Sometimes amid a stressful situation, finding an appropriate response can feel like looking for a chair in an empty room. Not because we are incapable of responding appropriately to the problem, the novelty of the situation feels overwhelming. However, once we have experience solving a problem, similar problems become easier to resolve. Psychologist Albert Bandura wrote, “through cognitive self-regulation, humans can create visualized futures that act on the present; construct, evaluate, and modify alternative courses of action to secure valued outcomes; and override environmental influences.”
Bandura’s statement suggests we have growth potential; we can adapt. Change remains a constant in our lives. Consequently, we often adopt one or more life changes to improve our current function. To grow, we must extend ourselves outside of “safe and routine” to broaden our horizons. These adventures outside of “safe and routine” can become a source of stress to which we must positively respond. These experiences teach us who we are and what we can reasonably tolerate.
Often coping skills are discussed after the stressful situation is over. However, this does not indicate that learning coping skills after dealing with a stressful situation is ineffective. Instead, it means you understand and add new coping skills to your toolkit. It would help if you practiced using these skills to reinforce and refine their use.
Indeed, there are many ways to cope with stress. Some coping styles are ineffective in relieving distress but serve as an opportunity to learn and grow. Below are three coping styles:
First, problem-focusing coping – involves actively exploring solutions to the problem to minimize its impact on your functioning. Assertive behaviors strengthen problem-focus coping as you learn to appropriately resolve stressful situations by experimenting with reasonable alternatives to stress management. The premise of problem-focused coping is action is necessary for change to occur. Then, of course, you might experience anxiety dealing with different problems. However, what is the alternative to not taking action?
Second, emotion-focused coping – involves attempting to regulate our adverse reactions, at other times, self-blame, frustration, and stewing in the stressor instead of externalizing the problem. We would find it reasonable not to label ourselves as the problem but to recognize that our behaviors are problematic. For example, your friend takes advantage of your generosity because you are reluctant to say no. Instead, they drop their children off at your house for an impromptu play date instead of asking so they can run errands, but you had your plans. So, you may get frustrated and resort to self-blaming. Your friend return to pick up the children, and you behave passive-aggressively. So you send the children out to your friend without saying anything because you feel you cannot change the situation.
Third, avoidance-coping is a person’s conscious effort not to deal directly with a problem because the situation is considered threatening. For example, the person may persuade themselves to use emotional restraint. They believe emotional control is reasonable. But do not recognize it is not the most rational way to problem-solve if it does not accompany actions to minimize or eliminate the source of stress. Instead, they use avoidance coping to preserve their relationship with their friend because they prefer not to feel the anxiety or deal with their friend’s pushback. As a result, your friend continues the behavior of the impromptu play date.
We have agency over our behaviors. How we cope with our stressors directly impacts how we adapt to changes in our immediate environment. Some means of coping are more appropriate than others. Still, a challenge might be our ability to use coping skills while dealing with a stressful situation, but that should not hinder us. There is power in action.
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