We all experience stressful situations in our lives.

Personally, this year has been pretty intense for me. It can be hard knowing how to feel living a relatively normal life in Australia while COVID-19 is still taking so many lives in other countries. On top of that there’s ‘stuff’ going on with my son and I’m heading towards another significant life transition. Whatever obstacles we face, it is important we know some healthy coping strategies that can help us deal with stressful situations more effectively.

Not all coping skills are created equal. 

Some coping skills may provide a ‘quick fix’ but be damaging in the long term – these are ‘unhealthy coping strategies.’ Examples include excessive drinking, ignoring or bottling up feelings, and staying in denial. In order to deal with stressful situations effectively, we need to recognise when we’re overusing these ‘unhealthy coping strategies’ and work out what to do instead. 

Nancy Schlossberg encourages us to ask ourselves three simple questions:

  1. Can I change it, can I make it better?
  2. Can I change the way I see it, reframe the situation?
  3. What can I do to reduce my stress?

The first question encourages us to problem-solve. This is a great first step – can you brainstorm new ideas, get advice from a friend, do something about it? The reality is I don’t have much control over a global pandemic, my son’s situation or the stage of life I’m at.

So, I won’t deny I’ve used some ‘unhealthy coping strategies’ – we all go there! The important part is moving onto the second question. Reframing – changing how I look at the situation. This isn’t always easy, and is perhaps something that you need to keep reviewing and resetting. I like new experiences and learning new things – perhaps the changes I’m experiencing with my son and I aren’t what I wanted, but I am definitely experiencing and learning new things! Humour, faith, forgiving and ignoring are other ways to change how you see a situation.

I also think about question three and use emotion-focused coping strategies to help take care of my feelings. I’m increasing my exercise and try to walk once a week with a friend, which is physical exercise and good therapy. And I try to find time to play, which is easier with kids, but I love building LEGO too. Relaxation exercises (e.g. meditation), reading, counselling (e.g., calling a help-line) and expressing emotions are other great options.

Reflection questions: 

Can you think of a scenario in the past where you have used either problem-solving, reframing or emotion-focused coping strategies to overcome a challenge? What was the situation and what was the outcome? 

Looking forward, which coping strategies do you prefer? What can you do to experiment with new coping strategies so you have a wide range of options you can use?