How to Better Cope with Life

Our modern American lifestyle seems to generate a great deal of stress, whether from our jobs, our home life, relationships, finances, or unexpected major life-changing events. Knowing how to cope can help prevent these stressors from causing a feeling of being overwhelmed and a spiral into anxiety, depression, health issues, and relationship problems.

Frustration is often a sign of oncoming stress. It can have external causes, such as traffic or an uncooperative co-worker, or internal causes, such as having a controlling nature or being emotionally sensitive. Frustration is often the entry point for more serious and enduring emotional responses, so if you see or feel frustration coming on, immediately take steps to rein it in. 

Nipping stress and frustration in the bud

The first step is to notice your feelings and acknowledge them. The next is to determine their root source. For instance, morning traffic may cause your temper to rise, but were you already frustrated before you got in the car? Are you concerned about a presentation you’re giving that day? Did you have an argument with your spouse last night? Does any of this result from an interior cause, such as fear of losing your job, low self-esteem, or a need to control? Taking the time to make this deeper evaluation will help you respond with the proper coping mechanisms.

But we don’t always have time to think too deeply when we suddenly feel overwhelmed and it’s about to come out in a snippy comment or poor work performance. So try some of these immediate techniques and see which ones work for you: 

  • Close your eyes, do some deep breathing exercises, turn your mind to a pleasant thought or a relaxing scene in your imagination
  • Center yourself in the here and now. There are numerous techniques, but one easy method is to name out loud three things you can see, three things you can hear, three things you can touch, etc. This interrupts anxious thoughts and helps you begin to calm down. Remember to breathe deeply!
  • Distract racing thoughts by counting backwards. Too easy? Try counting backward by 7s, starting from 100.
  • Grab hold of the negative thoughts you’re experiencing and say the opposite out loud in a truthful manner. For instance, you may think, “I’ll never get this project done! There’s too much and they haven’t given me all the information I need!” Grab those thoughts and correct them. “I will certainly get this project done, though it may take longer than expected. Let me focus on the portions I have enough information for and inform my boss that I need this other information. I will also give her a reasonable timeframe and ask what parts are most critical to do first.”
  • Get some exercise. If you are able, walk away from the stressor, get outside in the fresh air and sunshine, and do nothing for a few minutes. Look at something beautiful or listen to some cheerful music.
  • Count your blessings. Think of at least three things you are thankful for. If you’re really stuck, be thankful for the most obvious – “I’m thankful that I have a brain. I’m thankful that I have legs and they work. I’m thankful for the air. I’m thankful that my allergies aren’t very bad today.”

The techniques above aim to immediately break the power of racing thoughts or negative emotions to allow you to react more calmly to the situation.

Lifestyle changes

Besides stopping anxiety or frustration when something triggers the feelings, look to your lifestyle to see what changes you can make to dial down your emotional level.

  •  Turn off the news and the use of social media – give yourself a time limit daily, maybe 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening.
  • Evaluate what you watch. Does it make you compare your life to other people? Is the content uplifting? Eliminate that which does not support positive emotions.
  • Add moderate exercise to your daily regimen. Moderate exercise boosts your mood because it releases hormones that create positive emotions. It also applies low-level stress to the body, triggering the release of even more hormones which help with stress management. If you’re not big into exercise, take a brisk walk of about 30 minutes a day. Walking with a pet or with a friend makes the walk more pleasant and commits it to your daily routine.
  • Plan time to wind down after work, filling quiet hours with light, sound, and creativity – keeping in mind that the music or art or whatever you choose should not, as stated above, create negative emotions.
  • Connect with loving friends and plan pleasant events with your spouse or partner.
  • Practice self-love and self-compassion. Get into the habit of making positive statements to yourself and allow time for pampering sessions, a good night’s sleep, and healthful food. 

Getting help

One of the most important aspects of coping with stress is knowing your triggers and the roots of the stress. As mentioned in the beginning, it may take a little soul-searching to find the core reasons. You may feel you need some help finding the underlying causes of chronic stress or the reason why certain things tend to “set you off.” If so, reach out to me. I provide a safe and secure environment for people as they seek self-awareness, and I help them develop the motivation to make a change for a more peace-filled, happier life. If you are in the New York City area, contact me to see how I can help you.

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