We all deal with a variety of emotions attack each day, as well as disorders like depression and anxiety syndrome. It can be tempting to try to cope with these with drugs, food, and alcohol, but there are healthy alternatives for handling them. Here is an overview of some better coping mechanisms.
Cognitive Coping Strategies
The first frontier in an emotional attack is the mind, and your cognitive coping skills can stop the problem developing any further. Stress is essential to getting things done, and especially stressful events trigger the “fight-or-flight” response and, afterward, the “rest and digest” response.
Too much stress poorly handled (e.g. without regular exercise) can lead to the fight-or-flight response being continually triggered and affecting one’s ability to engage in high-level thinking and impulse control and have other negative effects.
Diversions are those skills that allow you to stop thinking about the stressful situation by focusing on something. They work as a good preliminary approach when you recognize warning signs or are feeling overwhelmed but in a temporary and incomplete solution with more focus placed on better ones as your resiliency builds. Limit setting, a preventative measure that limits overwhelming stress by placing a limit on a certain type of activity, is a helpful tool. Lessening involvement in certain activities at work, the home or out of work activities that are stressful can help.
Cognitive-behavioral therapy assists people to improve the way they react to stressful situations by thinking more calmly, being more tolerant and rational. Suppressing negative emotions, like anger, can be unhelpful when it makes it build up and come out in other ways, such as blowing up later or causing further problems with your physical and mental health. Ruminating on negative emotions has similar dangers. Understanding your emotions, i.e. pinpoint their causes, interpreting the cause and responding in a way to lower stress in the future, is fundamental to moving forward.
Interpersonal/Social Coping Strategies
Rehab centers are important once a problem becomes advanced, but you should do what you can to avoid it getting to that level. Interacting with others, whether through group activities such as sport, hiking or other recreations, or socially with friends and family can help lower stress in general. Social support can also help with recognizing early warning signs (e.g. social withdrawal, irritableness) and providing assistance, especially in difficult times. Your support network is an invaluable source of feedback, they can help you see what you’re missing about your own behavior and their reinforcements and recommendations can help you. It’s important to give and take: genuinely caring about someone else helps foster healthy relationships.
Cathartic Coping Strategies
Cathartic Coping Strategies involve acting on strong emotions, in order to release tension and feel better in a way that is safe for oneself and others. Your physiology is directly linked to your psychology in positive as well as negative ways. Keeping steady, deep breathing rates can help calm a person down. Simple activities like squeezing a stress ball can prove helpful to some people, as can more complicated activities like exercise which produces calming and/or euphoria-inducing endorphins in a natural, controlled and safe way. Listening to music, reading poetry and creative activities like drawing can help many people de-stress.
Coping Through ‘Meaning’
Many people find that activities or causes which are meaningful to them can give great emotional satisfaction. Praying, enjoying architecture, animal watching, nature walks or taking up a religious, cultural, charitable or political cause can improve one’s sense of self-worth, community, and overall well-being.
Maslow’s hierarchy of needs states that a true sense of purpose is the peak of many people’s ambition and that with this satisfied the happiness that that brings can exude out into a person’s thinking and actions.
Positive, active, healthy outlets for emotions are essential: there’s only so much reacting to negative stimuli (i.e. copying) can do for one. Regular exercise either alone or in the group can be helpful provided the individual pursues what’s right for them. Some find weight lifting preferable to long runs, whereas others find their place at the pool or in team games. Board and card games, video games (in moderation) and other non-alcohol or substance-linked areas of individual play or social recreation can be very good. Gaming tournaments or competitions help train and focus the mind.
Knowing the right proactive and reactive coping mechanisms can keep you on the right track. If you’re feeling lost or desperate or worried about a friend or family member, consider calling the free Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration National Helpline or suicide prevention hotline.
Scott Hewitt is a therapist who shares his tips and insights around the web through his thoughtful, informative and support-friendly articles.