Coping with Stress

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Coping with Stress

You do not always need the assistance of a therapist to cope with times of stress. There are times when an appointment with a therapist is clearly indicated, but there are certainly times when you can cope without one. Of course, this depends upon your personal skills, resources, and experiences.

You need a therapist when you have difficulty distinguishing reality from that which is not real. You need a therapist if you are suicidal or homicidal, or contemplating or engaging in any harmful behavior. A therapist is necessary when your own cognitions hinder your success, when you practice thinking errors and need assistance with recognizing more valid interpretations. It is also wise to seek professional help when your behaviors cause you or others distress and prevent you from achieving your goals.

Other times, a therapist may be beneficial but unnecessary. Perhaps you can acquire and attain appropriate skills and resources that will assist you in coping with problems. A therapist can help you to attain these skills during a relatively calm period in your life so that when crisis occurs, you are prepared to cope. With practice, you can utilize appropriate and effective coping skills under duress.

Identify your strengths and write them down. Do not lose this list as it will be needed during times of stress. You can save yourself the time and energy of trying to recreate this list when you are perhaps in a disorganized state. Reminding yourself that you do have strengths, skills, and successful experiences will help you to cope with your next stressor. Reviewing this list during a stressful period can provide hope.

Express your emotions safely. Denying them may result in them seeping out in even more unwanted ways. If you deny your anger, you may resort to cutting (as an example). Establish a place and a time when it is safe to vent your feelings. Sometimes it is helpful to write them in a journal or to express them through dance movements or visual art such as painting. Being with a friend can provide a sense of safety. Sometimes a pillow or stuffed animal (no matter your age) can be comforting as you express your feelings.

Being able to contain your emotion is as important as expressing it. You need to shift from an emotional state to a rational one. Your reasoning skills are vital when it comes to clarifying the problem, devising a plan, and identifying resources. Writing and verbalization are great ways to move into a logical mindset. Finding words, forming sentences from words, categorizing ideas into lists are all rational mental skills.

Brainstorm all the possible outcomes. What would you need to do to resolve the worst case scenario? Make lists of what you need to do; prioritize your list. Identify what resources you need to resolve your problem. Note how you can procure these resources. Your list will change as you begin your action plan, as you identify further needs or resources.

A support system is another valuable tool when coping with stress. Do you have people whom you trust to offer support and to listen to your ideas? Will you permit those in your support system to honestly and constructively criticize your plan? You need to be open to the perspectives of others - they often see things that are in our blind-spots. You also need encouragement from others and a pat on the back, a shoulder to cry on, or a hug.

Stress diminishes hope, so you have to strive to restore it. Despite the hardship, the setbacks, and the frustration, you have to find some small accomplishment. Affirm your efforts. This might be an area where your support system can assist you. Use your list of strengths. An affirmation might be, "I've been through tough times before and I will overcome this one too."

Pay attention to your thinking process. If your cognitions tend to be full of doom and gloom, you need to interrupt that pattern. It is not reasonable or efficacious to repeatedly tell yourself, "I'm such a loser. I always mess up." No one's life is that bad. No one ALWAYS messes up. Replace your distorted cognitions with more realistic ones: "I've really messed up this time, but I'll find a way to get through this."

These ideas may seem obvious to you when you are not experiencing a crisis, but they become forgotten once stress slams you. They require practice too. It is easier to practice good mental health during periods of relatively less stress. Other ideas to incorporate into your mental health preventive routine are relaxation exercises (controlled breathing), physical exercise, spiritual worship, laughter, adequate sleep, and nutritious food.

Dawn Crouse is a licensed mental health counselor, marriage and family therapist, and high school teacher.

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