What do coping and being resilient mean to you? What does coping actually look like for you? And what does it feel like?
For many people, I think there is still the Victorian Britain image of coping. The stiff upper lip, being a rock, shouldering the responsibility, putting on a brave face and so on. These expressions all smack of isolation. They imply going it alone, not sharing with or burdening others. They epitomise the strong person, be it the father, mother, business owner, manager, leader or carer for example, who always has the answer, doesn’t reach out for help and never shows their emotions.
Behind the scenes, however, all is not well. It’s just that you’re trying to make it look like all is well, that you’re coping and you’ve got it covered. So, what is actually going on for that individual when they are putting on a brave face and not burdening others with their problems?
Well, from personal experience, it feels lonely. When you think that you cannot turn to anyone for support, you take on the responsibility of finding the answer alone. And you might not turn to others for many reasons. You may feel ashamed for not knowing how to solve the problem. For making a mistake or not being able to handle it on your own. Perhaps you’re stopped from asking because you imagine people will think you are stupid, ineffective, irresponsible or incapable. Maybe you are concerned for the impact it will have on your marriage, career or relationships with your kids, friends and family. Or even the future of your kids. And so maybe that makes you feel guilty. Perhaps you are held back by the stigma of failure or appearing weak? Shame can play a big part in staying silent and “coping” in quiet desperation.
I also felt stuck. If you cannot go to others for advice or support, it is often difficult to find new perspectives and approach the challenge with fresh eyes. Therefore, you get stuck in a rut and keep doing the same things and hoping you’ll get different results. That feeling of “stuck” and perhaps feeling hemmed in, restricted or confined is debilitating. It makes you tense, frustrated, irritated and anxious, which affect your concentration and focus. In this state, it can be hard to sleep. And you may be distracted and distant with those closest to you. Which impact on your relationships, work productivity and engagement as well as your health and well-being.
You might experience tension headaches or migraines, tight shoulders and chest which could lead to shortness of breath and a sense of panic. You might have low energy and diminished sex drive.
And I was on the defensive. You’ll tell everyone that you are fine or great and how well things are going. And with every false truth you utter, a little part of you dies inside. You’ll try to divert people’s attention away from too much detail so that they don’t find out. You hold your body tense, armouring yourself against threat or attack, as if by not acknowledging it, the house of cards will not come tumbling down. Yet, every moment you spend not creating an effective resolution, the house of cards gets closer and closer to collapsing.
That tension you are holding has its advantages. It stops you feeling the full force of your discomfort. Which you might also hide by drinking alcohol excessively, over working, keeping your distance (perhaps physically and emotionally) from those most impacted by this situation, recreational drugs, gambling and so on.
Sticking your head in the sand
This is a worse-case scenario. But, if you notice yourself employing distraction and diversionary behaviour, feeling isolated and any of the possible symptoms mentioned above, you could be in a state of coping which isn’t really coping at all. It’s sticking your head in the sand. And while you might be busy doing things and hoping it will all sort itself out, the situation gets worse over time which makes you feel more stuck, isolated, desperate, lonely and defensive. And so the spiral continues downward.
But it won’t sort itself out. While you remain stuck, you are stressed, anxious and tired. Therefore, you are not in a place to create an effective solution to the problem. That stress and anxiety has your body set up for fight or flight (known as the Stress Response). Which is actually the opposite of what you need to get out of the rut you are in.
Most people, particularly men, will wait until the final straw before they will reach out to others. Stigmas, such as “asking for support shows you are weak and not a real man”, mean that people avoid asking for help so much longer than necessary. So much stress, anxiety and heartache could be avoided if stigmas like this could be challenged.
So, I’d like to redefine what it means to be coping. Coping is not desperation or isolation. And certainly not devastation. The Cambridge English Dictionary defines coping as” dealing successfully with a difficult situation”. There is nothing successful about that Victorian Britain definition of coping. I believe therefore, that coping redefined wants to look more like resilience.
**Which means connecting to four key aspects of your well-being:
- Meaning/ Purpose/ Spirituality
One of the reasons people find it hard to cope is that they may not realise they are struggling. They lack a degree of self-awareness that means they do not notice they are expressing signs of stress and anxiety. You may know people who are telling you they are not angry as they yell at the top of their voices.
Mindfulness and embodiment exercises can develop that self-awareness so that you can notice the signs of struggling earlier and do something about it. Also, the earlier you tackle the problem, the less off the rails you are and so it is easier to rectify. The longer it is left, the more work you have to do to get back on track. Which is more stressful. Engage a little in the pain you are in. The sensations are full of valuable information that can tell you where you want to head and how to take the first steps.
Having relationships with a wide range of people means you have a broad support network to call upon when you realise you are struggling. To be resilient it is best to have at least one person you can go to for practical advice, someone else who is an inspiration for you, another who makes you laugh at yourself and the world, a fourth that acts as a mentor or elder, a sexual partner or someone who gives you touch and finally someone who is a listener. These six people collectively support you in your resilience and your ability in coping. A single person definitely shouldn’t be all six of those things to you, but someone might cover two, maybe three roles.
A regular connection to nature is a great resource for coping. The calm of the natural world will bring you to a calmer state if you allow it to nurture you. Immerse yourself in the wilds, take a walk in a park, or even walk on the streets and take the time to look at the trees, clouds, the sun, birds and anything else that connects you with nature. It might take some time for the effect to take hold but, do what you can and notice the impact.
Meaning/ Purpose/ Spirituality
When you are aligned to what is most important to you, you have access to power and confidence that has you working at a much higher level. Compare that to when you are conflicted, second guessing yourself, confused and consumed with doubt or fear. The power of your clarity, focus and fulfilment are second to none. Living your purpose has a hint of stepping outside your comfort zone, discovery and creating something new. It might feel challenging, risky and a step into the unknown, but here you are alive and vital.
You might feel stress, but it is not overwhelming stress. It is stress that has you raise your game and perform beyond your expectations. You feel of use or service in this place, contributing towards something larger than you. Perhaps giving something that only you can give. That sense draws you forward while you are oriented towards an inner compass point that feels fulfilling, meaningful and on purpose.
Dealing successfully with a difficult situation
When you take the time consistently to cultivate your resilience, your capacity to cope with life’s challenges dramatically increases. So, rather than trying to cope by shutting down, withdrawing, digging your heels in and numbing the pain and suffering, you can reach out for as many of the resources that develop your resilience as you want or need. So that rather than be stressed, anxious and tense you can be relaxed and at ease and so more inclined towards creative solutions, cooperation and collaboration.
There is even evidence to suggest that when we are stressed, our bodies release Oxytocin so that we are more inclined to reach out for support from others (the second on the resilience list). You can listen to a TED Talk about it here.
So, there is no need to suffer. And there is definitely no need to suffer alone. In fact, when you get this right, overcoming the challenges and reaching your goals in life can come with remarkable ease. If you listen to your body, it is telling you the answers. Those urges to speak to someone, reach out for help, take a break and align yourself to what brings you joy are your body saying you need to do this so that you can cope.
Nothing in nature remains stuck. Everything is in a dynamic flow that moves, changes, adapts and evolves. If you are digging in and getting stuck, you are going against nature. You are going against your nature. Reach out and help things flow. The answers come much sooner and the joy of relief more quickly.
Over to You
How are you coping? What do you do to build and maintain your resilience? What is your definition of coping? How might it be different after reading this blog? What will you be doing differently as a result of reading this?
Pass it on
If you have found this information useful why not send the link to a friend in need?
** I have taken this information about resilience from Mark Walsh’s lecture on Four Types of Resilience from Integration Training’s Resilience Day on April 30th, 2020.