Thursday, January 20, 2011

Day 16 - To cope or not to cope, that is the question

Coping mechanisms... these are the positive or negative ways we choose to cope with stress, anxiety, sadness, grief and all the other yuckiness we inevitably have to deal with in life. Coping mechanisms can be used to avoid what we don't want to face (and can at times be incredibly destructive as well) or they can be positive and adaptive.

First a few boring fascinating definitions and then we'll get into the good stuff:

Adaptive mechanisms: These are positive and wonderful ways to help us cope

Behavioral mechanisms: These change our behavior (duh!)

Cognitive mechanisms: These change our thinking

I'll just stick with those because they make three perfect, alphabetically-ordered points. :) The others are the negative ones anyway!

What are our options when it comes to coping in a healthy, positive manner?
* Problem-solving: Sometimes the issue that we're dealing with simply requires a solution. Either using our own resources or with the help of others we can figure out how to solve our problem and move past it.
* Figure out the root issue: Sometimes we live out patterns that have been ongoing in our lives. These may have existed for weeks, months or even years before we work on resolving them. More often than not, unless we get to the root issue causing the pattern,  we will most likely continue moving forward in the same way.
* Perspective: We can choose to have a positive perspective on our situation and focus on the good versus the bad.
* Growth: We can use our hardships to promote spiritual, mental and emotional growth in our lives.
* Temporary distractions: We can take breaks from our problems by relaxing and caring for ourselves.

When I was in graduate school and working as a Marriage and Family Therapy Intern, a group of colleagues and I came up with a list of "self-care" items. Our professors always hammered this idea into our heads: You have to take care of yourself if you're going to be effective helping others. Then, with this idea in mind, we began to notice a common thread in the clients we were working with as well; many suffered from depression, anxiety, difficulty coping with transition etc. and never took the time to just be, to relax, to have fun and step away from the heaviness of life. So, we came up with a list of all kinds of fun ways to relax and practice the art of self-care.

Some of these ideas are:
  • Take a bath
  • Exercise
  • Journal
  • Watch a sunset
  • Watch and listen to the waves at the beach
  • Listen to relaxing music
  • Do yoga
  • Knit
  • Garden
  • Coffee with a friend
  • Eat an ice cream cone (in moderation of course!)
  • Draw, paint, water color
  • Read a book or magazine
  • Watch a movie
  • Get a massage
  • Window shop
What else can you think of? Reminder: These are not replacements for actually dealing with whatever's going on in our lives, no matter how difficult that might be! Depending on which self-care activities you choose, they can get expensive and cause other problems if you're not careful! But, they can also be wonderful ways to enjoy life a little more, cultivate a hobby and nurture yourself.

See you tomorrow!


  1. Love one another as Christ loves you! (John 15:12) So, I also think serving others is a way to cope, because then the focus is not on you. This is best done with the right heart attitude (not the what's-in-it-for-me attitude). Volunteering for a local program, event or foundation, such as the church, community library or special local event may ease tension. But, like everything else, achieving balance is key.

  2. I totally agree! Great point about serving others!