Get Your Coping Mechanisms Under Control
Stress… we’ve all got it in one form or another. Some of us have developed really effective ways of coping with it. Others of us simply haven’t. I was having a conversation with a friend the other day about coping with stress and that got me thinking:
I wonder if people recognize what their coping mechanisms are?
Do they understand the impact?
There are as many different ways of coping with stress as there are people, I’m sure. Do we really recognize the things we do to cope with stress for what they are: coping mechanisms?
- Lots of people over-eat or lose their appetite.
- Can’t sleep or want to sleep all the time.
- How many times have you heard someone (maybe you) talk about retail therapy?
- Or after a hard day at work having a drink?
- Other people ‘unknowingly’ create drama in their relationships or life in general.
- Basically, anything you can think of that will distract you from having to deal with the situation at hand…
These are just a few coping mechanisms that we humans use to distract us from the experience of stress. Do you know what yours are?
Wait before you answer that, let me share with you another little tidbit about stress and coping mechanisms, I think we have two different ‘levels’ of coping mechanisms. I think we have Level One coping mechanisms – the really visible ones – the ones we’re clearly aware of and are already trying (or thinking of trying) to keep under control.
It seems to me that we also have a more covert selection of coping mechanisms we revert to – Level Two coping mechanisms – that we don’t always recognize for what they are. Because of that, these Level Two mechanisms tend to have a more significant impact on our lives the in long term.
For example, someone who is clear that they use retail therapy when they feel stressed or have had a hard day/ week/ month may recognize that they have to keep the spending sprees to a reasonable minimum or they’ll get in some financial trouble. Maybe they’ve even gotten into trouble in the past so they’re a little more conscious of how quickly they whip out their credit card during times of stress.
The thing is, if they don’t learn how to deal with the cause of the stress directly and learn how to feel powerful around it, then they likely have a secondary coping mechanism that they’re not totally aware of. Maybe they start snacking between meals and because they haven’t identified that as a coping mechanism and all of a sudden they find themselves 15 pounds heavier and still stressed.
For me one of my major coping mechanisms (a ‘Level One’ coping mechanism) is sugar. Depending on how severe the stress is will determine how picky I am about the type of sugar I’m willing to consume. My main weaknesses are Wine Gums and gourmet chocolate chip cookies. If I’m moderately stressed I’ll limit the amount of either that I will consume. If I’m severely stressed not only will I eat Wine Gums and gourmet cookies, I’ll eat any cookie. I’ll also eat just about any kind of candy out there, not to mention my choice of baked goods expands to include brownies, and cake, and more cookies, and banana bread, and squares, and, and, and…
Once I really started looking at this topic, however, I noticed that I also tend to withdraw as a coping mechanism – consider this my Level Two coping mechanism. Now that I’m working on noticing my coping mechanisms (so they don’t creep up on me with unexpected impact – which just creates more stress anyway) I’ve realized that when I’m feeling under pressure I will withdraw. My ability and tolerance for being around other people in social situations are a lot less than usual. I would prefer to be home beside the fire with Netflix on or doing some other solitary activity.
Now that I’ve recognized these tendencies are there, I can do something about them. It’s not until you see these things that you can do anything to make a difference.
So the question is: What about you?
What’s your primary vice? What do you do more covertly?
- Online shopping?
- Mindless Facebook (or other social media) use?
- FarmVille (do people still play that??)
- Driving too fast?
- Compulsive cleaning?
- Avoiding people?
- Reacting with anger?
- Playing the victim?
Bottom line, these are all methods of distracting ourselves from the stresses of our lives. When you step back and take a look, is it really worth it? Wouldn’t it make more sense to manage the stress directly?
Now the question is: How?
It’s not easy that’s for sure! Most of us have used our coping methods for such a long time that we don’t even notice them anymore, in turn making them harder to identify.
The first step is figuring out what your primary coping mechanism is. If you don’t already know, then when you stop and think about it I bet you can identify some type of behavior you turn to when things get hard or uncomfortable.
Next start to pay attention to when you’re using it – that’s a sure indicator your stress level is on the rise. Notice what else is going on in your life. Are you worried about something? Are you feeling out of control or powerless in some aspect of your life? Stress usually arises when we feel out of control about something or like we can’t do anything to change or influence the outcome.
After that start to take inventory of what other behaviors you recognize that you do repeatedly that might not be getting you the results in your life that you want. What are they? When are you using them? What’s the impact they have on your life? (You might want to REALLY have a look at this…. and be honest with yourself.)
Regardless, once you know what you’re stressed about and how you go about coping, it’s easier to get motivated to start managing it effectively.
Until next time,
psssst… Listen, I know that dealing with this kind of stuff and creating effective change in your life is hard – especially over the long run. It can feel frustrating and can even be defeating… and that’s where we give up on ourselves. Doing this alone is really hard… really hard.
So that’s where I come in! I’m really good at supporting people in figuring out more effective ways to deal with the stress in their lives and the underlying causes of it. If you’re ready to deal with some of the stressors in your life and create a life that lights you up, maybe it’s time we talk. Send me a note and we’ll set up a free consult call 🙂
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