THE past few weeks have been topics on how to prepare for a mentally and physically healthy Christmas. I thought it best to specifically talk about coping strategies for those who may not be familiar with their options.
I’ve had a lot of readers share their struggles over the years. However, I would say there has definitely been an increase since COVID-19 and always around the holidays.
While some handle stress 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 becoming a parent also results in stress; Christmas is stressful. This means that the key to living a good life is not avoiding stress but learning how to deal with it healthily.
First, let’s talk about what stress is. I feel it’s a word that many people use every day but 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. These are very individualistic/ subjective and can be healthy or unhealthy. In Guyana, we see instances of many 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 the 60 days due to the mild discomfort that it may bring.
Stress severely impacts 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, and be adaptive and resilient to any changes around us. We cannot control what other people say or do to upset us or what general situations arise.
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 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 a problem-focused strategy where the individual focuses on the problem, which 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 the emotion-focused strategy, where the individual focuses on the emotions that the problem/stress has elicited. For example, if the aforementioned person is sad, angry and resentful about 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 wait until you feel 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 about 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/TV 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 also to 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 him/her. 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.