20 Coping Skills for Stress That Will Help You Stay Strong
My latest article for Life Hack
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Few things in life are guaranteed, although I can be quite certain when I say:
Someone is going to really annoy you. Someone is going to die and leave you feeling empty and unable to go on. Something out of the blue is going to challenge you to the core of your humanity. Something is going to breakdown and stop working at the most inopportune moment you could imagine. You are going to spend money on something you really don’t want to. You are going to be forced to do something you never thought you’d do. You are going to face a challenge that feels completely soul destroying…
How can you know these things, Mandie?
I hear you ask.
Well because as my dear Nan used to say “In every life, a little rain must fall.” Looking back as I watched Nan cook a meal worthy of gods or any childhood dream sequence I know I used to struggle with what that saying meant.
Of course some rain must fall, we would die without water, I used to think.
However on the other side of childhood where bills, maintenance, insurance and other boring things exist, I’m pretty sure I get the true meaning of that saying.
The intriguing thing is that I’m a keen reader and find that so much in personal and professional development and in the pursuit of happiness is aimed at ensuring we don’t just have wellies, brollies and waterproofs, to protect us from the rain in life, but that we are so far removed from any wet stuff we can’t appreciate the damage that this polar opposite can also have on our positive existence.
I want to share with you some of the top coping skills for life that aren’t just good for the rainy days, they can have a serious impact on your life.
Into every life, some tough times appear, it is not the tough times that define us, it’s how we deal with them that does.
All very well having great sentiments like that; however when your car has broken down, you feel ill and can’t stop because deadlines are looming, your cat’s puked in your shoes, your phone won’t hold a charge, and they are making people redundant at work it can be hard to have the a positive “Can do” attitude.
Let’s look at what to do (And I promise to make these ideas easy to action, life changing if applied, fast and reliable. Promise):
1. Find out the Real Cause of the Problem
I’m a keen believer that if you can’t see what’s going on, I mean really see, then you can’t fix it. I’m often coaching a client who will walk in telling me that X is the issue when 20 minutes later we’ve delved into their minds and discovered that X was just a symptom of the problem.
And as you probably know treating symptoms and not the actual problem rarely works. The real issue is left to carry on wrecking your health, happiness and mental well being.
How does this apply in stressful situations? Have you ever had a friend that was pregnant, or you lost or gained weight, or realized that you were “suddenly” in this really bad habit of walking in the door at night and instantly grabbing a cold beverage?
That didn’t just start, over time that gradually became more prominent. And when things sneak into our lives, be a beautiful baby bump or an unwanted 10lb, it didn’t just land on you overnight.
2. Ask Yourself the Difficult Questions
So to find out how you are coping with stressful situations, ask yourself some questions:
- How do I feel right now on a scale of 1 to 10? (10 being awesome and 1 being awful)
- Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my environment?
- Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my beliefs?
- Is there a pattern to the way I feel caused by my work?
Take the time to process your response to these 4 questions. They could become powerful in every aspect of your life.
3. Notice Your Reactions
When we become aware of our surroundings, our situation and the way they make us feel we need to learn to notice the impact of these things.
Not to start moaning at ourselves and berating us for being lazy, thick, stupid, sloppy, etc, just to notice. Above is about noticing the patterns we create, and this skill is about noticing how it impacts on you.
- How does it make you feel?
- How does it make you act?
- How does it make you behave?
- How does it make you think?
At this stage you don’t have to think, do, say or act any differently just notice what happens in stressful situations.
4. Measure and Locate Where You Are Now
Peter Drucker famously says,
“If you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it.”
Therefore when you start to notice how you feel, act and behave in stressful times and have understood more about the way it impacts on you, you are then in a position to create a benchmark graph.
5. Be Honest About Your Progress
In stressful situations, we can find ourselves with our heads down in the proverbial sand, with our hands over our ears yelling “la, la, la, la, la”.
While as kids, that’s hilarious to watch kids do that, as we grow up it’s a bit of an ice cold slap in the face that not being honest doesn’t fix anything and stops us from changing things. Be honest as you create the above bench mark graph.
Being honest is a powerful thing. When you’re honest with yourself, you raise self awareness and anyone looking to achieve anything in the 21st century is going to be determined to improve their own self awareness as we are starting to appreciate the power this can have.
Although Tasha Eurich shares some scary research on this. Tasha Eurich, author of Insight; Why we’ve not as self aware as we think and how seeing ourselves clearly helps us succeed at work and in life says in an interview for Harvard Business Review that “95% of people believe they’re self-aware, however only about 10-15% actually are.” Adding “The joke I always make is that on a good day, 80% of us are lying to ourselves about whether we’re lying to ourselves.”
6. Be Honest to Your World
In stressful times, it is not just important to be honest to ourselves, it’s important that you’re honest to those that are in your world. Some find that they can do this in their personal life but wouldn’t dream of saying anything at work; whereas others bottle it all up, with a smile and a lie that says “I’m fine.”
7. If You Aren’t Fine, Say It
You don’t have to turn into a moaning black cloud of doom, but being honest helps you and other people.
Showcasing your own limitations and stress can help other people to see the human that you are. We feel more connected to those that share honestly and are more likely to want to help them and at the very least probably less likely to add more to your work load.
I worked with someone that was petrified that work would find out how much they were struggling with the work load. This is what the conversation went like (and I’m sharing it so you can ask yourself similar questions):
Client: “I’m really struggling to hold it together.”
Me: “Have you told anyone?”
Client: “I can’t do that, it would be professional suicide. They’d be circling around me ready to pick the bones of my career in seconds.”
Me: “Do you know that to be true?”
Client: “It’s not worth the risk to find out.”
Me: “So if you don’t say something, what are you agreeing to?”
Client: “Feeling overwhelmed, stressed and about ready to quit.”
Me: “And are you happy to stay there or would you like to be somewhere else?”
Client: “Obviously somewhere else, but I can’t see how that’s possible.
Me: “Are you prepared to explore where you would like to be and how to get there?”
You can guess the answer! And using the tools below, guess what they discovered?
They weren’t alone! It was an issue throughout the department and changes were made for everyone. A bit of honesty can go along way!
8. Take Actions to Change
In stressful situations, the human being is pre-programmed to do everything in its power to escape the situation it finds itself in.
Fight or flight doesn’t really do this pre-programming justice. We are still alive because since the dawn of our time we’ve been able to adapt, change and escape situations that other species succumb to.
The issue is that we also fear change. I get more speaking engagements and corporate coaching gigs because people are struggling with change than possibly any other subject. The fact is while we can appreciate change can help in stressful situations, knowing and doing is not the same thing.
Ask yourself what could I change about this situation? (This is not what am I going to do, this is about making suggestions about what you could do.) And if they are the suggestions that have been rattling around in your head for the last few weeks, or keep you awake at night, they are less likely to be useful.
Really get in touch with your subconscious (and the good ideas) by asking:
“If money, time, skill, health, magic, beliefs or values weren’t factors in this situation what could I do?”
This enables your mind to explore some whacky ideas, however as Einstein (may have said) Creativity is intelligence having fun. And this exercise enables your mind to have some fun.
9. Don’t Change What You Can’t Change
I worked with a large organization that had been through massive change. Everyone had stepped up to the challenge, but everyone was really stressed. Those that were struggling the most kept reminding me that “it hadn’t always been like this”, and “the old way was a lot easier”.
Not all change can be controlled. And when we fight it, we can find ourselves escalating stress. Sometimes the most powerful thing you can do is learn to go with the flow.
If you don’t “choose” to go with the flow, ask yourself:
What are you agreeing to?
This questions enables you to see that you are going to get negative emotions, actions, conversations, damaged relationships and even health issues.
Change is sometimes dumped on us like a storm clouds contents, you could stand and moan at the storm cloud but it won’t stop you from getting wet.
10. Ask Yourself: Are You Creating It?
Some of life’s stresses are man made. And I’m not talking about someone else, I’m talking about you.
It is an ugly fact that none of us want to look at (so be brave) however have the strength to ask “Am I creating this stress?”
Remember to be honest. And let the answers come to you.
11. Know that Sh*t Happens
First spotted in the 60’s, this has been a famous saying since at least the 80’s, why? Because stuff does just happen.
As humans we are always looking for reason and understanding. “Why did this happen to me?” and we can often find ourselves down a rabbit run looking for ghosts of answers that just don’t exist.
Sometimes bad stuff happens. This does not define you. This is not a personal vendetta from a god or unseen deity, seriously sometimes all you can do is accept those 2 words – sh*t happens.
12. Control Your Mindset
A quick way to find yourself suffering an intenser version of stress is when you try to control it.
As a coach, I believe we can get out of situations and move forward, however I also know from the coping skill above that when we try to force the universe to bend in a new way, it can use up a lot of energy concentrating on the wrong things.
You can control what you think, you can change your actions, and sometimes the most powerful skill is to accept that this is out of your hands. Self awareness will help you understand the differences and what to do and when.
13. Say No More Often
We talked about the need to be honest and if you explore this coping mechanism further, you will see that as humans we really want to be liked. We want to get on with our neighbours, or colleagues our friend’s friends. The issue with this in stressful times we really do need to turn around and say things like:
- No sorry I can’t help you.
- No, now is not a good time.
- No, I’m not finding this easy.
- No, I can’t do it.
The reason we don’t say things like this is because we fear what people think of us. We want to be liked. We don’t want people think we don’t care, which leads me onto the next point.
14. Embrace Weakness
The above statements are often held in our heads unsaid because we don’t want to appear weak, awkward, incapable and a ton of other negatives. The interesting thing is that what we think people are thinking about us is so often untrue.
Take the client above that feared telling their boss they were struggling with their work load. On the contrary to looking weak and incapable, the whole department got a makeover. That’s not weak, that’s powerful.
Watch out for the incorrect falsehoods that you let hang out in your head. They are making stressful situations a lot harder!
The next time it feels weak to be honest or to say no, ask yourself “Does the way I currently think serve me well?”
15. Set Clear Boundaries
Boundaries are important to us all. It feels great when we get on holiday and we can do what we like when we like, however left like that for more than a few weeks and things can disintegrate and fall apart.
We need boundaries. And at stressful times, boundaries can really help. They enable you to feel safe to be honest and work and think in a way that helps you and they set out what you will tolerate and deal with and what you wont.
Remember creating boundaries is a lot like saying no and most of the negative thoughts you are having around boundaries are imaginary too. If you aren’t going to answer work email at 10pm on a Saturday night, don’t.
Establish your boundaries, communicate them and stick by them.
16. Get Passionate About Something
In stressful times, we can find ourselves living in negative, soul destroying emotions and moods. To the point that we can attempt to numb ourselves from them.
The next time the emotions start to impact on you, think about all of the things that you are passionate about.
No one need know what you are thinking about, so if you find yourself thinking about your dog before your partner, that’s fine.
Get yourself a big old list that makes you smile. Even if the smile doesn’t feel real, your brain is still benefiting. When we get really bogged down in stressful times, it can be hard to believe that we will ever feel good again.
We can’t change everything instantly but interestingly (and I find miraculously), we can change our mindset in the click of a finger. Getting passionate could help you do that.
17. Ask for What You Truly Want
If you need time, a hug, a conversation, a massage, a run, a nap, a walk, a helping hand, ask for it.
Of all the fears in my book Fight the Fear, so many come back to the fear of what other people will think of us and I’ve heard so many people tell me that they’ve learnt to ask for what they want.
Stop fearing asking for what you need. Learn to accept that asking for what you want not only helps you navigate through stressful times, it also helps you to achieve more in life too.
18. Ditch the Guilt
Guilt just loves tough times. It will be able to give you a voice in your head that tells you:
- This is all your fault.
- You never get it right.
- You’ve always failed at this.
- You should have taken better care of that.
- You weren’t good enough to get that job.
- If someone had to go, it had to be you.
- No one sticks around you for long.
- This is you, what were you expecting?
That voice is worse than Cruella Deville, Voldemort and Hannibel Lector combined. It’s intent on destroying your determination and happiness.
Have you noticed how some people go through hell and keep going and others suffer far less and give up? The reason they keep going is not some shot of good fortune, it comes down to the what they let happen in their head. So chuck the guilt.
19. Never Hate Stress
It’s no good hating stressful times, it won’t make them magically disappear.
Stress is an essential component to your body. Without some stress between bones, muscles, skin, etc you would be a floppy mess on the floor.
Stress can help us grow and learn so much about ourselves. What could you discover about you from the stress you face right now?
20. Start Moving
When life feels too tough, we can be tempted to hide our heads under the duvet and say “give me a call in 2050, I will come out when its all over”
Trust me, I include myself in that one.
In my personal life, I’ve seen a lot of awful things this year. Don’t try and be super human, as I read in The Last Highlander, when you face the most horrific of times, just concentrate on getting one foot in front of the other.
Go the Extra Mile
In stressful times we need people around us that will go the extra mile, and I’m one of those.
Watch out for the sappers of positivity and remember the basics – sleep, eat, breathe– get those in the right measures especially when you are struggling, you see as Nan so wisely knew we can’t hide from tough times, we can’t make them magically disappear, however like a storm cloud it will eventually go away.
And behind it is left that fresh new smell that says, “Mmm anything is possible”
And do you know what?
More Coping Skills to Learn
- The Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress
- Anxiety Coping Mechanisms That Work When You’re Stressed to the Max
- How to Cope with Stress When You’re Overwhelmed by Responsibilities
- How to Stay Calm and Cool When You Are Extremely Stressful
Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com
|||^||Drucker Institute: About Peter Drucker|
|||^||Mandie Holgate: Bench Mark Graph|
|||^||Tasha Eurich: Insight|
|||^||Harvard Business Review: What Self-Awareness Really Is (and How to Cultivate It)|