Stress doesn’t discriminate. It doesn’t skip over that person because she’s too pretty, or that man because he’s too well-educated, or that couple who are already going through enough as it is. It doesn’t grasp rank, ethnicity, gender, or age. So why do some people crumble under the pressure of stress while others rise to the occasion? And are happy people content because they have it easy? Not really.
It isn’t that happy people live a charmed, stress-free life. It’s what I like to think when I’m not having a good day and see someone giggling and smiling. Ugh. But it simply isn’t true. They face stress like everyone else – the key lies in how they cope with it. And this is what we wanted to discover using our Coping & Stress Management Skills Test. Don’t get me wrong: analyzing the effects of stress and how it can ruin people’s health and life can offer some important information. But what we wanted to know is, how do people who are happy and satisfied with their life cope with stressful times? What is their secret?
What our research uncovered was five coping techniques that help happy people keep stress under control:
1) The Problem-Solving Technique: Happy people don’t sit back when a storm comes – they act rather than react. They take active steps to discover the cause of stress, and find ways to either solve or improve their situation. Like any other problem they face in their life, happy people approach stress in a systematic, practical way: find the cause, look for a solution. They outline strategies and set goals to get them back on track.
2) The Positive Cognitive Restructuring Technique: It was American psychiatrist Gerald Jampolsky who said that “it’s not the situation that is causing your stress, it’s your thoughts, and you can change that…” Happy people use a technique which involves looking at a problem or source of stress from a different, more empowering angle. They put the situation in perspective by trying to find a silver lining: “I may have problems, but I am a lot more fortunate than other people; I still have friends, family, etc.” Even for the most severe stressor, such as illness or death of a loved one, they are able to re-frame the way they think about the issue. An illness or tragedy, for example, can bring a family closer together, or encourage others to live a healthier life.
3) The Negotiation Technique: If they can’t get exactly what they want out of a situation, happy people will compromise. So if the source of their stress is an ungrateful boss or boundary issues with a child, they will discuss it and work out a tradeoff. Using the Negotiation technique essentially means adjusting one’s behavior, attitude, or goals in order to change or adapt to a situation, and in turn reduce the degree of stress involved.
4) The Emotional Regulation Technique: Even when under stress, happy people will try to find a way to relax and calm down – and they will make it a priority. Rather than letting their stress level reach a boiling point, they will seek an outlet to release their excess energy, whether through exercise, deep breathing, meditation, etc. The goal is simple: A situation will seem a lot less desolate when we are not overwhelmed with negative, dis-empowering emotions. With a balanced mindset comes mental clarity.
5) The Distraction Technique: While it isn’t a good idea to completely avoid thinking about a problem, happy people will occasionally distract themselves by letting loose and having fun. They do things that will make them laugh or otherwise take their mind off of their problem, until they are ready to find a solution. Rather than ruminate excessively, they temporarily step away from a problem until they find themselves in a better state of mind.
Our research on the coping techniques of happy people also reveals that:
- 40% turn to prayer or attend spiritual services of some kind.
- 67% will seek out someone to confide in.
- 71% compel themselves to come to grips with a problem, even if they don’t want to.
- 74% allow themselves time to relax.
- 77% engage in active recreation (sports, outdoor activities).
- 91% said that they simply refuse to give up.
The bottom line is that it’s important to find coping techniques that will work for you – you need to build a repertoire of coping mechanisms that you can rely on. Create a coping toolbox, and consciously practice your skills. If one doesn’t work, you can switch to another. So if meditation doesn’t help you relax, try yoga, tai chi, or deep breathing. (Personally, nothing makes me relax more than laughing. I make it a point to watch something funny when I’m going through a rough time). If you don’t have a close friend you can talk to about your problems, join an online community or find a counselor. Remember, it’s not the stressor itself that matters, but how you react to it.