Life is far from perfect. No matter outward appearances, even the most ideal seeming life (okay, maybe not Gwyneth Paltrow’s) is rife with challenges, losses, and obstacles to overcome. What separates individuals who let life get them down from those who overcome, or even flourish under difficult circumstances, are healthy coping strategies.
But what are coping strategies? The best definition I’ve found is written in a summary by Dr. Shelley E. Taylor along with the Psychosocial Working Group: “Coping strategies refer to the specific efforts, both behavioral and psychological, that people employ to master, tolerate, reduce, or minimize stressful events.”
Moreover, coping skills are actions or a refocusing of attention that helps successfully move you through personally challenging situations. Keep in mind there are positive and not so positive means of coping, and inhaling a bag of potato chips or screaming at your children are probably not the best way to go. Healthy coping skills are valuable in navigating your way over life’s rougher terrain to get to solid ground, instead of wallowing, or metaphorically drowning in mud.
Coping skills can range from something as simple as taking a break from a stressful situation by sipping and savoring your favorite beverage at a cozy coffee shop, to scheduling an appointment with a trusted counselor who may be better equipped to help you talk through a deeply turbulent time in your life. My personal coping mechanisms range from meditating in a bubble bath (surrendering to ‘being’ instead of ‘doing’) to going for a quiet hike in nature. Judging from how relaxed I feel afterwards, I know these are coping strategies I can rely on time and time again. A musically inclined friend finds strumming his guitar takes his focus off difficult customers at work, and sometimes, a brilliant new way of communicating occurs to him that transforms the business relationship.
If it’s a tedious chore you need to cope with, taking part in something exciting to challenge you in your personal time can give you something to look forward to while coping with boredom—skydiving, anyone? Since boredom is known to be a major cause of depression, it’s important to find your secret formula for transforming the blues on a regular basis. Who knows where trying something different may lead—to a more exciting lifestyle, perhaps? Yes!
The point of a good coping strategy is not to ignore or deny a problem, but to take a step back, take a few deep breaths, and regain much needed perspective. Pretend you’re out in space, floating around the universe, looking back at the earth. Those problems you’re having sure don’t look that big now, do they? Reduce the level of stress you may be experiencing by realizing there is still joy and satisfaction to be found in life to focus on, and you are not alone in your difficulties. Everything is temporary in the scheme of things. How we deal with unwanted circumstances shapes our character and leads us to a broader view of the world. And with understanding comes more kindness and compassion, towards yourself, and everyone.