We all have ways we deal with stress and hardship... and sometimes we need to learn healthier ways to cope.
If you don’t know your favorite coping mechanism, here’s one way to figure it out…
Think back to the last time you were under a lot of stress or really upset about something. Did you reach for a container of your favorite ice cream and eat it all in one sitting, or throw a fit and tell someone off only later to regret it? Maybe you downed a few glasses of wine, called your best friend to vent, or just vowed to not think about it and keep going.
Whatever you tend to do when you’re emotionally upset or under a lot of stress is what you might call your “favorite coping mechanism.” The examples mentioned above tend to be unhealthier ones, especially when they’re habitual.
Coping mechanisms are strategies we use to deal with anxiety, difficult emotions, and stress. They help us process and adapt to difficult situations and help us to maintain our emotional and psychological well-being through the ups and downs of life.
While psychologists and therapists categorize and label these ways of coping differently, there are some common ways people tend to cope when life gets tough that are not helpful. They include:
Over-indulging – in anything pleasurable such as food or drink
Emotional shut down – ignoring your feelings or distancing yourself from people or situations
Recklessness – engaging in dangerous activities or acting impulsively
Avoidance – ignoring or refusing to acknowledge or deal with your feelings or the situation
So what are healthy coping skills?
Stress and hardship are part of life, and acquiring healthy coping skills (and teaching them to your children!) is one of the best things you can do for your mental health. Good coping skills are essential for healthy relationships, for peace of mind, and for overall well-being.
Like with so many things, we learn our coping skills as we grow up. If our parents modeled healthy strategies for dealing with stress and difficulty, we learn to do the same. If not, well…we’ve got some work to do when we grow up.
One of the best ways to combat poor coping skills is to focus on healthy ones. The more we put those into practice, the more they’ll become second nature when we face difficulties.
Begin with surrender
The first coping skill is to practice surrendering your life, and all that happens to you, to God. If you do this each morning when you wake up and continue to do it throughout your day, it fosters a greater dependence on God, and a deeper relationship with Him.
Here are some other key skills to build that will help you cope with whatever comes your way…
Clearly you’re already breathing, but there are ways to breathe that calm your parasympathetic nervous system very quickly. One of those is called “box breathing.” When you’re stressed or upset, give it a try.
Ask for help
Many of us are hesitant to ask for help – we think it’s a sign of weakness, or we don’t want to put someone out, or we’re too embarrassed. But one of things we’re supposed to doing in this life is help one another and bear each other’s burdens.
Connect with others
Turning to family, close friends, and people in our faith communities makes a huge difference in how we cope. Connecting with others helps us gain perspective, feel less alone, and helps regulate our emotions.
Engage in problem solving
Stress and anxiety often make us feel stuck and confused. One of the best ways out of this is to become a better problem-solver. That might mean doing research, talking to others, or writing out a plan of action.
It’s important when you’re under duress to take breaks from what causes extra stress (bad news, toxic social media accounts, people who are negative, etc) and take time for things like rest, prayer, self-care, exercise, time in nature, etc.
Focus on gratitude
If you’re able to be grateful no matter what happens, your feelings and your experience of a situation will be different. Gratitude lifts you out of self-pity and entitlement and helps you be fully present to your life and to God’s invitation.