By Dr Deirdre Lyons
Usually stress exists when you confront a situation that taxes or exceeds your ability to manage it.
Have you ever thought about the ways you currently manage and cope with stress in your life? Understanding how you cope with setbacks or change, will allow you to assess whether the coping strategies you use are helpful, or unhelpful, healthy or unhealthy.
Healthy vs Unhealthy Coping
Coping strategies can be classified in many different ways. For example, “engagement” or proactive coping includes seeking support and advice, problem solving and acceptance.
On the other hand “avoidance” coping, does exactly what it says on the tin. People often use denial, wishful thinking and escapism as a way of acting as though the problem does not exist.
Of course we have all had bad days where we just want to escape by meeting up with friends, seeing a movie, or just wanting to be by ourselves. We have all procrastinated, perhaps lashed out, or have cleaned the house from top to bottom rather than dealing with something that may be bothering us. Usually this won’t help us to deal with issues in the long run.
Often, the longer you avoid something, the harder it is to cope with. Intrusive thoughts about the problems being experienced can increase negative moods and anxiety. Other types of avoidance coping strategies like excessive use of alcohol or drugs can create social and health problems. Similarly, using shopping or gambling as an escape can create financial problems.
Healthier ways to manage stress
It is important to note that no single coping strategy will work for everyone, all of the time. Find strategies that work for you and try different techniques that make you feel comfortable. To find out what works for you, create a checklist to track the strategies you have used. Reflect on how each went – what worked, what didn’t. You will soon notice which strategies work well for you and if you favour certain strategies over others. Compare how you feel on days when you make lots of ticks, to those when you make none or very few.