Everything that we do to cope with stress somehow relieves the overwhelming emotions, if only for a while. Sometimes that can result in actions that harm us, like using drugs or drinking too much alcohol.
Here is a list of positive coping mechanisms that will help during times of adversity and change. Some of them will resonate with you, and some of them won’t. It’s like a menu; choose things that appeal to you. It’s a good idea to experiment with some of these techniques so that you are familiar with them before the next downpour in your life.
Exercise. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress. Studies have shown that walking 30 minutes a day is more effective at relieving depression than prescription drugs. Even mild exercise releases the endorphins that make us feel better.
The Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT). EFT is also called Tapping. I must admit that in the past, I was not a fan of Tapping. It wasn’t until my latest overwhelming life event that I realized its value.
EFT helps you to name the emotion that you are feeling, accept it, and release it. It can feel a little silly because you are tapping various places on your head and body while saying things out loud. I usually think the statements rather than say them out loud, and that helps me.
However, the results that people experience are impressive. Tapping has been shown to help with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Here is an interesting article on PTSD and Tapping: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/resolution-not-conflict/201110/energy-therapy-acupoint-tapping-the-best-ptsd-treatment. There is even a World Tapping Summit.
I am not going to outline the process, but here is a link to a website that will give you more information: https://www.emofree.com/eft-tutorial/tapping-basics/how-to-do-eft.html. And here is one of my favorite YouTube tutorials on Tapping: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V3sd9AoBjcc. It’s done by Cheryl Richardson, one of my favorite life coaches.
Positivity Portfolio. A Positivity Portfolio is another tool that can lift your spirits and inspire hope during a struggle. It’s a collection of pictures that evoke positive emotions for you. You can include pictures of puppies, family, friends, beach scenes, and hobbies you enjoy. You can collect the pictures in a physical binder or an electronic folder. Some people use Pinterest!
Looking at your Positivity Portfolio puts you in a positive frame of mind, which makes you open to new information and gives you the ability to see a broader view of the challenges that you face. When we are in a negative frame of mind, we have tunnel vision and are unable to see possible solutions. We also are not open to new information and perspectives when we are feeling negative and hopeless. A Positivity Portfolio helps us create a feeling of positivity that allows us to be more creative and hopeful.
The research on positivity and the Positivity Portfolio was done by Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of Love 2.0: Finding Happiness and Health in Moments of Connection.
Cognitive Restructuring. Cognitive restructuring sounds like a hard and technical concept, but it’s not. It’s simply creating new thought habits. We are intentionally changing the way we think. It’s very powerful.
Worrying and negative self-talk are habits just like any others. We can change them with some effort. I designed a mental game to help me change my worrying ways. I pretended that every thought was a request for something I wanted. When I thought about something, I was placing an order for it.
When I thought, “I am not going to have enough money this month,” I was placing an order for that to happen. Immediately I would think or say out loud, “Cancel that order!” Then I would replace the “order” with a new one: “I have plenty of money to make it through the month.”
During challenging times, it’s easy to worry and participate in negative self-talk, but we can change our thinking patterns. Any time you catch yourself worrying and creating a worst-case scenario in your head, cancel that order! Replace the negative thoughts with a thought about something that you want to happen or with an affirmation. Creating a positive internal dialogue makes life way less stressful.
Meditation. Regular meditation is one of the ways to increase your resilience. However, meditation is a great coping mechanism even if you haven’t meditated before. The best way to meditate when you are in a crisis is a guided mindful meditation.
In a guided mindful meditation, the person guiding you will direct you to pay attention to different parts of your body. Usually, the meditation starts at your toes and goes up to your head. Search for “mindful meditation” online, and you will get a lot of options. Here is a link to some good ones from UCLA: http://marc.ucla.edu/mindful-meditations.
A mindful meditation gives your brain a break from all of the thinking and worrying that it does in challenging times. I feel like my brain has had a nice nap after a mindful meditation.
One-step-at-a-time thinking. I use this one a lot during stressful times. I make a list of priorities and things to do. Then I put my head down and focus on the tasks one at a time. It really helps when the situation feels overwhelming and big. I think it’s similar to Dory’s “just keep swimming” philosophy. Put your head down, and keep moving one step at a time.
Aromatherapy. Essential oils have amazing properties! Lavender is a relaxing oil with a pleasant smell, but there are lots of others. Be sure to get a good quality oil. I have used Young Living Oils for decades, and I also like Rocky Mountain Oils. I made a roll-on blend of Roman chamomile and lavender in organic almond oil for my granddaughter. I gave some to a friend for her baby, and she uses it as a perfume for herself, too. She says that it helps everyone stay calm!
Sleep! Getting enough sleep is always important, but it is essential when you are facing trying times. I know, it’s even harder to sleep when you are in the middle of turmoil. Do your best to keep a schedule, and get yourself into bed on time. When I’m upset, I sometimes let myself fall asleep on the sofa, which leads to a fitful night of sleep. I feel awful the next day! Do your best to get in bed and get up at regular times. It will help your outlook on life and increase your resilience.
Journaling. Writing things down is a great way to process information and gain some clarity. For me, it feels like a release of toxic emotions. I vent onto the paper and write any and all horrible things that I am thinking. It’s like I transfer most of the emotions from me to the paper, and I feel better. The emotions are still there, but not as intense as they were before. I have a note at the front of my journal of ickiness that instructs anyone who finds it to throw it away and take no heed of what I’ve written. It’s just me letting off steam.
Help others. We get a good feeling when we help others. It increases our sense of connection and takes our minds off our own problems for a while.
It’s best to have a wide range of coping strategies. The list above is a good start, but it doesn’t include everything that you can do. If you enjoy a hobby, that can be an excellent thing to focus on. When I am completely overwhelmed, I take video game breaks. I will set a time for 15 minutes and play Plants vs. Zombies. When I play, my mind is completely focused on the game, and it gives me a break from worry and stress for a little while.
Keep in mind that even healthy coping mechanisms can be bad if taken too far. For example, if we exercise to the point of injury or constant exhaustion, we aren’t taking care of ourselves; we are abusing ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to experiment! Try different coping mechanisms, and see which ones work for you. Absolutely reach out for help if you find yourself using negative coping mechanisms. Remember, you never have to face adversity alone!
Note: I’m re-running this series on resilience that I wrote back in April 2017.
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