Stress… Stress… and more Stress!
Sometimes it seems as though daily life amounts to little more than contending with one crisis after another. Or maybe your stress is about all those little niggling irritations that never go away – the traffic, the annoying coworker, the backlog of household chores and home repairs. If you feel overwhelmed by stress, this article is for you.
I’ve noticed in my years as a counselor, speaker, and author that stress management really encompasses three types of coping skills:
- Palliative Coping Skills – skills that restore your equanimity.
- Instrumental Coping Skills – skills that solve problems,
- Adaptive Coping Skills – skills in which you develop a new response.
To cope effectively with the stress life throws at you, you need all three for maximum flexibility and resilience. Let me describe each concept.
Palliative Coping Skills
Palliative coping skills are somewhat passive.
They don’t directly change external circumstances, but they do reduce stress because they calm the central nervous system, helping us to relax, feel peaceful, and remain healthier.
One example is Progressive Relaxation. In Progressive Relaxation, you take time out. You lean back or lie down and purposely, consciously, relax each part of your body.
You could also consider meditation. One of the most popular forms is Mindfulness Meditation, inspired by Buddhist teachings.
You sit quietly to simply be aware of your environment, or your thoughts, or your physical sensations and breathing. You make no opinions or judgments.
You take the role of an observer who notices, with no desire to change anything -accepting things as they are for now.
Learn about Mindfulness Meditation from books and audio recordings by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the leading expert.
He defines mindfulness as
“… the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally, to the unfolding of experience moment by moment.”
Kabat-Zinn founded the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center. There, he taught hospital patients how to practice Mindfulness Meditation to cope with a range of chronic medical conditions. His studies showed that after eight weeks of daily meditation, these patients reported reduced pain, less depression, accelerated healing, improved relationships, and a better sense of well-being.
In The Mindful Brain, psychiatrist Daniel Siegel cited a host of studies demonstrating that long-term meditative practice presents these benefits:
- Changes connections in the brain, with increased thickness in parts of the brain that regulate physical processes, balance emotions, modulate fear and support insight and empathy.
- Enhances cognitive flexibility and reduces impulsivity.
- Promotes behavioral flexibility.
- Improves the capacity to regulate emotions.
- Improves thinking and reduces negativity.
- Promotes healing, immune response, and a general sense of physical well-being.
- Improves relationships, because of enhanced empathy and the ability to interpret nonverbal emotional signals from others.
- Reduces symptoms of depression, personality disorders, substance abuse, obsessive behaviors, eating disorders, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress.
- Enhances resilience in the face of difficulty.
Other candidates for palliative coping might be:
- Yoga or Tai Chi
- Listening to soothing music
- Reading novels or poetry
- Talking walks in natural settings
- Hobbies such as painting, playing an instrument, or gardening
- Spending quality time with a pet
- Singing in a chorus
- Maintaining a gratitude journal
Palliative coping skills don’t fix the situation that causes your stress. Instead, they make you stronger and more resilient through activities that are soothing, relaxing, and restorative.
Instrumental Coping Skills
With instrumental coping skills, you take action to change the source of your stress. You negotiate or eliminate whatever is bugging you. Sometimes changing a stressful situation requires a single one-time action. Sometimes the new behavior is one you must repeat and maintain over time.
With complicated circumstances, such as finances, health issues, or interpersonal relationships, single-step solutions do not always work. That’s where detailed problem-solving comes in. Here are the steps for detailed problem-solving.
- Identify the problem that is causing your stress.
- Define the result you want.
- Consider alternative strategies that will bring about the result you want.
- Evaluate and compare the various strategies. Choose the best one – the one that offers the most advantages with the fewest drawbacks.
- Make a plan. Define the steps involved and when you can implement each one. Identify the resources you’ll need people, finances, time, expert advice, tools, or equipment.
- Access your resources and take action. Follow through and stay with the plan.
- Monitor your progress. Notice whether things are going in the desired direction.
- Modify the plan as needed.
- Stop when you have accomplished results; or continue action as needed.
This problem-solving method is ideal for teams and families too, not just individuals. When you realize that most complex problems are not solved overnight, you will develop “next step” thinking. This means you eliminate or resolve the problem one small step at a time.
Adaptive Coping Skills
With Adaptive Coping skills, you change your internal response so that your thoughts, emotions, physiology, and possibly your behavior are better adapted to the circumstances. You develop a more resourceful response to situations that you have typically found difficult or challenging.
In other words, you meet the challenge; rise to the occasion. You replace nervousness with confidence. You replace anger with patience.
How do you do that?
Neuro-Linguistic Programming teaches a process called anchoring. It’s a strategy of replacing a problematic mind-body state with one that is more resourceful.
Here it is in a few quick steps:
- Identify the stressful situation where you feel anxious, or short-tempered, etc.
- Identify the response you would rather have in that situation. Example: You’d rather have confidence instead of anxiety.
- Identify some other activity or situation in your life where you do respond in your desired manner. Choose some circumstances in which you typically feel confident, competent, or patient, for instance.
- Immerse yourself in memory of your desired response. Repeat this step until you easily access that state.
- While accessing the desired response, mentally rehearse how you now will respond to the situation that was the source of your difficulty.
This is what solution-oriented thinking is all about. It’s changing the focus from the problem to the solution. Studies show that mental rehearsal is essential to lasting behavioral change. World-class athletes use it to hone their skills. You can do it too.
Imagine feeling poised while delivering a speech. Imagine feeling confident and sincere when asking that special someone out for a date. Consider that you could replace distraction with concentration, confusion with curiosity, and timidity with assertiveness.
All Three Skills are Important
All three types of coping skills are important.
With palliative coping skills, you can maintain equanimity in meeting the often unpleasant circumstances of daily life.
With instrumental coping skills, you will take action to eliminate the source of your stress or discomfort.
With adaptive coping skills, you will expand your flexibility to meet various challenges that could improve your health, your relationships, and your career. Adaptive coping skills will help you rise to the occasion, instead of engaging in avoidance behaviors.
Sometimes it isn’t easy to develop a reliable routine of say, meditating, or writing in a gratitude journal.
It might be difficult to get past heavy-duty emotions so that you can think clearly enough to engage in effective problem-solving or in developing a new, adaptive response.
If developing these skills seem difficult, it could be to your advantage to consult a coach, mentor, or counselor who can help you prepare and plan, walk you through the steps, monitor your progress, and hold you accountable for the results. Such expert guidance might be just the push you need to get past such sticking points and implement effective stress management.
Source by Judith E. Pearson, Ph.D
Edited and updated by Madi June