Self Help Skills

Stress Management: Coping Strategies

Stress management

1. What are coping strategies?

These are behaviors and actions we undertake to minimize and/or survive stress, which can happen after a stressful event, or is an ongoing feature of your life.


2. Some psychologists describe four kinds of coping strategies (and we may use all of these coping strategies when trying to survive stressful times) :


- Appraisal-focused coping: When we challenge our own assumptions - e.g. 'There is no way only I was eligible for the promotion, when there were so many to choose from.'

- Problem-focused coping: When we reduce or eliminate a stressor. Some believe this works better than others. - E.g. 'No more metro travel in rush hour.'

- Emotion-focused coping: When we change our emotional reaction - E.g. 'Children running over my lawn! That's nothing. I used to break neighbor's glass windows.'

- Occupation-focused coping: When we change our occupation itself - E.g. 'Being a consultant helps me plan my own working hours.'


Also know:

Active coping: Active coping is about being self-sufficient enough (and confident enough) to reduce and survive the stress levels in our life ourselves, needing no outside help.Kind of a modern Thoreau, if you will.


Difference between problem focused coping and emotion focused coping: Problem-focused coping is making practical and forward-looking changes in life to reduce stress. Emotion-focused coping works best when we are dealing with a long-term stress (disability), which forces us to change our mental makeup forever, looking 'at the bright side of life' all the time.


3. Adopt positive coping strategies

- When we anticipate a problem beforehand (e.g. Knowing from beginning that the work will involve long hours, why not ask for flexible timings and work-from-home options?')

- When we discuss it with friends and family (this is called social coping) and seek emotional support. (This writer, for example, has just returned after helping a friend deal with stress at work)

- Physical coping: A healthy lifestyle (good sleep, nutrition, exercise) is gold. Other options are meditation and relaxation exercises.

- Humor: The ability to make others laugh or to be able to laugh at oneself (self-depracation) makes life a bit lighter, doesn't it?


4. Give up negative coping techniques (These are also known as maladaptive coping or non-coping)

These techniques might help in the short term, but rarely in the long-term, due to the extreme nature of these methods. These coping strategies don't help us break apart from past, unlearn bad habits, and the things that make us anxious don't go away actually.


- Dissociation: The ability to separate and compartmentalize thoughts, memories, and emotions. Used constructively, it allows us to do lots more in this limited life. But, the negative aspect is often more visible, resulting in conditions such as PTSD (post traumatic stress syndrome.) The things that are hurting us never go away.

- Sensitization: When we learn about/rehearse, and/or anticipate fearful events in a protective effort to prevent these events from occurring in the first place. But then we will have to face the events anyway, and however prepared we may be, real life is never theory.

- Safety behaviors are demonstrated when individuals with anxiety disorders come to rely on something, or someone, as a means of coping with their excessive anxiety.

- Anxious avoidance: When we avoid anxiety provoking situations by any means possible. And stay in the house all your life?

- Escape: Similar to anxious avoidance (above). Common in people plagued by panic attacks or phobias. These people want to flee the situation at the first sign of anxiety, without seeing that there is always a choice - fight.


5. Go easy on your 'neurotic needs'

Psychologists say our 'neurotic needs' (aka 'compulsive attachments') are common ambitions that we all lust after, and with ambition comes disappointments, and ultimately, stress.


The top 10 'neurotic needs' to go easy on (seeking balance in all things):

- Affection and approval: The need to please others and be liked

- Love will solve everything

- Other end of ambition: Totally undemanding, not wanting much (may also be a symptom of withdrawal from the world)

- Power: The need to control others using any means necessary

- Exploiting others: Aka the 1%

- Social recognition or prestige: Our pervasive interest in our appearances, need to be popular

- Personal admiration: Ah, vanity

- Personal achievement: Aka the great American Dream

- Self-sufficiency and independence: This is a good thing (as long as we are not abandoning fellow human beings who need us)

- Perfection and unassailability; Aka hubris


6. How we deal with grief


Grief is the sadness that overwhelms us after a loss - of a closed one, some dear thing...or a sense of loss (for example, when the doctor tells the patient she/has only a few months to live, or when our loved ones break up the relationship). In her seminal work, 'On Death and Dying' (1969) psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross wrote about the stages of grief (based on her studies of the feelings of patients facing terminal illness):


- Shock: 'I just can’t believe it.'

- Anger: 'I am so upset.' 'Why is this happening? Who is to blame?'

- Denial: 'This can’t be happening.'

- Bargaining: 'If X will just not happen, in return, I will do Y.'

- Depression: 'I am too sad about this to do anything right now.'

- Recognition: 'Well, I guess this is not going to change.'

- Acceptance: 'I am (finally) at peace and can accept what has happened.'


It is not necessary for us to go through all these stages, or all these stages sequentially, but it tells us how we ultimately get to dealing with the feeling of loss. Humans are sad social animals, trying their best to cope.


What does it all mean?

It means time is the biggest healer. It helps to say to ourselves, 'This too shall pass.'


7. A list of coping mechanisms (uncategorized, but if you have read and understood the various kinds of coping mechanism, it will not be difficult for you to work out the positive coping mechanism. Consider this a learning exercise.).


Acting out: Not coping - giving in to the pressure to misbehave.

Adaptation: The human ability to adapt.

Aim inhibition: Lowering sights to what seems more achievable.

Altruism: Helping others to help self.

Attack: Trying to beat down that which is threatening you.

Avoidance: Mentally or physically avoiding something that causes distress.

Compartmentalization: Separating conflicting thoughts into separated compartments.

Compensation: Making up for a weakness in one area by gain strength in another.

Conversion: Subconscious conversion of stress into physical symptoms.

Crying: Tears of release and seeking comfort.

Denial: Refusing to acknowledge that an event has occurred.

Displacement: Shifting of intended action to a safer target.

Dissociation: Separating oneself from parts of your life.

Emotionality: Outbursts and extreme emotion.

Fantasy: Escaping reality into a world of possibility.

Help-rejecting complaining: Ask for help then reject it.

Idealization: Playing up the good points and ignoring limitations of things desired.

Identification: Copying others to take on their characteristics.

Intellectualization: Avoiding emotion by focusing on facts and logic.

Introjection: Bringing things from the outer world into the inner world.

Passive aggression: Avoiding refusal by passive avoidance.

Performing rituals: Patterns that delay.

Post-traumatic growth: Using the energy of trauma for good.

Projection: Seeing your own unwanted feelings in other people.

Provocation: Get others to act so you can retaliate.

Rationalization: Creating logical reasons for bad behavior.

Reaction Formation: Avoiding something by taking a polar opposite position.

Regression: Returning to a child state to avoid problems.

Repression: Subconsciously hiding uncomfortable thoughts.

Self-harming: Physically damaging the body.

Somatization: Psychological problems turned into physical symptoms.

Sublimation: Channeling psychic energy into acceptable activities.

Substitution: Replacing one thing with another.

Suppression: Consciously holding back unwanted urges.

Symbolization: Turning unwanted thoughts into metaphoric symbols.

Trivializing: Making small what is really something big.

Undoing: Actions that psychologically 'undo' wrongdoings for the wrongdoer.


(Source for list: Changing Minds)


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