Ten Healthy Coping Strategies For Stressful Times

Karen Banes

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Learning effective stress management techniques can be the greatest gift you ever give yourself. Stressful times are unavoidable, and all too common recently. Their outcome often depends not on what happens, but how we deal with it. It’s worthwhile developing a few coping strategies to help you stay calm and productive through stressful times.

Stay in Control

“The less you control what you do, the more what you do controls you.”
Don Stanton

Many of us feel out of control much of the time, and now more than ever. We are dealing with financial uncertainty, employment uncertainty, and a not-unreasonable feeling of simply waiting for the next thing to go wrong.

The first step to managing stress is to focus on the things we can control, and do them to the best of our ability. Concentrating on things that are important for long-term health and wellbeing (like nutrition, exercise, streamlining finances or taking care of your family) can reduce stress levels by allowing you to feel you’re controlling something important that will still matter in the future, no matter what that future holds.

Sometimes you just need to cut out everything except for the things you and your family are really passionate about, or that you need to do for health and safety reasons, and let the rest go, at least temporarily. Manage your time. Schedule in the vital things first, then the important things, then the things you’d like to do if there’s time to spare. Nothing else needs to even get close to your to-do list. Remember that when it really comes down to it, most things don’t matter, so just do what does.

Connect With Others

One of the most powerful contributing factors to any stressful situation is social isolation. This has been the case for many of us, in recent months, and is exacerbated if you’re going through a major life change such as bereavement, divorce, new motherhood, or a job loss.

While most doctors agree that post-partum depression, for example, is caused by very real hormonal changes, studies have shown that new mothers with a strong social network are less likely to suffer from it. They still experience the hormonal swings and associated feelings. It’s just that their support system helps them deal with these issues effectively. As any new mom knows, sometimes all you need is a good whine with other moms about how you’re all sleep-deprived, up to your elbows in dirty diapers, and desperate for a night out with your partner. Post-whine, stress levels decline, even though your situation hasn’t actually changed.

Many of us have not had the chance to connect with others in person much recently, but we’ve found it can be done virtually, via Zoom, Facetime, or over the phone. Daily connection is more important than ever when we’re facing a collective challenge.

Face Your Problems

Stress often comes not from having problems, but from having unsolved problems. Stress builds when we feel helpless. Taking even very small steps to face your worries and find solutions can cut stress levels instantly.

If you’re stressed by the amount of work you have to do, in your job, at school, or at home, the quickest way to deal with that is to start getting on with it, making inroads into it, feeling a sense of achievement. If it’s debt, for example that’s bothering you there are 3 simple steps you can take right now, to manage it. Notice I said manage it. Not eliminate it. Not pay it off. Just manage it, so you feel like you’ve faced the problem and started to deal with it.

If you need to do something unpleasant — re-negotiate your debts, fire a staff member, file for divorce — you will probably feel more stressed just before you do it than once you actually take the first steps toward it, and of course it will be over quicker. Dealing with your problems is generally less stressful than hiding from them.

Pick Your Battles Wisely

This is by far the best piece of 4-word advice I’ve ever been given. If you stress out over every little thing, you are almost certainly generating unnecessary stress. Learn to let some things go. Accept that there are things that are worth fighting for, and things that really aren’t.

Fighting every battle is a waste of time and energy. Save it for the stuff that really matters, and remember the fewer battles you choose to fight the more you tend to win. Those around you will quickly recognise that if you are making a big deal about it, it’s important to you, whereas if you fight over everything, people fight back because they figure you’re fighting for the sake of it, and you might cave in quite easily.

Find Realistic Ways to Relax

If you’re a single mom with three kids and a full-time job, it’s probably not realistic to schedule in a weekly massage or a relaxing lunch with friends on a regular basis. But you may be able to get a 15-minute soak in the tub some days after the kids are in bed or ten minutes quiet reading or meditation before bedtime.

Some full-time parents find the only realistic way to relax regularly is to find an activity that they can do with the kids that they find relaxing. It could be walking in the park, skating, swimming or scrapbooking. Just as long as it can be pitched to your children’s age levels and still be a fun activity for you.

Do Something Creative

We’ve become a nation of consumers, but very rarely do we, as individuals, actually produce anything. People who have a creative hobby, such as drawing, writing, sculpting, or jewelry making tend to report lower levels of stress. Being creative can even improve brain health and cognitive function. Losing yourself in your art can be a great way of taking your attention away from everyday stresses, and producing something — whether it’s a short story or a beautiful bracelet — can be an immensely satisfying, and stress-busting, change from all that consuming.

Read

There are actually therapists who recommend not Prozac but literature to depressed clients. Many of us can identify a book that has helped us through a difficult patch in our lives, and it’s not just typical self-help books that have that power (though there are some good ones out there).

Losing yourself in a wonderful story can have the same effect as losing your self in creativity, and can sometimes have the added bonus of making you realize just how great your life is. Reading biographies of people who have overcome much greater adversity than you are ever likely to face can be particularly inspiring. Practical books that offer solutions to real-world problems can also help. Here are three books that have helped me feel less depressed about the state of the world.

Count Your Blessings

When we’re living through stress we often don’t want to hear that there are a lot of people worse off than ourselves, but invariably there are, and focussing on what’s good about our life, even if it’s something basic like having enough food to eat and some kind of home to live in, can help put stress in perspective. Celebrate the positive aspects of your life. List all the things you have to be grateful for. If you need a real tangible reminder of how lucky you are, volunteer in a hospice or homeless shelter.

Focus on Physical Health

Eat well, sleep well, get some exercise, preferably blue/green exercise. Every day if you can. Being physically fit won’t make you immune to stress, but it will help you deal with the effects. Everything looks less overwhelming if you’re healthy and well rested. Looking after yourself physically will give you the strength to deal with emotional stress.

Make Some Positive Plans for the Future

The concept of “This too shall pass” can be difficult to grasp when you’re in the midst of a stressful situation, but it’s true. Whatever you’re dealing with now will come to an end. You will deal with your situation and move on. There will be good times again, and, because this is the way life tends to work, bad times again as well. Plan a way out of your current stresses and work towards that solution, step by step, experience by experience.

When dealing with a crisis some people find it useful to simply think: “What’s the worst case scenario?” Be wary of trying this if you’re a pessimist who’ll convince yourself that death and destruction are the worst possible outcome of your situation. Often even the worst thing that can happen is still something that you could cope with and live through. Asking yourself “Will this matter a year from now?” (or five, or ten years from now) can also help. It won’t stop the stress you’re feeling right now, but it may help put it in perspective and give it its rightful place as a horrible but short-lived glitch in your long and ultimately functional life.

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Freelance writer & indie author sharing thoughts on health, wellness, lifestyle, creativity, and productivity. https://karenbanes.com

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