Coping: An Essential Life Skill
Everyone experiences some kind of stress in their lifetime. Every person has a different and natural coping response that helps them deal with that stress. When you are feeling down, or you are given bad news, what is your first response? Maybe you feel like you need to go for a walk, or clean something, or maybe even eat a lot of your favorite junk food.
Negative emotions and experiences are a natural part of life. These feelings may be caused by what’s happening around you or caused by your own thoughts and actions. Whatever the cause may be, the coping techniques that you use to deal with these hard times play an important role in overcoming them. Your ability to successfully overcome your stress and bad feelings makes a big impact on your entire mental well-being.
What is coping?
Although you probably already have a pretty good idea of what coping is, it is important to really explore the idea in a deep way to help you find out which coping methods are the best for relieving your kind of stress.
Important life events, whether they are good or bad, can cause mental stress. Events that make us angry or sad, such as the loss of employment, divorce, or the death of a loved one will cause painful feelings in most people. Life events that are usually seen as happy and joyful, such as marriage, buying your first home, and having babies can also make you feel very stressed out. If you want to relieve this stress, you might try different ways of thinking, or new behaviors and activities. These thoughts, behaviors, and activities are called coping mechanisms.
Why are positive coping skills important?
There are many different kinds of coping mechanisms. The methods that work for you may not work for other people. For some people, it’s a lot easier to get into the habit of choosing the unhealthy coping strategies, such as using drugs and alcohol. But those kind of coping methods do not get rid of stress, they just make you forget about the stress for a little while. When people turn to drugs and alcohol, they usually need more and more each time they use them. That habit can hurt you physically and mentally. It will also cause stress and worry for the people who care about you, like your friends and family. When people rely on drugs and alcohol to feel better for too long, it’s much harder to learn the good coping skills that actually work.
According to the American Psychological Association, if you ignore your high stress levels or don’t deal with it in the right way, you can develop serious health issues such as anxiety, difficulty sleeping, body aches and pains, high blood pressure, or a weak immune system. It can also make you gain weight, give you head aches, or make your skin break out with acne. Using healthy ways of coping will keep these unpleasant health effects from happening to you.
How do I learn positive coping skills?
If you want to calm your feelings and lower your stress, you need to find out what is causing your stress and think about why you’re having these negative feelings. Learning how to pinpoint the reason behind your stress is an important first step when choosing the best ways to give your mind some relief. Understanding the difference between internal and external stressors is also important when you’re finding ways to soothe your mind.
Internal stressors are behaviors and thoughts that come from within yourself. Some examples are:
Worry stress: stressing about things that haven’t happened, or things that might happen in the future. I call this having a case of the “what if’s.” Maybe you are nervous about a big test coming soon and you are worried about failing. Maybe you are afraid of drowning and think, “what if I fall in the water?” These thoughts can make you feel stressed.
Emotional stress: this could be stress caused by anger or sadness. You could be angry at yourself for cheating on your diet, or depressed because your family pet passed away.
Physical stress: this is stress that is caused by situations that are tough on your body like fatigue, hunger, and sickness. Changes in your hormone levels can also make you stressed, such as puberty, menopause, or post-partum depression.
External stress is the opposite of internal stress. This kind of stress comes from outside forces that you don’t have a lot of control over. Some examples are:
Environmental stress: this kind of stress is caused by the world around you. It could be bad weather, overwhelming crowds of people, heavy traffic, or very loud noises.
Social stress: this is stress caused by interacting with your friends, family members, neighbors, bosses, or coworkers. Even happy occasions like wedding planning, preparing for the birth of a baby, and starting a new job can cause a lot of stress.
Life altering stress: upsetting, life changing events such as the death of a person you love, car accidents, or natural disasters can uproot your life and leave you feeling lost and overwhelmed. Even being rejected from your dream college can feel like a devastating and life changing loss.
Everyday responsibilities: the pressure of having day-to-day responsibilities such as paying your bills on time, filing your taxes, or finishing all of your homework may seem like small things, but these small stressors can add up. Dealing with deadlines, money issues, and politics also add to the build up of stress.
For some people, simply understanding what is upsetting them and why they feel sad can lower the amount of stress they feel. Try to take a deeper look at your stress and ask yourself some questions about it, such as:
“What caused this stressful event to happen?”
“How did this event affect me?”
“Why did other people act the way they did?”
“How do I feel about it?”
It is important to be honest with yourself when you answer these questions to give you a different point of view on the situation and help you problem-solve.
Coping Strategies: Active vs Passive
Coping styles are usually broken up into two groups; active and passive. Active coping means that you are in control of your feelings and surroundings and actively trying to find healthy solutions and support. Using active ways of coping can give you a better awareness of your negative feelings. It can also lead you to an activity or a way of thinking that will make you feel less stressed out. Here are some commonly used active coping strategies that you can try:
Get some fresh air. Research has shown that the vitamin D your body receives from sunlight can raise your levels of a “feel good” hormone called serotonin. Being around the calming sights, sounds, and smells of nature can also make you feel more relaxed.
Create a comforting routine. Sometimes, stressful situations can make you feel helpless. Sticking to a routine can give you a sense of control throughout your day. This could include a nightly soak in the hot tub, walking your dog every morning, or watching your favorite television show before bed. Having a regular routine can also help you get a healthy amount of sleep every night.
Exercise. Physical activity is one of the best stress reducers there is. Just like vitamin D, exercise can significantly raise the levels of “feel good” hormones in your brain. Exercising regularly will boost your energy and help you feel more focused through out the day. Even if you are struggling with a busy schedule, you should always try to make time for a bit of daily exercise to help you manage your stress.
Talk to someone. Although it can be hard to open up about the struggles you are facing, talking to someone about it can make you feel much better and help you find other solutions to your stress. Whether you are opening up to a friend, a family member, or even a professional therapist, discussing your problems can give you a sense of clarity.
Passive coping happens when you feel helpless and feel that you can’t deal with your stress. People who use passive coping methods give up control over their stressful situations and often spend too much energy stewing in their negative emotions. These people usually try to feel better by placing blame on others or by avoiding the stress altogether. You may feel powerless and feel tempted to let your stress take over by using unhealthy vices such as:
Drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes. While these habits might make you feel better for a little while, they only add to your overall stress levels. As soon as the effects wear off, you will end up feeling far more stressed than you were before. Drugs, alcohol and smoking worsen the bad physical effects of stress like high blood pressure, difficulty sleeping, and depression.
Oversleeping. Curling up in your comfy bed sounds nice when you’re stressed, but too much sleep can actually make you feel even more tired. This will make more stress for you because it will become hard to focus on daily tasks, including proper management of your emotions. Getting enough sleep is important when you’re stressed, but oversleeping will only avoid your problems. Avoiding your stress doesn’t make it go away.
Emotional eating. Food can also be an unhealthy crutch when you’re feeling stressed. Overeating sugary and fattening comfort food may soothe your pain at first, but this can cause many health issues if you reach for junk food every time you’re feeling bad. This can cause weight gain, low self esteem, and digestion problems.
Experiencing stress and pain is unavoidable in life, but you don’t have to let it get you down. Now that you have a better understanding of what coping is and how to spot the difference between good and bad coping styles, you can give some of these coping mechanisms a try and see if they help to ease your stress. You may be able to turn a painful situation into a positive learning experience.