Written by Barbara Davis-Thompson
To cope is a verb described as the ability to face and deal with difficulties, problems and responsibilities calmly or adequately.
Proactive coping is about having a choice; it is deciding how to respond and deal with adversity or challenges versus knee-jerk reactivity.
“On some dimension or other, every event in life can be causing only one of two things: either it is good for you, or it is bringing up what you need to look at in order to create good for you.”~Depak Chopra
An example of proactive coping comes from my friend Amy. She had so recently gone through a nasty divorce, a job lay-off, months of searching for work and then, at last, she finally landed a job offer. Amy took the position after negotiating she could take an already planned and paid for vacation which departure date was two months away.
After the first weeks on the job, Amy became aware that her boss was a chronic liar who constantly shifted blame and she was doing her best to not call out some of her boss’ mistakes that were taking their department down.
Just one day before she was to leave on her vacation (her first in five years), meeting up with good friends at a great island getaway, having snagged a supersaver package deal, Amy’s boss tried to blame her for something serious that she did not do. Since her boss was pointing her finger at her, Amy went over her boss’s head to the supervisor who managed her boss. At the time, Amy didn’t know this person was her boss’ husband.
Long story short - Amy lost her job the next day, just as she was leaving for her vacation. Shocked, scared, anxious and alarmed, still, Amy was bound and determined that she was going to enjoy her vacation and not ruin it for her friends by intense worry about coming back to unemployment, loss of a paycheck and yet another search for work.
“Anxiety does not empty tomorrow of its sorrows, but only empties today of its strength.” ~Charles Spurgeon
Amy reported that she coped by keeping her focus on what was right before her. That is, she kept her head where her feet were. She wouldn’t let her mind be pulled into worry; instead, she focused on the sound of the ocean, the smell of bougainvillea, trying out new activities and the exquisite taste of the fresh and delicious daily meals. Amy was able to have a great vacation because she relied on healthy coping skills.
“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” ~Wayne Dyer
In our present environment, many people are feeling rather powerless due to quarantining and social distancing. This is an issue about which not much can be done but to comply for the sake of health and well-being and being a responsible citizen. The issue becomes how to respond to living in this new normal. While you can’t necessarily change what is happening, what you can change is how you deal with the current restrictions and new way of life.
It is important to acknowledge that stress is part of life and right now with the current life-threatening pandemic, economic downturn and political and racial tensions that exist, it is likely that your stress barometer is almost off the charts. It isn’t that you can change the situation but, again, what can you do is change how you cope with what is happening.
How you deal with what is happening is the world can deeply affect your health and well-being. So let’s take the time now to mentally scan and recall if you’re eating or drinking more, doing more online gaming, gambling or FB time, acting out irrationally, binge-watching TV, trivializing, denying, compulsively spending, becoming more explosive and having too many meltdowns. To state the obvious, these are not healthy coping skills.
Now, more than ever, is the time to build a repertoire of more adaptive coping skills. Remember that anxiety can manifest differently in every person so it makes sense to lean on those coping mechanisms you feel comfortable with (as long as they are healthy). However, you are urged to try some new ways of coping from the list below of positive coping styles that will get you through any heightened moments of stress due to the unknowns of the pandemic and its fallout and what the future holds.
Please remember that rarely do feelings last more than 24 hours (and if they do, you may have a chronic mental state of anxiety, depression or another mind malfunction that requires the help of a medical professional); emotions come and go, like clouds in the sky, and while they are neither good nor bad, right nor wrong and not even factual, being emotionally intelligent means you have the ability to contain your feelings, process them in a healthy way and bring yourself back to the moment deciding on how you want to live and enjoy this minute, day or hour of your life.
“Nothing diminishes anxiety faster than action.” ~Walter Anderson
Listen to solfeggio frequencies. You can find them on YouTube.
Stay busy. Doing routine tasks can be calming and relieving. Get out that old toothbrush and clean the grout of your bathroom tiles; fold laundry, clean out kitchen cabinets, organize your spice rack, etc. Business can stop rumination about the future.
Listening to songs you can sing along to and lose yourself in the music.
Clean - somehow when the outside world looks more organized your inner world feels a bit less chaotic.
Take an ice-cold shower - the icy jolt of water will quickly stop your worry mind from looping.
Engage in a rhythmic activity like crocheting, knitting, etc. The concentration needed keeps you in the moment.
Create a bucket list - think of 10 - 20 things you want to experience before you die.
Listen to visualization videos on YouTube…choose the ones that pique your interest - nature, the law of attraction, how-to projects, self-help, a fun activity like surfing the waves, white water rapid rubber tubing, etc.
Count backward from 1,000 by two’s.
Hum - you can choose an easy song like a happy birthday to you or whatever tune you want. Hum with gusto this tune 1-3 times.
Listen to a hypnosis tape on relaxation. There are several to choose from on YouTube.
Watch cartoons - especially the ones you favored as a young child.
Draw a picture of how you are feeling at the moment.
Play with your pet. Don’t have a pet? Volunteer at an animal shelter to walk one or spend time comforting forgotten or abused animals.
Watch a funny movie or TV show.
Chew ice. (Ask your dentist first!)
Stop everything and do muscle relaxation from head to toe. Tense each group of muscles then release and let go moving from your scalp to your feet.
Fantasize - pretend you are living in another time, or that you are an alien, a famous TV star, a figure of history or that you are a superhero asked to rescue the world from the brink of doom.
Drink a soothing cup of herbal tea. Chamomile and green tea are stress-relieving teas.
Eat something hot and spicy - remember the candy Red Hots? Find a sour or take away your breath bite of food.
Volunteer to man a help-line; listening to others’ troubles can put yours into perspective.
Chew gum - really noisily!
Phone a friend.
Drink a glass of citrus juice, preferably orange.
Inflate balloons - let them release and and let them flop around the room until the air is gone and inflate again. Repeat as necessary.
Eat a food known to relieve stress like oatmeal, which increases your serotonin level (the happiness hormone).
Measured breathing - inhale to the count of 4, hold to a count of 4, exhale to a count of 6 (really empty that breath) and hold again to a count of 4 - repeat as needed.
Get amorous. Sex is known to release a cascade of wonderful hormones and it feels great, too.
Try a yoga pose.
Do acupuncture on points that relieve stress. Try one of these two points. Place your right thumb or forefinger between your eyebrows and apply firm pressure. Or with your index finger and thumb, apply firm pressure to the webbing between your thumb and index finger of your other hand.
Blow on your thumb.
Take a warm bath in scented water.
Imagine you’re moving to a new location and are looking for your ideal home; go online to look at houses for sale in this city or country of your choice.
Watch a TV show on home improvement, cooking, competing, whatever. Get immersed in it.
“Life is ten percent what you experience and ninety percent how you respond to it.”~Anonymous
In closing, it helps to remind yourself that in life, there are those times, such as now, when many things are out of your control. Sometimes events happen that do ruin your chances. Yet studies show those individuals who take responsibility for adapting to changing circumstances by coping in a healthy way, by managing their own successes or downfalls are likely to be happier, healthier and more at peace with life.
Barbara Davis-Thompson, LCSW is a New York, New York private practice psychotherapist. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.