Many approaches to coping with stress focus on exercise, nutritional, and mindful-meditation practices – all of which yield fantastic results. Some of these stress management techniques are just that – an attempt to better manage it. Similar to pain management, some methods are more focused on managing the symptoms like headaches, stomach problems, difficulty sleeping, anxiety, and depression.. Although it may seem counter intuitive, Dr. David Olson, a Fellow with the American Psychological Association (AMA) states that “it is easier to focus on reducing stress than it is to manage its symptoms.”
In addition to managing symptoms, when it comes to reducing or eliminating stress, there are four basic skills that can be learned and called upon again and again. The first is problem-solving — the ability to deal directly (not avoid or ignore) with the problems we face and make rational and positive changes to resolve them. A common problem-solving model is available at MindTools. A second basic skill for coping with stressful situations is effective Communication. This is especially important when our circumstances involve other people (couple, family, friends, colleagues). The ability to effectively verbalize our needs and listen to the needs of others will help us gain mutual respect and understanding.
The other two coping skills are a bit more challenging as they require a level of personal growth and change. For some, these two relationship-based strategies will mean stepping out of your comfort zone to engage in behaviors that are less natural for you. To learn more about your natural behavioral tendencies and how they influence your day to day interactions and relationships, take one of those DiSC assessments. The action-planning guide to these assessments will help you develop the following two coping strategies.
Relationship-Based Coping Strategies
- Develop Closeness. This is about creating a support network and having more faith in other people. This may be a stretch for some who are very independent or who place a high value on privacy and personal boundaries. These personal preferences will limit the amount of closeness we experience and may cancel out an important coping strategy that otherwise comes natural for others. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong with this but, if you recognize yourself as this type of person, you may want to ask yourself what it’s costing you in terms of coping with stress. Meanwhile, here are a few ways that can help us develop greater closeness in life.
- Make relationships a priority. Relationships are key to helping us cope with stressful situations. To one degree or another, relationships are important to almost all of us. But make sure it’s a two-way, reciprocal give-and-take exchange. It’s leaning on others and allowing them to do the same with us. Letting people be there for you allows them to feel appreciated knowing they can help. Yes, this depends on trust, allowing oneself to be vulnerable, and having an appreciation for what others can do for you.
- Share your personal feelings. Within the boundaries of good taste and common sense, when we share our feelings, we are essentially letting someone else inside, offering a part of ourselves including our fears and worries. Allow yourself to trust and rely on others.
- Develop Flexibility – a willingness to alter routines and accept new ideas. Since change has become a constant, having a great deal of flexibility can be an important resource for coping with stress. On the other hand, if we find that our flexibility is on the low end, this could be a major factor contributing to or even causing our stress. If this is the case, here are a few basic tips that may help.
- Make an effort to adapt. There is a fine line between staying firm and being stubborn. Our ability to change course and go with the unstructured and unpredictable can make a big difference. Often, our lack of flexibility is the culprit of our stress.
- Remain open with less judgement. Give alternatives a chance. There may be a silver lining. A strong indicator of inflexibility is dismissing potential solutions at the outset. Try widening your field of possibilities.
A focus on improving our coping skills versus trying to manage the symptoms of our stress will help us accomplish more and achieve greater feelings of satisfaction in life.
Tom Sullivan, MPA
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