suffering in the end.

Negative coping harms you more than it helps to solve your problems. It’s like treating the poison with more poison. In the end, everything you have will be poison.

On the other hand, healthy coping techniques help you combat your sufferings in a meaningful way. Let us see some positive coping methods for the reduction of suffering.

girl meditating

Positive coping mechanisms -

  1. Face your problem — Look at things as it is rather than how it should be. When you face your trouble with a solution-oriented mindset, you find courage and hope in the process.
  2. Sleep — Proper sleep helps you replenish your brain with essential chemicals and makes your muscles relaxed. Proper sleep helps identify the pathways to conquer your fears, anxiety, and suffering.
  3. Pray — Praying is a powerful coping technique, as it helps us find hope. Hope is the most powerful tool in the world. It gives us strength, courage to face our fears, problems.
  4. Working out — Working out helps you burn stress chemicals, refresh your mood, and strengthen your body. Working out can help you eliminate some of your physical and mental sufferings.

It is important to remember that eliminating suffering in its entirety is not possible. As Buddha said, “This world is full of sorrow.” So, some are bound to be there, but you can eliminate most of them by using your own wisdom and knowledge.

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