Tools for Tough Times: Coping Skills

This darn pandemic just won’t go away!

The fatigue, losses, grief, and stress have been heavy loads for many of you. How you cope with all these factors will be critical to your ability to thrive and stay strong in the storms. Today, we will explore two kinds of coping strategies, avoidant and the active.

Avoidant coping strategies are those that change our behaviors in ways that help us avoid thinking about, feeling, and doing the good hard work of overcoming difficulty.  While this is the easiest response to difficulties and it may not be chosen consciously, it is not helpful to us. Avoidant coping lowers our resilience over time. There is no need to feel guilty if you do this, as it is a natural response.  But there are more effective avenues open to you.

What are common avoidant coping responses?

  • Dissociation – “checking out” to provide temporary blindness to difficulties.  While “kicking the can down the road’ helps us avoid the work of recovery, it can also have long-term and serious consequences for us.
  • Distancing – withdrawing or avoiding coworkers, family, friends, and sources of strength. “Shelling up” shuts people out who can help us, allowing us to not engage in the good work of resilience and healing.
  • Denial – refusing to believe we are suffering emotional and physical consequences from traumatic and stressful experiences.
  • Destructive coping – Harmful strategies to avoid or mask our difficulties.  These include procrastination, passive-aggression, ruminating on problems, substance us, anger, and inappropriate relationships.

Active coping strategies help us address problems and stress directly and quickly, and promote resilience, well-being, and recovery. Recovery promotes effective living as well as healthy relationships.  Living a recovery lifestyle is “Job 1” for all of us, and active coping strategies are key to that lifestyle.

Active coping strategies include these important choices you can make each day:

  • Choose to be grateful for things small and large throughout the day, and to express that gratitude in words and deeds.
  • Choose to let go of hurts, bitterness, anger, and disappointment, choosing instead to focus on what you have that is good.
  • Choose to be prosocial – reach out to support others, walk across the room to express care, be a good listener, offer to help others, including strangers.  Prosocial behaviors improve your mood and build resilience.
  • Face into the good work of recovery – debrief responsibly with others who will listen, journal your feelings, practice mindfulness, and shut down negative self-talk.
  • Spend time doing happy things with people with whom you have a caring relationship.
  • Exercise to burn off the stress hormones, relax the mind and the muscles, build strength, and improve sleep.
  • Eat and drink in a healthy way – healthy foods, lots of water, and limit caffeine, empty calories, and alcohol.

Say “Yes” to making recovery a high priority each day, and to seeking and accepting help and resources from others. You cannot do this alone – you need others and others need you for their recovery. Stay strong in the storm!

Image via author, Pioneer Basin, Mt. Abbot, and the Fourth Recess, Sierra Nevada

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