Your boss informs you that your job of 20 years will be ending in two months. You are blindsided and also concerned about your next career move and your financial state.
You learn that your husband has been carrying on an affair with your next door neighbor for the past six months. You are hurt, angry, sad, and unsure whether your marriage is worth trying to save.
Maybe you can relate. All of us have experienced surprising and threatening news at some point. This is where our arsenal of coping skills comes into play. The type of coping methods we employ make a huge difference in how we manage our painful emotions and deal with the practicalities of our situation.
Healthy coping mechanisms can help us to deal with stressful events while also supporting our emotional and physical well-being. They help us to take tangible and constructive action where we can, while also helping us to accept and make sense of our current challenge.
Through such coping methods, we can form an altered, tolerable, and better perspective of our situation, future, and the world in general. On the whole, healthy coping mechanisms involve approaching the situation rather than seeking to move away from or deny it, while also allowing us to decompress and relax.
Get the facts about your situation. As much as possible, gather information from sources that are both knowledgeable about both the matter in general and your specific instance. For example, Googling breast cancer if you’ve recently had an abnormal mammogram is likely to frighten and confuse you, what with the huge amount of information (and misinformation) out there that may or may not be applicable in your case. Instead, speak with your personal doctor and specialists to whom you’re referred, who will give you feedback and advice that is appropriate for you.
Consider your options. Feeling backed into a corner with nowhere to turn tends to foster anger, fear, and hopelessness. The truth is that you probably have a number of plausible alternatives from which to choose. If you’re soon to be out of a job, think about the people you’ve known over the years who might be valuable networking sources. Figure out how long you can live on your current savings without a steady income. Maybe you can take some classes to upgrade your skill set. Or maybe it’s time for you to look into and train for another type of job. Now is the time to brainstorm rather than immediately shooting down any possibility that occurs to you and thus limiting your options. Next, evaluate the pros and cons of each strategy on your list.
Stay connected with other people. Friends, family, and community are important sources of comfort, advice (if you’d like some input), sounding boards (if you need to vent), and distraction. We all need at least one person in our court, to cheer us on. Also, when you’re spending time with others, show interest in their lives, and you’ll gain a better perspective of your own situation while also feeling bonded to others.
Get sufficient sleep, eat healthfully, and exercise moderately. Without these self-care staples, we tend to think less clearly, act impulsively, have a looser rein on our emotions, and are more prone to physical illness. In order to cope effectively in life, we need to tend our bodies with great care. Steer clear of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as excessive drinking, use of illicit drugs, binge eating, and oversleeping, which offer only temporary relief and leave you with additional problems.
Rely on rituals. Especially when we’re faced with change and uncertainty, engaging in familiar activities can offer us a sense of control and peace. If you cherish a leisurely morning cup of coffee while gazing out the window at your garden, try to continue this ritual. If you walk your dog each evening in your neighborhood and enjoy the dusk and potential interactions with your neighbors, keep it up. Falling into a soothing and familiar rhythm can be calming and centering.
Schedule fun time. This is not inconsistent with dealing directly with your situation. We all need time to recharge – thus the term recreation. The key is in maintaining a healthy balance between activities you must do and activities you want to do. Only doing things you want to do can be self-indulgent, while only doing things you have to do can lead to a sense of futility and loss of joy. Ideally, do at least one item from both lists every day.
Find a place to express your feelings. Whether this is with friends, family, a therapist, or support group, talking about what you’re going through can help you to find the best answers for you and allow you to release pent-up emotions. We need to become aware what we’re thinking and feeling, and having others witness your process can be helpful. Writing in a journal is another option that allows you to “get it all out there” in a safe way. Whether or not you review what you’ve written, taking time to do so (preferably by hand, rather than typing) gives you the chance to sit with your experience in a mindful way and possibly generate ideas that otherwise you might not have generated.
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 worrying 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 faced with a dilemma, we can become self-focused. Think about the important people in your life and consider how you can be helpful to them. This could be as simple as calling them up to say that you’ve been thinking of them, arranging a dinner date, taking a walk together, or helping them with an errand.
Reevaluate your priorities. For a week or so, keep a log of how you spend your time. You may find that much of the time you’ve been engaging in activities that really aren’t that important to you. You may be taken aback at how much time you spend surfing the Internet, reading the news, or watching movies and TV shows. Maybe you’ll decide that time with your loved ones and pets, spending time in nature, reading, or traveling are of top priority to you, and you can start investing your time accordingly.
Since life continually presents us with challenging situations, it’s helpful to incorporate the above suggestions into your routine even when things are going relatively smoothly. This way, when you’re hit with a significant challenge, you will already be well-versed in these strategies, making them easier to implement on possibly an escalated level.
However, even if you’re unfamiliar with these methods, it’s never too late to begin putting them into practice. Consider your challenges as an opportunity to bring out the best in you. To quote Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, “People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in their true beauty is revealed only if there is light within.”