Bridget Rolens: Coping is the art of finding a balance between acceptance and action, of letting go and taking control.
If you feel that you can cope in a stressful situation, this minimizes or buffers the harmful effects of stress. You no longer feel threatened, but simply challenged, and this has a different physiological effect. The experience which you are gaining by regularly eliciting the relaxation response gives you the skills to distance yourself from automatic thoughts, exaggerated beliefs, or distorted thinking, and to choose how you want to respond. (The Wellness Book)
Here are some coping strategies. Careful thought needs to be given to each in order to choose the most effective technique.
You put aside a problem until you can deal with it more effectively - when you or the other person is ready to confront the issue. This is different from procrastination, which is putting off confronting a situation because delay is easier than dealing with it.
Just do it! Act directly on the problem. At the same time act with discrimination - know when immediate action is not helpful.
Pro and con list
Writing down pro's and con's of possible solutions. This allows you to see options and feel less like a victim with no choices.
Do something you enjoy and that relaxes you. Studies show that people who take time to play, laugh, and relax are more productive and content.
Reframing (situational redefinition)
Reframing is the ability to look at an event from a different perspective. Is the glass half empty or half full? If you have a belief that you are a failure because you did not get a job that you wanted, you can reframe that distorted view by telling yourself, "I'm not a failure if I don't succeed . . . I'm a success because I tried."
Short, positive messages that you address to yourself that affirm your worth and your abilities. Affirmations are good tools for reframing negative self-talk into a positive message
They reduce the stress created by automatic thoughts that undermine self-esteem.
Talking out a problem with a friend or mentor aids in letting off steam and getting another perspective.
Many find it helpful to call upon their personal belief system to help them cope with stressful situations.
Find a safe, nurturing form of emotional release such as letting yourself have a good cry or good laugh.
Write things down to get them off your chest. A psychologist in Texas found that writing in order to get in touch with our deepest thoughts and feelings can measurably improve physical and mental health. Write about things that cause you stress and about life's pleasures, too: example, a gratitude list in which you write down all the things for which you are grateful.
Acceptance balanced by action
The Serenity Prayer expresses this strategy:
May I have serenity to accept the things I cannot change (acceptance), courage to change things I can (direct action), and wisdom to know the difference.
Successful coping results from gaining the wisdom to achieve the delicate balance between
Earlier column: How does stress impact my health?
Bridget Rolens is the mind-body skills instructor for St. John's Hospital - Center for Living.