4 Steps to Destress #2: Helpful Coping Frameworks

Welcome to Lesson 2 of the 4 Steps to Destress Series. Last round (lesson 1 here), you heard about Maslow’s hierarchy – where do you stand? You were reminded of the Fight Flight Freeze (FFF) response, and how it interferes with good coping and health. If you did the homework (action item #2, written/typed), you made a critical pivot from Passive to Active coping, discussed more below. In Lesson 2, we’ll look at helpful coping frameworks to reduce stress.

ACTIVE AND PASSIVE COPING

Last lesson, action item #2, had you compile a list of all the different things that are on your stress plate now. Sure, Covid-19 is on it. But there could be other large and small items: your overall health, family issues, job stress or financial worries, etc.

What’s it like to look at your list? This illustrates something called Active Coping. Facing and naming stress, leaning toward it vs. away from it, is called Active Coping. Again, it is not our first instinct, but we can train ourselves to practice this, and to notice how it helps lower stress.

Passive Coping is avoiding your stress. Binge-watching – to avoid studying or making a challenging phone call – those would be passive coping methods. At first avoidance and Passive coping might help you feel less stress. But in the long run it works against you. Yeah, kinda knew that, right?

It’s funny because Active coping may feel more stressful at first, but with time, stress decreases. Passive coping is the opposite – it reduces stress at first, but then with time, more stress is created. Remember though, that your first instinct with stress is often AVOID! IGNORE! Instinct thinks, Binge watch! A perfect option!

Yet – OH NO! – is also going on, underneath the “I’ll think about that later”. Passive coping doesn’t completely work, because it’s hard to really relax when you’re in avoidance. And research shows the brain knows that you’re stressed, even when it’s suppressed or denied.

Good to know. You can watch with this one. You can ask, do I need Active or Passive coping now? You do need Passive coping at times, for breaks and recovery time, for some nurturing. Later you can check, how did that work? Stress mgmt. improves when you see you have a choice. Leaning in to even look at stress calmly, maybe take a few steps that might help? That’s leaning in to Active coping. That’s an Advanced practice, pardner.

THE LOVELY AND OH SO HELPFUL STEP 2

Next let’s look at the first 2 of the 4 steps to destress. From lesson 1 homework, you’ve already completed step 1 and have your stress plate items listed. Covid is on there, right? Let’s use that to show how step 2 works.

(PS – Yes, you do need to write these exercises down to get the benefits here, to offload them. Some of the exercises ahead also train your brain to think differently. But this won’t happen without getting it out of your head and on to the paper or device. I have to repeat this a lot – it truly makes a difference.)

With Step 2, you go through and examine each problem one by one. First, you need to define the problem. In this case, what aspect of Covid’s impact is the problem for you? Define this specifically. For example, it might be health fears that Covid brings up. It might be the social restrictions. It might be the financial impact; being laid off. It might be the closing of schools, and kids at home with no daycare.

So to start Step 2, name the stress (Covid) and define what the problem is about it (I’ve been laid off).

Now we go to the heart of step 2. Use the Step 2 worksheet, or take a page and make a list with two columns. On the left side, list all the things you are not able to control about this problem. This is the stuff you can’t control, the stuff that is not changeable. You are not able to control the arrival of the Corona virus, the global pandemic. You can’t control that your job ended. What else is beyond your control? What else are you not able to change about this problem? Write that here, in the column on the left side.

On the right side column, list all the things that you can control about this situation. Things that are changeable; any action areas that could help the problem. With this job layoff we’re using, updating resume? Yes, that’s here. Exercise, diet? Yep, over here too. Not a solution per say, but a thing you control that may help in handling the problem, or the stress level.

Great! You have step 2 completed, where you have separated out what you can, and cannot control. Now guess what? All problems have both of these sides. And KEY PIECE: The best coping is very different, depending on what side the stress falls under. Is this something I can control or change, or not? If not, some of our usual “fix it’ style will not help you here. Is this something I can change or control? Then avoidance or procrastinating wouldn’t be the best fit for that. Knowing this is a game changer.

GOOD FIT / BAD FIT COPING

A massive learning from Step 2 work is how well your way of coping fits the type of stress (controllable or not). Let’s say you’re worrying about what you can’t control with Covid. Worry tries to help by examining if there is anything you can fix, or watching for threats. So, you are watching news constantly;  your anxiety rises; you can’t sleep very well. Is this coping helpful? Nah, probably Bad fit coping.

Or let’s say you’re stressed and you’re comfort eating. Good in the moment, yum. But the next day you feel like crap. Gaining weight will probably not help your confidence in the interviews ahead. Bad fit coping. We’ll be showing more examples and options of good fit / bad fit coping in Steps 3 and 4.

STRESS HACKER KELLY’S STEP 2

Here’s an example of step 2 with Covid, where the specific problem is having been laid off. Let’s call our stress hacker Kelly. Before doing step 2, she only saw all the things outside of her control. She kept reliving the meeting and the sadness when her team was laid off. She had negative thoughts that kept circling, and she’d get scared and hopeless.

When she started her Step 2 list, there were plenty of things on the side out of her control. Lots and lots. She had a couple of things she could control, like exercise, talking to friends. Then she went back to binge watching.

Later that night, she took another stab at Step 2. She adds a bunch of things here. Now she notices, “Hey, there’s actually more on the side I can control. Weird. Yes, it’s still a massive and unwelcome problem. But there are quite a few things I can do now”. She sees things she can change, or influence that may be helpful.

Best fit coping for Kelly? Well, bad fit coping would be worrying, sleeping too much, isolating. It might be watching her retirement account and the dow jones. It might be getting angry about the layoff. It might be neglecting her diet and exercise. A good fit coping step might be to plan to spend 2 hours working on her resume. It also might be giving herself a night of stress management – cooking healthy food, taking a nice hot bath. It might be setting up a zoom meeting with family back home.

When hacking stress well – facing it, leaning in to look more closely at it – you can ask yourself, which side of Step 2 is stressing me most? What might be some best fit coping for that? This will seriously upgrade and fine tune your stress management.

LESSON 3, and YOUR ACTION STEPS

Next article we’ll look at this more, and cover how best to take action, and how to tame worry thoughts and hard emotions. When you have these steps down, you’ll be able to fit your best coping method to the specific type of stress. Then, you’ll can cope better, no matter what kinds of stress pops up.

Action Steps

1) Do Step 2 of the 4 Steps. (And Step 1 if you haven’t yet – or if you’re just joining us, you can review Lesson 1 here.)
Here’s the Step 2 worksheet.
(Start with Step 1 of the 4 Steps to Destress if you haven’t done it.)
Here is a worksheet that has both steps 1 & 2 if you’re jumping in.

2) How is your relaxation/meditation practice going?
Remember you can meditate and relax and contemplate in many ways. You want to find your jam here. Just clearly mark that time, and do it daily if you can – i.e., at least 5 days a week. Same time is good, and start of day supposedly makes it happen more often.

Worksheets, past lessons and resources:
Lesson 1 of the 4 Steps to Detress series
Step 1 worksheet, Step 2 worksheet.
Worksheet that has both steps 1 & 2 if you’re jumping in.
Information sheet on best meditation/relaxation apps.

A few treats/resources for practice and perspective.

a) Music: Try listening to this 11 min song by Jennifer Berezen as you rest your body on a couch or comfy chair, for a calming time.

b) Or listen and watch this song by John Legend, We Need Love. This might be a good to add some gentle movement/stretching to.

c) A Symbol meditation: For many who find it hard to sit still or practice a quiet focus, guided meditations can help. Using symbols such as this one helps activate your senses and get your whole brain involved and rebooted.
Try the Hawk meditation, specifically designed for Covid resilience.

d) Perspective is everything in managing stress. Opening it up rocks.
Here is a message from White Eagle, of the Hopi indigenous tribe.
“This moment humanity is going through can now be seen as a portal and as a hole. The decision to fall into the hole or go through the portal is up to you…  Full message here.  We’ll talk more about managing thoughts and perspective in Step 4 up ahead.

Questions, comment? How’s it going so far?