Like pain, stress is a signal that something is wrong or that something needs to be taken care of, and it comes in many forms, from worry and fear to sadness, guilt, boredom and more. Though some people prefer to stay oblivious to stress and just drink more or shop more—and I do appreciate the beauty of both—it’s best to acknowledge your stress, so you can figure out where it’s coming from and how to best cope with it. “Coping” is the word most people use for dealing well with stress, as opposed to excess drinking, shopping, eating, or video games, which we shrinks would refer to as poor coping.
In my experience, good coping begins by identifying the source of your stress and asking yourself, “What can I do about this? And how can I live with it in the meantime?” That sounds pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? But not when you’re dealing with an angry spouse, a disappointed boss, or a sick child. In times like those, I encourage people to follow the guidelines laid out in the Serenity Prayer and seek “the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In that spirit, good coping consists of the specific things you can do directly about the problem in your life, like entering couples therapy, turning over a new leaf with your boss, or immersing yourself in your child’s care, and the nonspecific things you can do to maintain your balance and quality of life in the meantime. This is where meditation, exercise, and appropriate amounts of shopping fit in, and the wide range of such things people do to relax and cope will be the topic of my next post. Maybe you’ll find some ideas in it for you?