Summary: The choice of how you respond is yours, no matter what comes into your life. Here is how to change your coping mechanisms.
Dear Dr. Sylvia,
I need some help with coping mechanisms during this time of constant change.
I’ve recently been surveying how people cope and use various coping mechanisms. It’s been fascinating because they fall into specific categories.
Much coping has to do with food and drink. Others use sex, while some rely on verbalizing their upset to family or friends.
For example, some individuals are into eating and binge eating. For me, it’s chocolate and even ice cream. When I was in a bad mood as a kid, my mother would say, “Oh, sit down and have some chocolate ice cream and you’ll feel better.” I can see this way of coping has lasted into my adulthood.
Let’s hear it for chocolate when it’s time to de-stress.
Therefore, even now, when I’m in whatever state of upset, I hear my mother’s voice say, “Chocolate, ice cream will make you feel better, and a hot fudge sundae will make you feel even better.”
As a result, I feel better until that last taste of the sweet chocolate ice cream slides down my throat.
Can you suggest better coping mechanisms so I don’t get fat and fatter? I don’t want to rely on old behaviors that no longer work for me.
Determined to Change
Great comment and essential question.
Above all, how we learn to cope as kids will impact how we respond like adults.
As children, we watched our parents and also adults in the neighborhood so we could figure out the safest way to respond when stress hits the hot button.
What worked when you were three or seven or thirteen most likely will cause negative repercussions as an adult.
Question for you. Were you the type who would shout out your frustrations, or did you stuff down your upset? Your answer will guide you to better ways of coping.
Too much of anything, even air or water, can become toxic.
It starts with finding comfort and safety. That is what we all need when stress is high, to feel safe.
Indeed, too much of anything and going to the extreme is toxic. And yes, people feel suitable for a brief time. However, too much of anything, and that means anything, can harm or even kill you.
That is to say, this method of coping is short-term. Since you must keep doing the same thing over and over to get a positive feeling, it takes lots of effort to stay at that high level of letting the good times roll.
Sadly, It’s not long-lasting.
So, coping often leads to indulging, which is not good.
Therefore, the question becomes, “How do you counteract indulging?”
You decide which coping mechanisms are successful.
Most importantly, I’d like to tell a story from a Cherokee legend. This will help keep your thoughts in perspective.
The story is about little children who would sit with the grandfather or the tribal elder. They would ask, how do we know what’s good for us and what’s not?
Above all, the elders want to teach the young what to focus on to make their lives successful. Therefore, the response would be a story about two wolves always fighting.
One wolf is the wolf of darkness and despair. The other wolf is the one of light and hope. So, the kids would say, “Which one wins?” And the grandfather, the elder, would say, “The one you feed.”
Learn to make a conscious choice to cope with your stress.
So, I’d like you to think about that as we go through the following days, weeks, and months of constant change that we share.
Here’s the question: What should we feed physically? What do we provide ourselves emotionally? What do we need to nurture ourselves mentally?
My book “Invisible Stress” contains the best foods to eat to keep stress under control. One hint is that blueberries are helpful as a coping food.
Similarly, here are two exercises to give you some emotional strength. We always feel better when we’re doing something, learn it, and feel it quickly to do better.
Simple exercises can keep you in the “safe stress zone.”
Here are the two exercises: One is the 7-7-7-7 exercise. Now, everybody can remember to count numbers up to seven. Counting and breathing are all you need here; This exercise helps you get more oxygen in your system and will calm you down.
So, before you say something you regret, you can do this anywhere. Just go into a quiet place. Go into the bathroom, and if you need to lock the door, do so.
Firstly, you breathe in through your nose to the count of seven. Go ahead, take a deep breath in, and hold to the count of seven. Then breathe out through your mouth to the count of seven. Next, what we call, keep empty to the count of seven. Do this exercise seven times. You can count on your fingers to remember it.
So, one complete section is breathing in, hold, breathe out, hold, and after you’ve done that seven times, I promise you, when you open your eyes and look around, things will begin to look brighter because you’ve put more oxygen in your body. You’ve also taken a pause, which is essential.
Remember to feed the wolf who will support your growth.
Above all, you can do that whenever you’re in a place of saying, “I’m going to say something that I might regret.”
Bring the two wolves to mind. One wolf is about anger, resentment, intimidation, upset, and fear, and the other is about empathy, caring, creativity, and planning. So, think about it. Which wolf do you want to feed?
The first exercise will give you the space to decide.
Now for exercise two.
The following exercise is only ten seconds. That is to say, ten seconds every hour.
In short, here’s what you can do in ten seconds. It’s worth experimenting to see the difference this simple process can make in your life.
To demonstrate: whatever you’re doing, stop and look at something.
That’s all you have to do.
Find something near you and look at it. For example, I have scissors that I keep on my desk. If I have to cut through a piece of paper, it’s there for me. Mostly, however, I take these scissors for granted, almost forgetting the handles are a ruby red color.
Pay attention to what is in front of you to find your calm place.
Look at the mundane objects in your life from a larger perspective.
All in all, can you pay attention to scissors? Or to a pen, r an orange, or a cup of coffee? See the creativity in making the object in front of you with new eyes.
That’s all you have to do.
Subsequently, please take something different each hour. Look at a pen, a watch, and a pair of sunglasses.
I promise you, yes, I do, that if you do the two exercises here for a week, you will have an uptick in your creative ideas.
And even better, you will find yourself coping with stress more effectively without losing your cool.
Here’s to your success,
PS I want to offer you a complimentary copy of the introduction of my book “Invisible Stress” to help you on your leadership journey.