Developing your coping arsenal

It’s a good idea to have a choice of coping strategies to meet the specific needs of each situation you face—some “problem-focused” and some “emotion-focused.” During severe stress, you might find that your old ways of dealing with problems aren’t doing enough to help. For example, your preferred way of coping in the past might have been venting to a friend about something you couldn’t control. But now you may be overlooking direct actions you can take to fix the problem. Or perhaps you’ve always been an action-oriented problem-solver but now, even though it’s unfamiliar to talk with others about what’s bothering you, you might simply need someone to be a good listener. Take stock of your current coping strategies. We offer some suggestions for how you can expand your arsenal. Consider which ones might be most useful for you personally in various situations. 

Problem-focused Tips

Tip #1: Take a direct approach

Ask yourself if there are ways you can directly tackle the problem. It may be easy to quickly dismiss some ideas, but first brainstorm a comprehensive list. You may discover a novel approach if you don’t instantly abandon what comes to mind.

Tip #2: Plan

Can you make specific plans that have steps to get you through whatever is causing your stress? A problem can feel overwhelming when you look at the whole thing, but if you can break it down into smaller chunks, each step can feel manageable. Then you can move step-by-step closer to overcoming the bigger problem.

Tip #3: Exercise self-restraint

Maybe you’re flooding yourself by taking on too much, or maybe you’re tempted to give in to impulses that won’t actually help. Consider slowing down and thinking through things thoroughly before you act.

Tip #4: Seek advice

You may appreciate someone else’s perspective on what you’re going through. Ask others what they think. They may have different approaches you can try. Be clear about your intentions in speaking with them, though; there’s a difference between seeking advice and looking for somebody to rescue you in the midst of interpersonal struggles.

Emotion-focused Tips

Tip #1: Enlist emotional support

This is not the same as seeking somebody else’s input. Instead, you focus on telling someone what you’re feeling and ask him or her just to listen rather than provide advice.

Tip #2: Reinterpret stressful situations

You may find it helpful to look at your situation in a different way. For instance, try looking at what’s going on as a challenge rather than as a threat. Focus on what you can control and accept what you can’t.

Tip #3: Accept how you feel

As much as you might like to, you can’t instantly force yourself to feel different. By tuning in to how you feel, rather than pushing it away, you may find that the feelings don’t linger as long.

Tip #4: Engage in a healthy level of denial

Sometimes you may find it useful (in the short term) to let yourself believe there isn’t a big problem. This can help you avoid dwelling on it until you’re ready to address it.

Tip #5: Lean on spirituality

Some people find a belief in something greater than themselves to be an important source of support in times of stress. Finding purpose in something such as spiritual or religious beliefs may help focus and motivate you.

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