Developing coping mechanism to deal with stress / anxiety

On a day-to day basis, most of us are generally faced with situations at work or home that can be uncomfortable and induce stress or anxiety. It is not always about the source of our stress or concern, but rather how we cope and deal with our challenges that will make us successful, thrive and be resilient. In knowing how to better cope with our stress, we are also equipping ourselves to be more pro-active at navigating future challenges or stressors more effectively.

By developing effective coping skills you are better equipped to tolerate and minimise the effect of stressful situations in your life. As a result, you will feel better mentally and physically which will assist you in performing optimally.

Each of us have a different way of coping with stress. Some coping strategies might provide us with a quick relief, but can be unhealthy and cause more problems for you later in life. This is why it is so useful to engage in healthy coping strategies that will provide you with the correct relief from any distress you may experience.

I want to introduce you to two strategies that you can apply to help you manage your responses to stress, namely; Problem-Based coping and Emotion-based coping. First off, you need to ask yourself when you are experiencing stress, “Do you have the ability to change the situation or do I need to find a way to better cope with my situation?” Based on your evaluation of the situation, you can decide which strategy would be better suited to assist you.

Problem-based coping is helpful when you need to change your situation, perhaps by removing a stressful situation from your life. Emotion-based coping is helpful when you need to take care of your feelings in order to manage your stress. This will tend to be used when you do not have control of changing a situation.

Consider the following scenario where both problem-focused and emotion-focused coping are applied:
You attend a meeting with your managers to discuss your performance review, they hand you a document and it states that you are performing well below average in various areas of your role, this comes as a shock to you since you felt that you were performing well. This instantly makes you feel anxious and frustrated.

Problem-focused coping: You decide to talk to your manager about aligning on their expectations of your role and what you can do to improve your performance. You develop a clear plan that will help you do better and you start to feel more confident about your ability to succeed.

Emotion-focused coping: You decide to ignore the whole situation and after the meeting spend time in your lunch break reading articles online in order to distract yourself from the catastrophic predictions that you’re going to lose your job and become homeless. After work, you exercise and clean the house as a way to help you feel better so you can think about the situation more clearly.

Healthy Problem-Focused Coping Skills

There are various ways to face a problem head-on to help you to address the source of your stress and to overcome it. Most of the time this will require you to take charge of your situation, create an action plan of what you are going to do and at times it can require you to make changes in your life that will allow you to be happier and healthier.
Some strategies of healthy problem focused coping can include, creating an action plan or to-do list, relying on your support network or asking for help, developing your time management or assertiveness, or even removing yourself from a situation that is no longer serving you.


Healthy Emotion-Focused Coping

Whatever emotions you might be experiencing, emotion-focused coping can assist you in managing your emotions in a healthy way. This will help you to calm down or to be better equipped to face the situation. It can also be valuable for you to experience your emotions regarding a situation and to not shy away from hurtful emotions.

Here are some examples of healthy emotion-focused coping skills:

Clean the house, give yourself a pep talk, Cook a meal, Do yoga or another form of exercise, List the things that you are grateful for, do gardening, practice breathing exercises, spend time in nature or engage in self-care. Through engaging in emotion-focused coping we start to regulate negative emotional reactions to stress and negative emotions. This can be used when we do not have the ability to change our situations.


In general people would think that finding a solution to a problem is the best way to manage your stress, yet if you remove the situation or task that is causing you stress you will never learn how to adapt your responses to stressors in order to manage your emotions around it.

Most of the time you will employ a coping strategy to deal with obstacles that you face on a daily basis. But being proactive in your approach can be a very helpful way to manage future obstacles that you are likely to face.

"Pro-active coping is a stress-management strategy that reflects efforts to build up resources that facilitate promotion toward challenging goals and personal growth. Proactive individuals are motivated to meet challenges, and they commit themselves to their own high standards. They see demands and opportunities in the distant future and initiate a constructive path of action toward meeting them. Stress is interpreted as eustress—that is, productive arousal and vital energy—and coping thus becomes goal management instead of risk management. In contrast to the other types of coping, proactive coping does not arise from any negative appraisals, such as harm, loss, or threat."
American Psychological Association

Proactive coping can help you with potential derailers that you may face and will assist in managing predictable change in your life.

So, if you are facing a stressful life event or you’ve undergone a major change, try planning ahead. Consider the skills you can use to cope with the challenges you’re likely to face. This will make you feel better equipped when you are being pro-active in your approach.

You will also need to find a coping strategy that is suitable to your personality and situation, whether it be problem-focused or emotion-focused in order to allow you to build up your resources in order to effectively deal with any challenge that may come across your path.

By Suzanne Meyer
Psychometrist

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