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Coping- how would you define it?

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?

Lonely

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.

Stuck

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.

Defensive

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.

Coping redefined

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:

  1. Self
  2. Other
  3. Nature
  4. Meaning/ Purpose/ Spirituality

Self

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.

Other

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.

Nature

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

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.

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.

Mental Health? We all have it. How are you managing yours?

What do you think about when you hear or read the expression “mental health”?  Do you think about your own experiences of joy, happiness, sadness, jealousy, feeling down, low or depressed, longing, elation, satisfaction, desire, hope and any other emotional state you might experience? Or, do you only think of depression, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), bipolar, suicidal feelings or self-harm?

A new Understanding of Mental Health

Because, mental health is the daily experiences of feelings, sensations and emotions across a spectrum that ranges from mild to intense and positive to negative.  For so long, the new discipline of Psychology studied the human condition at its most dysfunctional.  It created models of mental health skewed towards a lack of function and normality.  Now, Psychologists are researching the functional mind as well, high achieving people, not just those paralysed by trauma and abuse, happiness not only depression, the neuroscience of joy as well as the factors that contribute to low self-esteem.

We all have Mental Health

This has opened our understanding that we all have mental health.  Yes, there are those that struggle with severe mental health conditions.  That can make it hard to function at a high level in day to day society- schizophrenia and borderline personality disorder for example.

But most of us feel mild experiences of being low, finding it hard to focus, indecision, seeing the negatives in situations rather than the positive, lacking creativity, productivity and resilience as well as battling with our inner critic.  These are daily battles that almost all of us face to a greater or lesser extent.  We lose sight of what is truly fulfilling and meaningful for us as individuals, and our sense of self and mental health suffer as a result.

Sometimes you don’t sleep enough, exercise sufficiently, eat healthily, drink too much alcohol or take more recreational drugs than is good for you and that all leaves you a little under par.  Chronic stress can erode your mental health too, leaving you low in energy, a little jaded and bruised, less responsive and tolerant as you’d like.  Even short-term stress, brought on from moving house, separation and divorce, grieving, illness and financial pressures for example, can negatively impact your mental health.

The Spectrum of Mental Health

So, mental health is not a condition.  There is only the condition of your mental health.  It lies on a spectrum and you are moving along that spectrum at every moment of every day.  Some mornings you’ll get up and you’re humming a tune to yourself.  Someone cuts you up on the commute and suddenly you’re fuming.  Or perhaps it doesn’t affect you?  Into work and e-mails, meetings, powwows by the water cooler may leave you a little low?  Or not?  Or perhaps you feel more vibrant, energised and alive as a result?

Does a late lunch leave you a bit grouchy, or missing your workout leave you less energised and alert for the afternoon stint?  What about the rush for school pick up and dropping off for after-school clubs, lessons and play dates?  An argument at home or a particularly delightful evening with your spouse and kids may lead to a totally different mental state by the end of the day.  Your mental health is zig zagging all over the place throughout the day.  That is part of the human condition.

Mental health is too fluid to be static, consistent and pigeon-holed by a few diagnoses.  Through these highs and lows throughout any day, you are met with opportunities to manage your mental health so that you can remain creative, productive and resilient.

Managing your Mental Health

A handful of tools and resources can help you manage your mental health.  Even if you are on medication for a diagnosed condition, these tools can help.  And if you are not diagnosed and recognise the ebb and flow of your mental health as you go through your day, these tools can help you manage your mental health as well:

  1. The most important thing is to have an awareness of your mental health, noticing the events and moments that positively and negatively impact your mood and feelings. Without that awareness, you cannot know that your mental health needs to be managed.  It takes a little introspection and reflection to recognise these patterns and preferences.  And if you are feeling really brave, ask someone who knows you well and that you can trust, to tell you what they notice about your mental health, honestly and kindly.
  2. Develop your emotional intelligence. Learn to express how you are feeling.  It starts with the body, noticing the feelings and sensations that are showing up as you go through your day.  Then, find the words to describe those feelings and sensations and accurately express the emotions that are connected to those feelings and sensations.  For example, when I have been sitting at the computer too long, my body feels sluggish and low in energy.  I used to worry it was because I was bored, or the work wasn’t exciting enough.  In time, I learned that the feeling comes with prolonged sitting.  If I want to buck that sluggishness from inactivity, I need to get up and move around for a while.  Maybe I’ll work out for example or go for an energetic walk.  Then I’ll return to the screen, refreshed, revitalised and alert.
  3. Talking to a trusted friend, colleague, manager, partner. Having someone to share your thoughts and feelings with is so important in managing mental health.  It solves nothing usually, but it does allow you to create some distance and get some perspective on the challenge so that you are able to work out the next step for yourself.  Creating this opportunity at work is becoming more acceptable with Mental Health First Aiders being trained to listen and signpost.  Also, managers are expected more frequently to give time and space for their team members to come to them with personal as well as work-related challenges.  It can create a lot of anxiety for managers, who can become fearful that they need to solve the problem, suffer embarrassment, will do more harm than good or may be triggered themselves.  What is often needed in the moment is a listening ear, free of judgement, prejudice, opinion or assumptions.  This is true whether at work or at home.  Work places are even bringing in coaches specifically to give their employees the opportunity to talk about personal and professional challenges.  It is recognised that this can help people manage their mental health more effectively.  Which reduces presenteeism and absenteeism and improves retention and productivity.
  4. Seeking professional assistance through a coach, counsellor or therapist.  In spite of having awareness, being emotionally articulate and having people to talk to (the first three on our list), sometimes a coach or therapist can support you in taking a deeper dive into your challenges and goals.  Therapists tend to take you to the past to explain your present behaviour.  Coaches tend to focus more on creating the future you would like to live.  And build a bridge from the present to manifest that future.  A good coach and therapist will be able to point you towards what will likely serve you best, coaching or therapy.  So, please, if you think you might want additional support, reach out to either a therapist or coach and they will be able to advise.
  5. Moving the body is great for your mental health.  It keeps you fit, mobile, active, flexible and releases endorphins that positively impact your brain and nervous system chemistry and make you feel good.  You’ll experience more vitality, energy and alertness when you work out and less if you don’t.
  6. You are not a machine.  Take breaks as you need to maintain your mental buoyancy, vitality, engagement, productivity, creativity and joie de vie.  Short breaks might include a walk to the water cooler, kitchen or photocopier or even a stretch at your desk.  Longer breaks may mean getting away from your desk for lunch and coffee breaks.  Like going for a walk, working out, getting a cycle in.
  7. If you use your phone or computer a lot for work during the day, take a break from them in the evenings and weekend. Do completely different things out of work compared to what you do at work.  Slow down. Relax and enjoy a read, a coffee, a chat with friends. Snooze. You don’t need to go on a holiday or weekend break.  Take time in your week to rest so that you can rejuvenate, revitalise and be more resilient.
  8. Diet and hydration. A balanced diet and good hydration do wonders for maintaining good mental health.  Good hydration means plenty of water and being careful about the amount of dehydrating fluids like caffeinated drinks and alcoholic beverages you consume.  In my experience, diet, sleep, breaks and rest are the least considered factors in contributing to strong mental health.  Yet they are at the foundation of good mental health management.  You do not have to rely on anyone else to achieve them.  They are easy to do, though life-style can make them challenging to achieve.  And life-style is the main stumbling block.  Find a practical way to achieve that and you have great resilience built into your life and mental health.
  9. In my opinion, sleep is the single most important factor that contributes to me eating a balanced diet, resting well, being creative and kind to myself and others.  I feel grounded and at peace when I have slept well.  This positive affect compounds over time as I continue to get good sleep.  And it erodes when I consistently get poor sleep.  Healing and processing take place while you sleep.  So getting in the hours is important if you want to face your day fully charged and frisky for life.

Over to You

How do you manage your mental health?  Are you aware of your feelings, sensations and emotions throughout the day and manage them well?  Who do you talk to when things are challenging for you?  From the list of nine, how many of them are you using to manage your mental health and well-being?  Of those you are not using, which would you choose to implement?  What are your thoughts about mental health now that you have read this blog?

Pass it on

If you found this article useful, please pass it on.  Would your place of work benefit from some training around managing mental health through coaching?  Why not give me a call.