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Automatic Coping

There are a multitude of strategies taught to help people cope with stress. With that said, simply reading or learning about them does not help. Why; because, it is the ability to apply these coping strategies easily when a person is triggered by the stress that renders the strategy effective. This is common sense. But, how do we get from here to there? How do we get to the place where we not only know about a coping strategy, know how to use it, but the strategy becomes an automatic response for us in the time of need? One can acquire a coping skill or strategy. Once can practice the strategy and even master it in one setting, such as a therapy room, but it becomes an effective and useful strategy once the strategy becomes a natural and/or automatic response to stress. When this happens, the strategy replaces the old “programming” of reacting, with the new healthy response. Learning such strategies does take time and effort; however, it is well worth the endeavor. If you, like most people, have found yourself reacting to certain stressors in a manner that ends up coming back to bite you; then you can see how responding with a strategy that will calm you down. Mastering and using certain techniques help you find your center, and help you “reset”. this will not only help you feel better in the moment, but it will provide you with an opportunity to either influence the stressful situation by choosing how you will respond and taking wise, well thought out action, or you will have the ability to find that place inside yourself where, although you change the things you can, you accept the things that you cannot change. You will be able to shift your focus, and move forward so that you can experience some quality of life.

If you have been reading up on mental health and often seek out self –help information and book, then chances are, you already have a large knowledge base of a repertoire of coping skills and strategies. Rather than try to write a list, which might even be impossible because there are so many, I will elaborate on some that I have found to be especially useful to my own patients over time in following posts.

Today, I want to emphasize the value in trying different coping skills and strategies out, and develop a tool box filled with strategies that work especially for you with individualized strategies that you can train yourself to “turn on” automatically when you feel stress or disappointment or emotional discomfort. In my next post, I will give you an example of one way to conceptualize an individualized coping skills, or emotional regulation strategy. The way to actually get a particular coping skill or strategy to work for you is to practice it until you master it and then consciously use it when you become aware of your discomfort consistently. In order to do this, you must learn how to identify your stress or distress before you become reactive to it using non productive habits of behaviors.  Once you have mastered the ability to identify when you are feeling stress or distress, you will use a technique designed to STOP your thoughts, and PAUSE all action.  You will train yourself to automatically get yourself to shift your focus and RESET. For many situations, this can all occur within seconds or minutes.  In more intense situations, your STOP PAUSE and REST process will require you to be more deliberate, and take more time.  It is the consistent use of the same technique over and over, and over again that helps it to become and automatic response. Once you notice that a skill or strategy has become automatically triggered by certain stressors, consider using the same skill in other situations as well. Over time, you might find your first “line of defense” coping mechanisms, such as automatically being triggered to take deep breaths- that you apply to almost all situations, and then your additional strategies for specific situations. We will look at this in more depth in the next post.