How do you cope when you’re rejected by that college you’d pinned your hopes on attending? How do you pick yourself up off the floor when your marriage of 15 years falls apart? And how do you manage when you’re facing a grim medical diagnosis?
Life can be challenging enough when we’re just dealing with the usual stuff. However, it’s when we receive some alarming or threatening news that our repertoire of coping skills really comes into play. How we choose to cope makes a significant difference in how effectively we can deal with our uncomfortable feelings and the logistics of our situation.
When we opt for healthy coping mechanisms, we’re looking after our emotional and physical well-being. We’re able to take tangible and constructive action where possible, and we’re also able to accept and make sense of our current dilemma. We can form a new, bearable, and more constructive perspective of our situation, future, and the world in general. We face and engage with the situation instead of trying to run away from it or deny it.
- Get the facts about your situation. Don’t jump to conclusions. What can you know is absolutely true, rather than merely assumptions or questionable information gained from the Internet or second-hand sources? For instance, if you’re experiencing medical issues, get feedback from expert sources such as your personal doctor and specialists to whom you’re referred, who will give you feedback and advice that is appropriate for you. How do you know that you will never love again, even though it may feel like that at the moment? This is just a feeling, and feelings are not facts.
- Contemplate your options. When it seems as if there’s nowhere to turn, we often become enraged, frightened, or hopeless. In reality, though, it’s probable that you have a number of feasible recourses from which you can choose. If you weren’t accepted into your dream school, for instance, you could apply to other colleges or take a year of school to work or travel. You could also do volunteer work for causes that are close to your heart. Maybe while doing so you’ll discover that you’re more interested in another field of study or career path, and you can shift your academic plans accordingly. Brainstorm, and don’t automatically trash possibilities that occur to you. Then evaluate the pros and cons of each strategy on your list, narrow the list down to your top two or three, make a choice, and take your first step.
- Nurture your social connections. Our friends, family, and community are invaluable sources of comfort, advice (if you so desire), sounding boards, and distraction. We all need at least one person who’s got our back and will cheer us on. In addition, staying in contact with others and hearing about their lives can help you gain a better perspective of your own situation while also feeling bonded to others.
- Take excellent care of yourself. This includes getting enough sleep, healthy nutrition, and moderate exercise several days a week. Especially at a stressful time, it’s important to literally have our wits about us. If we don’t tend to our bodies, we’re more likely to have muddled thoughts, more extreme emotions, and fall prey to colds, flu, or other illnesses. Try to refrain from short-term “fixes” like excessive alcohol intake, using illegal drugs (or prescription drugs for other than their assigned purpose), binge eating, or staying in bed all day, which don’t ultimately fix anything and which are likely to add to your list of problems.
- Take time to pray and meditate. Whatever you conceive a Higher Power to be, connect with this force. It could be the God of a particular religion, the universe, a spiritual place, nature, or a support group. Just remember that it’s okay for you not to have all the answers. You can turn your problems over to this power, ask for the right answers to come to you at the right time, sit in the silence, and practice faith that you’ll be given strength to do what’s needed.
- Maintain important rituals. When we’re in a place of transition and uncertainty, sticking with some cherished routines can give us a sense of control and peace. If you enjoy your morning cup of coffee while gazing out the window at your garden, keep this up. If you look forward to walking your dog each evening, continue to do so. Falling into a soothing and familiar rhythm can be calming and centering.
- Balance your musts and your wants. We all need time to regain our strength and energy – thus the term recreation (re-creation). Strive to maintain a healthy balance between activities you must do and activities you want to do. Only doing things you have to do can wear you down and possibly lead to you wondering why you do anything at all. On the other hand, focusing only on doing things you want to do can be self-indulgent, Ideally, do at least one item from both lists every day.
- Find a safe place to express your feelings. This could be with friends, family, a therapist, or support group. Putting into words what you’re currently experiencing can help you to find the best solutions for you, while also giving you a chance to express pent-up feelings. It’s important for us to gain awareness of our thoughts and emotions, and having others to support you during this process can be helpful. You could also write in a journal. Whether or not you review what you’ve written, writing (preferably by hand, rather than typing) slows things down and gives you the chance to sit with your experience and perhaps come up with ideas that might not have otherwise occurred to you.
- Get out of your head. Doing something physical with your hands or body such as kneading bread, cooking, gardening, housecleaning, or washing your car can be a good temporary distraction. Really throwing yourself into a physical activity can anchor you to the present moment, rather than keeping you in rumination about the future. Also, sometimes when you’ve allowed yourself to stop worrying, creative solutions will occur to you.
- Do something kind for someone else. Sometimes when we’re dealing with a crisis, we can develop a laser focus on ourselves. As an alternative, consider how you might be useful to some of the important people in your life. You could write them a card or call them, to check in on their lives, make dinner plans, pay them a visit, or do an errand for them.
- Review your priorities. Try keeping track of how you spend your time for a week or so. The results may show you that you’ve been investing valuable time doing things that aren’t actually that important to you. Surfing the Web, checking the news on an hourly (or more frequent) basis, or watching movies and TV shows are frequent time-sucks. You may opt to choose time with your loved ones and pets, in nature, reading, or traveling, and you can start spending your time accordingly.
Given life’s unpredictable nature, it’s best to try out these suggestions on a regular basis while thing are going pretty well for you. Then you’ll have given the strategies a few (or more) trial runs before you’re hit with a crisis, since crises aren’t generally the best time to add more “new things” to your list of things to do.
Nonetheless, even if you haven’t tried out these coping suggestions prior to a stressful event or situation, it’s not too late to give them a shot. You can view your challenges as a chance to bring out the best in you. Sometimes this is what it takes for us to get out of our comfort zone and grow.