(I so cleverly reserved this blog topic for the holidays – because you know you’re going to need it!)
I’ve often heard people say that stress is “just a part of life.” If you tell them that things are hectic at work or at home, they’ll likely nod their head sympathetically and then offer some words of comfort with a thinly veiled caveat that this is what life is about, so suck it up. The only thing that’s worse is those people who think that telling you about their problems is supposed to make you feel better. “You think that’s bad? Guess what happened to me.” So here was my initial conclusion:
- Stressed at work? So is the rest of the world.
- Family responsibilities getting out of hand? Stand in line.
- On the verge of a nervous breakdown or burnout and need a vacation? Who doesn’t?
The problem is, believing that stress is an inevitable reality of human existence can breed passivity in the least, and at its worst, a sense of complete and utter helplessness. Research we conducted at Queendom reveals that the manner in which people cope with stress can have a significant impact on their life – and that there are, in fact, several practical, healthy coping strategies that anyone can adopt to deal with difficult situations. Ever wonder why some people can handle stress with ease while others under the same stressful conditions completely break down? It all comes down to their coping mechanisms.
Collecting data from nearly 9,000 people using our Coping and Stress Management Skills Test, our research reveals that people who consistently use healthy coping strategies tend to experience less conflict with others, are more satisfied with their job, and happier with their life in general. Their most common methods of coping with stress include:
1) Positive Cognitive Restructuring: An emotion-focused coping mechanism that is useful when dealing with stressors that you can’t change or control (e.g. death of a family member, long-term illness). Positive Cognitive Restructuring involves re-framing the way you view a situation – putting it in perspective, or finding the silver lining. For example: “There are a lot of people in this world whose life is much worse than mine.” “Being diagnosed with this illness has brought my family closer together.”
2) Problem-Solving: A problem-focused strategy that is useful when a stressor is controllable (e.g. a difficult client at work; heavy workload; taking an exam at school). Problem-solving, as its name implies, involves taking active steps to modify or reduce a stressor. For example, if you’re a manager, you can reduce the stress of a heavy workload by delegating tasks to a subordinate. If you’re stressed about a final exam at school, you can join a study group or obtain the expertise of tutor or counselor. Rather than focusing on the problem, people who use this coping strategy direct their energy toward researching and finding a solution. This offers a sense of control over the situation, which in and of itself can reduce stress.
3) Negotiation: Another problem-focused strategy, negotiation involves modifying goals or behavior in order to better adapt to or resolve a stressful situation. For example, if you’re a parent dealing with a teenager who is pushing his or her boundaries, you can use negotiation to find a curfew time that both of you are happy with.
On the flip-side, our data also shows that those who are unhappy with their job and their life, and who face a great deal of conflict in their relationships are more likely to use “empty” and passive coping strategies, like Rumination (thinking obsessively about a source of stress), Opposition (lashing out or blaming others), and Social Withdrawal (avoiding contact with others). You can add comfort food and alcohol to the mix too…especially during the holidays.
So here’s my final conclusion:
Stress is not one of those things that you are powerless to change and just need to ride out like a storm, a bout with food poisoning, or a family visit from your mother. If you just let the stress take over and overwhelm you, this is where the heart, digestion, and sleep problems start. The truth is, we are not as helpless against stress as we may think. A lot of people have overcome major obstacles and tragedies with their emotional health intact, and it’s thanks to their healthy coping skills – and we can all develop them. So here are some tips on practical methods to deal with stress:
- Exercise. Not only does regular exercise promote good health and high self-esteem, but according to research, it also helps battle anxiety and depression. Exercise releases tension and feel-good hormones. Try working out for a half hour or more at least 3 times a week. Choosing activities where you’re outside with nature can also be a naturally soothing experience.
- Stop the rumination trap. Over-thinking problems in your life and allowing them to take over your thoughts can make the problem seem even more overwhelming. If you find yourself obsessing over a problem, make an effort to stop those thoughts in their tracks. Pick up an engrossing book, watch a comedy on television, or go for a bike ride.
- Join a community. Any activity that brings you together with like-minded people will help increase your support base. While it may take time for you to feel comfortable opening up to new people, simply being around others is uplifting on its own. Whether you are dealing with a health problem, psychological issue or family difficulties, there is likely to be a support group or forum online that you can join. Volunteering can also be a therapeutic experience. Helping others not only makes you feel better, but it also helps you put your problems in perspective.
- Get a pet. Provided that you have the resources to care for an animal, pet ownership can be a great stress-buster. Some research shows that the positive impact of dog ownership approaches that of social support!
- Try a news vacation. Take a break from watching the news or reading the newspaper if it’s one of your habits. World news focuses on calamity, ill fortune and pending disaster. This is especially important when there’s a disaster unfolding in your own world. Watching the news too much can be overwhelming and could leave you feeling all-the-more helpless.
How do you deal with stress? Share your comments below!
Join me for next week’s discussion on five key personality traits!