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Published on August 1, 2019

15 Important Coping Skills to Deal with Stressful Situations

15 Important Coping Skills to Deal with Stressful Situations

Now more than ever, we’re easily overwhelmed in our life. From career and personal growth, to families and maintaining healthy relationships; it seems that finding the right balance to juggle it all is a futile effort.

In an age where technology is advancing rapidly, as are we with it, it can be easy to run on auto-pilot most days. That kind of conditioning catches up with us, when we’re finally burned out and crashing from too many meetings, schedules, and priorities.

Stress washes over us like a tidal wave, and we’re left scrambling to pick ourselves up in the same order as before. What causes even more undue stress in that moment is our tired inability to cope in ways that are healthy and effective, long-term. According to the latest statistics from the American Institute of Stress, the largest portion of caused stress comes from job workload. To that extent, 65% of employees stated that workplace stress was responsible for significant issues, such as eye-strain, difficulty sleeping, and other physical impairments, like carpel tunnel symptoms and low-back sensitivities from sedentary office settings [1].

In such instances, we’re quick to jump to fast solutions, like too much caffeine to keep energized, and poor self-care habits at home, such as lack of motivation to eat healthy or exercise. Our coping mechanisms turn into bandaid-type fixes that don’t teach us how to deal with stress in ways that promote health and well-being, long-term.

The following list recommends coping skills that take us out of our reactive state, and into a mindset that is more aware of our stressors. This awareness is a key step into developing controls that will help you not only deal with stress, but do it in a way that continues to promote healthy habit patterns.

1. Conscious Breathing

When we become stressed, we tend to lose touch with our conscious breathing awareness. In other words, we hold our breath, or fall into shallow breathing. This, in turn, affects the body on a cellular level, and kicks on the sympathetic nervous system, which primes us for reaction. Unfortunately, many of us tend to stay in this reactive state for long periods of time, constantly jumping at or running after tasks, sensations, and more stress.

What’s worse is that consistent shallow breathing not only causes more tension in the jaw, neck, low back, and other body areas; but it also significantly reduces a certain type of white blood cell that is responsible for warding off diseases, infections, and inflammation [2]. Our breath is literally keeping us healthy and alive.

When facing a stressful situation, a good practice is to pause and return to your breathing. Long, deep breaths in and out have shown to promote a sense of calm and re-centering, necessary for returning to the issue at hand with a clearer head.

Ensuring that your breath fills your belly and your lungs is vital in promoting diaphragmatic breathing that will not only ground the body, but also the mind.

Tune into the below video for an animated breathing exercise if you get caught up in a stressful situation:

2. Journaling

Sometimes, we just need to write down our feelings and sensations in the moment, as we’re experiencing them. Journaling has long been a practice many have turned to for its healing benefits.

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Similar to a diary, journaling is a way of writing down our thoughts and getting them out of our head; more importantly, that release is beneficial in cutting off the overthinking cycle of thoughts that keep us disconnected from our bodies and our environment.

You can either keep the journal entry and revisit it later, once the stressors have been resolved; or you can crumple it up, burn it, or tear it up, and notice the surrender in that manner.

Here’s a how-to guide on journaling: Writing Journal for a Better and More Productive Self (The How-To Guide)

3. Exercising

One of the best ways of getting out of our head when dealing with stress is to instead, come into the body.

Exercising is a powerful tool in redirecting our energy into something that is not only healthy for us, but also distracting. Moving the body floods our system with endorphins, which are natural painkillers that help with mood, sleep, and reducing irritability.

Finding the right exercise for you is entirely open to what stressors you’re facing. For example, running is a great option if you’re feeling angry or pent-up with frustration. On the other hand, yoga could be a beneficial suggestion if you’re feeling lethargic and tense, and need some grounding, re-energizing, or relaxing.[3]

Here’s a nice demonstration on stress-relieving Qigong exercises:

4. Meditation

Sitting down in silence might not sound like your idea of managing stress, but so much of our stress stems from the thoughts that we have in our mind. Naturally, it would make sense to tackle that stress head on, all pun intended.

Meditation can be done anywhere and anytime, and all that’s required is a set number of minutes to simply close your eyes and tune into your breathing. There are many apps that offer guided meditation sessions for anyone who is a beginner or just needs support on their meditation journey.

Apps such as Headspace and Insight Timer offer free guided sessions from meditation teachers all over the world.

You can also take a look at this Guided Morning Meditation for Beginners (That Will Change Your Day).

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5. Technology Disconnect

Everything we do is powered by the Internet, so much so, that without it, we often feel uneasy and disconnected. Ironically, too much of social media or checking work emails while at home is disconnecting us from ourselves.

Consider taking tech-breaks throughout your day, whether it’s taking a 30-minute lunch break without your phone, or going home from work and unplugging. Use the free time to do what brings you most joy in that moment – maybe a cup of tea outside!

Or try these 5 Simple Ways to Unplug and Be More Mindful In Your Life.

6. Think This, Not That

This is a powerful practice and skill to develop that will rewire your brain and the thinking patterns we often fall prisoner to in stressful situations.

How many times have you gotten upset at something and made the situation worse by going down the rabbit hole of negative thoughts? Most of us!

By becoming aware of these negative thought patterns as they come up, we can instead, choose better ones. Positivity and coping skills are a practice ingrained over time, and it comes from choosing better thoughts and patterns from the stressful ones we’re used to.

Watch Mel Robbins’ video below as she explains this concept, and gives simple tips on implementing this in your life:

7. Simplify Your Morning Routine

So many of us want to get as much done as possible in any given day. It’s natural to want to cross every item off of our to-do list, but not doing so often causes us more stress and worry, and for what?

Simplifying your morning routine gives you more headspace to prioritize tasks in a way that doesn’t feel crowded and overwhelming.

Try preparing kids’ lunches (or your own) the night before, or laying out your clothes or work items before you head to bed. In the morning, sit down with a list of things to do that you can write down, instead of trying to remember everything as the day unfolds.

Starting your day off in a way that works for you will help you manage stressors better: 15 Ways to Simplify your Morning Routine and Have a Great Morning

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8. Affirmations and Mantras

Mantras are words or phrases that are repeated often to bring about concentration, focus, and present moment awareness.[4] When you’re faced with a stressful situation, reminding yourself of this word or phrase can bring you back to a sense of grounding and peace, so that you can re-approach the problem with a new sense of clarity.

Here’re 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.

9. Getting More Sleep

Our society is notorious in celebrating work done on meager hours of sleep. We’ve come to idolize people and their abilities in being able to pull all-nighters and complete their work with little to no rest. Unfortunately, this is also creating more stress in our life.

Getting 7 to 9 hours of sleep every night is crucial in setting up a foundation of effective and healthy performance the next day. Not only will we wake up brighter, happier, more rested and ready to take on the day; but our cognitive abilities will be restored to deal with any stressors in ways that are healthy, safe, and effective.

10. Eat Wholesome, Balanced Meals

When we’re under stress, we tend to go for fast food that is readily available, but not necessarily healthy. So much of what we eat contributes to how we feel, and in turn, how we control the rest of our day, stressors included.

Ultra-processed foods that are high in sugar and fats not only affect our mood, but our gut, as well. When the balance between good and bad gut bacteria is off, inflammation is quick to follow, as are a slew of gut-related diseases.[5]

We can’t stave off stress on a system that’s deprived of healthy nutrients, which is more of a reason why balancing your plate with enough dark-leafed vegetables, nuts, healthy fats, and protein is a must. Learn How to Find a Healthy Eating Plan That Actually Works for You.

Also, don’t forget the water!

11. Be Assertive Instead of Aggressive

Stressful situations can expound frustration, and leave us feeling more aggressive than we’d like to be. Maybe we snap at our colleagues or family members, or lose our cool at the meeting or in an argument. These instances can leave a mark that is often difficult to reverse, once the stressors die down.

Learning how to be assertive instead of aggressive is a fine-line balance, and one that can help you speak your truth and get your point across, all the while keeping emotions in check and under control.

12. Know What To Control and What to Release

By nature, we like to control outcomes, situations, and sometimes, others. In stressful situations, pawning after that desire to control can often give us more hardship than we’d like.

Knowing when to let go of a situation, conflict, or person can be a powerful practice in alleviating that stress. It can also benefit you in being able to distinguish when and how to release what no longer brings you reward, joy, or purpose.

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We’re not meant to control everything, and accepting that can be a truly liberating experience.

13. Open Up to a Friend, Colleague, or Family Member

We’ve all heard the phrase, “no man is an island.” That’s even more true when we’re going through a hard time. Often, we like to isolate and face our struggles head-on, only emerging after we’ve resolved the problem and come out victorious.

However, there is support and vulnerability in opening up to someone you trust. It allows you to put down your burden, not for anyone else to fix, but to simply quit carrying it around in silence.

Opening up that channel of communication and confession also puts you in a beautiful position to receive feedback and perspectives that you might not have considered before.

14. Learn to Say No

There are simply not enough hours in the day to accomplish everything we want to do, let alone to take on more from others who invite us, ask us, or suggest to us.

Learning when and how to say no can vastly release the burdens of needing to meet other people’s expectations. It can also open you up to focusing on your own tasks and priorities, which may decrease in size once you cut out the tasks you’ve taken on from others.

15. Make Time for Fun

Even though stress comes from many things and in many different shapes, it also stems from our lack of incorporating fun into our lives. By doing this, you can cut the stressors at the core, distracting yourself from what pains you to connect to something that brings you joy!

Think of activities or hobbies that you haven’t done in a while, or have always wanted to try. Make it a priority to schedule this activity soon, and then go and enjoy it fully! Notice how you feel when you give yourself permission to play.

Final Thoughts

Stress is a part of life. With so much to juggle in any given day, we’re aligned to meet stressors around every corner.

How we react to them, however, is entirely in our control. There are coping skills that we can practice that will put us in a better position to deal with stressful situations that keep our health and well-being prioritized and strong for years to come.

More About Coping with Stress

Featured photo credit: Jacob Sedlacek via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] The American Institute of Stress: Workplace Stress
[2] Headspace: How Shallow Breathing Affects Your Whole Body
[3] Mayo Clinic: Exercise and Stress: Get Moving to Manage Stress
[4] The Chopra Center: What is a Mantra?
[5] Harvard Health Publishing: Gut Feelings: How Food Affects Your Mood

More by this author

Aleksandra Slijepcevic

Accredited and Certified Vinyasa Yoga Teacher writing for Health & Fitness

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Last Updated on December 10, 2019

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

5 Smart Reasons to Start Journal Writing Today

Here’s the truth: your effectiveness at life is not what it could be. You’re missing out.

Each day passes by and you have nothing to prove that it even happened. Did you achieve something? Go on a date? Have an emotional breakthrough? Who knows?

But what you do know is that you don’t want to make the same mistakes that you’ve made in the past.

Our lives are full of hidden gems of knowledge and insight, and the most recent events in our lives contain the most useful gems of all. Do you know why? It’s simple, those hidden lessons are the most up to date, meaning they have the largest impact on what we’re doing right now.

But the question is, how do you get those lessons? There’s a simple way to do it, and it doesn’t involve time machines:

Journal writing.

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Improved mental clarity, the ability to see our lives in the big picture, as well as serving as a piece of evidence cataloguing every success we’ve ever had; we are provided all of the above and more by doing some journal writing.

Journal writing is a useful and flexible tool to help shed light on achieving your goals.

Here’s 5 smart reasons why you should do journal writing:

1. Journals Help You Have a Better Connection with Your Values, Emotions, and Goals

By journaling about what you believe in, why you believe it, how you feel, and what your goals are, you understand your relationships with these things better. This is because you must sort through the mental clutter and provide details on why you do what you do and feel what you feel.

Consider this:

Perhaps you’ve spent the last year or so working at a job you don’t like. It would be easy to just suck it up and keep working with your head down, going on as if it’s supposed to be normal to not like your job. Nobody else is complaining, so why should you, right?

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But a little journal writing will set things straight for you. You don’t like your job. You feel like it’s robbing you of happiness and satisfaction, and you don’t see yourself better there in the future.

The other workers? Maybe they don’t know, maybe they don’t care. But you do, you know and care enough to do something about it. And you’re capable of fixing this problem because your journal writing allows you to finally be honest with yourself about it.

2. Journals Improve Mental Clarity and Help Improve Your Focus

If there’s one thing journal writing is good for, it’s clearing the mental clutter.

How does it work? Simply, whenever you have a problem and write about it in a journal, you transfer the problem from your head to the paper. This empties the mind, allowing allocation of precious resources to problem-solving rather than problem-storing.

Let’s say you’ve been juggling several tasks at work. You’ve got data entry, testing, e-mails, problems with the boss, and so on—enough to overwhelm you—but as you start journal writing, things become clearer and easier to understand: Data entry can actually wait till Thursday; Bill kindly offered earlier to do my testing; For e-mails, I can check them now; the boss is just upset because Becky called in sick, etc.

You become better able to focus and reason your tasks out, and this is an indispensable and useful skill to have.

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3. Journals Improve Insight and Understanding

As a positive consequence of improving your mental clarity, you become more open to insights you may have missed before. As you write your notes out, you’re essentially having a dialogue with yourself. This draws out insights that you would have missed otherwise; it’s almost as if two people are working together to better understand each other. This kind of insight is only available to the person who has taken the time to connect with and understand themselves in the form of writing.

Once you’ve gotten a few entries written down, new insights can be gleaned from reading over them. What themes do you see in your life? Do you keep switching goals halfway through? Are you constantly dating the same type of people who aren’t good for you? Have you slowly but surely pushed people out of your life for fear of being hurt?

All of these questions can be answered by simply self-reflecting, but you can only discover the answers if you’ve captured them in writing. These questions are going to be tough to answer without a journal of your actions and experiences.

4. Journals Track Your Overall Development

Life happens, and it can happen fast. Sometimes we don’t take the time to stop and look around at what’s happening to us at each moment. We don’t get to see the step-by-step progress that we’re making in our own lives. So what happens? One day it’s the future, and you have no idea how you’ve gotten there.

Journal writing allows you to see how you’ve changed over time, so you can see where you did things right, and you can see where you took a misstep and fell.

The great thing about journals is that you’ll know what that misstep was, and you can make sure it doesn’t happen again—all because you made sure to log it, allowing yourself to learn from your mistakes.

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5. Journals Facilitate Personal Growth

The best thing about journal writing is that no matter what you end up writing about, it’s hard to not grow from it. You can’t just look at a past entry in which you acted shamefully and say “that was dumb, anyway!” No, we say “I will never make a dumb choice like that again!”

It’s impossible not to grow when it comes to journal writing. That’s what makes journal writing such a powerful tool, whether it’s about achieving goals, becoming a better person, or just general personal-development. No matter what you use it for, you’ll eventually see yourself growing as a person.

Kickstart Journaling

How can journaling best be of use to you? To vent your emotions? To help achieve your goals? To help clear your mind? What do you think makes journaling such a useful life skill?

Know the answer? Then it’s about time you reap the benefits of journal writing and start putting pen to paper.

Here’s what you can do to start journaling:

Featured photo credit: Jealous Weekends via unsplash.com

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