I’VE had a lot of readers share their struggles over the years. However, I would say there has been an increase during COVID 19. If you guys write in requesting specific topics, I’m more than happy to oblige. These past few weeks, I’ve gotten a lot of information on general, overall struggles, so I decided to do a basic column on how to cope with these stresses.
While some of us handle it better than others, no one is immune to stress and its side effects. Additionally, avoiding stress is futile because not only negative situations cause stress; for example, being promoted or having a baby also result in stress. This means that the key to living a good life is not avoiding stress but rather, learning how to healthily deal with it.
First, let’s talk about what stress is. I feel it’s a word that many people use every day, but would have a hard time defining it.
Stress is any mental or physical strain or tension. Unfortunately, it can come from any angle –- family, work, school, relationships, and financial state –- just to name a few.
The strategies we use to deal with our stress are called coping skills. These are the actions we choose to take when we are stressed, angry, sad, embarrassed etc.; and these are very individualistic and can be healthy and unhealthy. Guyana is flooded with unhealthy coping skills such as consuming alcohol, smoking cigarettes/ marijuana or abusive behaviour.
Well, what if I told you there were healthy and productive ways to deal with this large amount of stress? It is not difficult to change unhealthy coping skills to healthy ones –- it’s just simply tedious. Studies show that it takes the average person 40 to 60 days to develop a new habit. So if you are used to calling someone for a drink when you’ve had a bad day, it would take that amount of time of forced behaviour for it to become natural for you to call them for a workout or a movie instead. The issue is that people usually give up before 60 days due to the mild discomfort that it may bring.
Stress in itself severely impacts both our mental and physical health, so we are only increasing our distress if we unhealthily deal with it — ultimately just adding additional issues in the long run. On the other hand, healthy coping allows us to overcome obstacles, accept and deal with setbacks, be adaptive to any changes around us and be generally happier. We cannot control what other people say or do to upset us or what general situations arise. However, we do have complete control over their effects on us and how we deal with it.
Developing coping mechanisms is quite difficult, as emotions that arise when we are upset are very powerful. They tend to cloud our judgement, decision-making and even creative abilities — all very much needed to handle a stressful situation. While of course, it is better to start developing healthy coping strategies early, it is never too late to learn them. There are two major types of coping strategies –- whichever one is used depends on the individual. The first is problem-focused strategy where the individual focuses on the problem itself that may cause stress. For example, if a person has to relocate when they do not want to, they can focus on the problem itself– moving, what exactly needs to be done and how to cope with that.
The second is emotion-focused strategy, whereby the individual focuses on their emotions that the problem/stress has elicited. For example, if the aforementioned person is sad, angry and resentful for this relocation, they may focus on strategies that handle these feelings of distress.
I have always been partial to emotion-focused strategy as I am an emotional person. This means that at times, I let my emotions guide me and get the better of me (not always a good thing). I am also a firm believer in the saying, “Life is 90 percent what happens to us and 10 percent how we react to it.” However, this does not work for everyone and many people find the problem-focused strategy very beneficial.
So, what are some examples of good coping skills? These of course depend on the individual. What relaxes, calms or excites you may not work for many others. If you have never thought about things that may work for you, here is a list to get you started. Try one or try them all! An important tip: do not just wait until you are feeling negative emotions to implement these into your life. If something is already a part of your routine, it will make it easier to remember to take part when you actually need it.
-Exercise — any form — dancing, team sports, punching bags, bicycles. This is not about weight loss, but rather, releasing positive endorphins.
– Keep a feelings journal. Writing is so therapeutic.
– Educate yourself- read about everything! For fun, even.
– Become artistic – draw, paint, colour, create or simply listen to music.
-Watch light-hearted movies/ T.V shows- we get enough drama from real life.
– Be social with the right people. Keep good and positive people around.
– Spend quality time with yourself. Really get to know and love who you are!
– Practise good self-care. This means taking the time to do things that make you feel good about yourself. This can be anything from reading to doing your nails/hair. When we are confident and feel good on the outside, we tend to also internalise these feelings.
– Try delegating – you don’t have to (and shouldn’t) do everything
– Create and stick to a budget every day. Monetary issues cause a lot of stress.
– Build confidence, gratitude, positivity and optimism.
– Set new and realistic goals for yourself.
– Volunteer! Gain a sense of purpose and satisfaction by helping others.
– Practise forgiveness. This is for you, not anyone else.
– Focus on your religious/ spirituality practices (if you have any)
– Learn to walk away. When you are overly stressed or angry – take some personal space. Unfortunately for us, problems do not just disappear. They will be there for us to tackle when we are ready to do so.
– Find someone you can trust and confide in them. It is okay if you feel you cannot cope on your own. Seeking professional help also counts as healthy coping. This helps you to become stronger (not weaker) when dealing with future stressors and challenging situations.
For whichever one you decide to try, make a note of whether it worked for you or it did not. If it didn’t, that’s okay – just try something else. If it does work, remember that it takes much practice to make it a regular exercise — don’t give up!
Thank you for reading. Please keep sending any topics you’d like to talk about to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you’d like personal counselling sessions, please contact me on +592 623 0433
Suicide Prevention Helpline numbers: 223-0001, 223-0009, 623-4444, 600-7896
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