Using positive coping skills to get through stress

Let’s talk about coping skills!

Why? Well, it turns out, life isn’t easy. All kinds of difficult things are thrown at us, from illnesses to deaths, changes in our jobs, requirements to move, conflicts with friends (or family or romantic partners), car accidents, broken appliances, financial difficulties… the list goes on and on! Even positive things that we’re excited about can be stressful: a pregnancy could make us nervous, feel sick, low on energy, or wonder how we’ll pay for everything; a new job could make us worry about if we’ll be able to do the work, if we’ll get along with new co-workers, or focus on the new work to the detriment of our relationships; a new place to live comes with time spent unpacking, potential need for repairs, painting… even if we’re excited the new uncertainty or time commitment can still be a stress!

So, what do we do when we’re stressed (whether the stress is positive or negative)? We cope! But just because we’re coping doesn’t mean we’re helping ourselves out. Have you ever dealt with an issue by withdrawing from the situation and pretending it wasn’t there – hoping if you waited long enough it would solve itself? Or dealt with an issue by indulging in food, alcohol, drugs, shopping, TV watching, internet surfing, sleep, or some other activity to make yourself feel better? How about constantly worrying about the issue without actually doing anything or blaming others for the problem? Do you recognize yourself in any of these? These responses are negative coping skills or passive coping skills. They might help at the time, but long-term they usually cause even more problems for us. For example, procrastinating and wishing I had less homework doesn’t make the homework go away, so then by the time I start I have less time to do the same work, and I’m even more stressed! This is avoidance, and I’m quite good at it! The worst part is that I can see I’m making things worse for myself, but I still have a hard time acting differently. Have you experienced this?

What can we do to try to be different, to choose something other than a negative or passive coping mechanism? Well, I think step one is recognizing that we’re using negative or passive coping skills. Then we can learn about more positive choices. Here’s a list of negative and positive coping mechanisms from BYU. Although those negative coping skills seem easy, we know we’re just digging a deeper hole. If we can choose a positive coping skill instead, also called an active coping skill (because it actively tries to solve the problem!), then we’ll decrease stress and increase long-term happiness!

The “How?” is really the tough part, right? I think a good place to start is’s suggestions of the four A’s for dealing with stressful situations: avoid the stressor, alter the stressor/situation, adapt to the stressor, or accept the stressor! This article is worth the read, but I’ll give you a brief overview. Avoiding the stressor is different from the avoidance we talked about above – instead of ignoring that the stressor exists or trying to wish it away, we might change our routine so that we reduce our exposure to the stressor (like if traffic stresses us out we can choose to drive a different route or at a different time to avoid traffic). To alter the stressor or situation often means altering how you’re acting – maybe if you communicated differently the stressor would change (assertively telling others what you do or do not want) or choosing to manage time differently. To adapt to the stressor you may need to change your standards or reframe your view of the situation – getting rid of the words “must“, “should“, “always“, and “never” can help here! Finally, when you really can’t change the stressor or your relationship to it, it is time to accept the situation or stressor. Accepting that you can’t change a situation, looking for the upside, and learning to forgive the imperfect world can all help us cope with situations we wish were different.

It isn’t easy to choose positive coping skills or active coping skills. It will probably take us many tries to get right. But if we can take a deep breath (I’m thinking I’ll try a breathing exercise every time I want to avoid homework) and dive right in to our active choice, we can get there! If you’d like help with choosing positive/active coping skills or reducing negative/passive coping skills, give us a call at Life Skills Resource Group Orlando at 407-355-7378. Our Orlando mental health counselors and Orlando life coaches are ready and excited to join you on your journey to positive coping!

And remember, self care is part of positive coping too! Take care of yourself! ~Krista Bringley