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Time to upgrade your coping strategies?

Everyone has their own ‘go-to’ strategies for maintaining healthy mental health however when we experience sustained stress, those strategies may no longer be enough. Even the most disciplined, may struggle and, need to consider additional strategies to maintain their overall wellbeing.


As a psychotherapist I speak to a number of people every day who are surprised when they hear their strategies for resilience may have been tapped out by their lifestyle. In some ways it’s a relief, and in other ways it’s a realisation that given their current situation they need more strategies to sustain themselves, which could mean mean it needs more time too. Sometimes.


Signs that your coping strategies need upgrading

You know your own body and mind best however sometimes we miss the signs because were so busy trying to get something done. If you have noticed a change in any of the below for the worse, that’s a sign for you:  

  • Constantly feeling tired/lethargic/lacking motivation to get started
  • Change in sleep habits; this can be sleeping more, fragmented sleep or struggling to sleep
  • Shallow or rapid breathing in the absence of exercise
  • Reduced concentration or inability to focus
  • Memory lapses or gaps
  • Rapid weight changes - this can be up or down
  • Change in appetite and the foods you want to eat
  • Palpitations
  • Constant knot in your stomach, feeling sick or a bit nauseas
  • Shaking, knocking leg while seated, sweating or changing body temperature for no apparent reason

Often we don’t need more than one sign however it can take a collection of signs before we take notice and subsequent action. When I’m stressed I finish people’s sentences for them. It takes a lot of effort for me to actively listen. Perhaps your sign isn’t on the list – what's your sign?


Coping strategies

There are many coping strategies however there are two main types of coping: problem-focused coping strategies and emotion-focused coping strategies.


Problem-Focused Coping
Problem-focused coping is beneficial in situations where you need to address the external situation. It gets to the bottom of the problem, and you either decide to fix something, remove the source of stress, or come up with an adaptive plan or resolution.


Some examples of problem-focused coping strategies are:

  • Discussing and clarifying the issues that you might have with someone to form an improved way of working together
  • Devising a time management plan so you are able to do all of the things you plan to accomplish during a set amount of time
  • Asking for help in areas where you are not as competent as someone else.


Emotion-focused coping
Emotion-focused coping is a coping strategy that’s most effective when you don’t want to or can’t change anything about the external situation. While you cannot change the situation, you are still in control of how you respond to it and how you react to things around you. This coping strategy is about recognizing how you feel and finding ways to decrease the intensity of those emotions. Acceptance of the situation you cannot change is also a part of this.


Some examples of emotion-focused coping strategies are:

  •  Enrolling yourself in a gym or engaging in regular exercise to help release some of your stress
  • Attending classes to learn self-defence to give you confidence to walk home in the dark alone
  • Regular journaling to explore your feelings and understand them better
  • Following a terminal illness diagnosis, joining a support group
  • Starting a new hobby or devising a new evening routine to increase the chances of a restorative night’s sleep


As you review your coping skills you may identify a few strategies that are no longer as healthy as they might have been e.g. a glass of wine at the end of each day has morphed into 3 or 4 leaving you a bit dusty each morning; needing an extra coffee to get you going. If you realize that you’ve been coping with a problem in unhealthy ways, there is always room to change or adapt your approach. Let go of what’s unhealthy and make a decision to find another healthier technique that will work.


Whatever the approach you choose, they can be integrated into your already busy life. Sometimes our current strategies just need a tweak. For example, if you are used to multi-tasking, now might be the time you start mono-tasking to get the task done quicker and to a higher standard.

If you exercise regularly perhaps the next time you do, you carry it out more mindfully and truly experience your body at work.

At the end of each day, you write out your tasks for the next day that have to get done. While this might take you some time, it’ll mean you can start your morning quicker the next day.

For that difficult or unpleasant conversation, perhaps you need to plan for it so that you’re clear on what you need to communicate. No doubt your planning will help the conversation move quicker to a solution than getting stuck in blame.


Every situation is unique and only you know how to address it best, however you can rely on these two techniques to guide you in the right direction. Remember, whatever strategy works for you won’t always work for another person, and vice-versa, so sometimes it takes time to see and test different techniques. If you find something that works well for you and is healthy, then add it to your coping skills toolkit. Coping skills aren’t set in stone, they’re meant to be reviewed, revised and integrated regularly!


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