How Do You Cope With Stress?
Encountering personal problems is a fact of life. You do have come control over how you deal or cope with them when they occur. In fact, how you cope with them makes the difference in your level of stress.
Ineffective Coping Strategies
- Withdrawing from other people and isolating yourself is a common reaction to problem situations. It is a way of avoiding being hurt again by hiding from others what you may feel is your own inadequacy. The problem with this coping mechanism is leaving you without a support system.
- Substance Abuse, whether alcohol or drugs, is another coping strategy commonly used among college students to escape from problems. Alcohol and drugs will temporarily alleviate stress but unfortunately when you sober up or come down, your problems are still there. You have resolved nothing and in many cases you risk making the situation worse.
- Eating Disorders, like anorexia nervosa, bulimia, and compulsive overeating, are used in an attempt to combat uncomfortable feelings. If you have an eating disorder you might be trying to "stuff" your feelings by eating, or "control" stress by controlling your weight through starving or purging. The problem is, the feelings and stress keep returning.
- Acting aggressively towards other people, either verbally or physically, is another negative way you might attempt to deal with stressful situations and feelings. Hurting others only creates further problems, like guilt or isolation.
- Suicidal thoughts, which may lead to suicide attempts, are another destructive way of dealing with personal crises. If you are thinking of suicide you may have experienced a loss of relationship, self-esteem, or status, such as failing your classes. You may be feeling hopeless, helpless to change the situation, and isolated. Suicidal thoughts and attempts are efforts to cope by permanently escaping a temporary problem.
The danger with using ineffective coping strategies to deal with stress is that they can become habitual, even addictive or fatal. They can become a new problem, adding their weight to the balancing act. They never really help resolve the original problem.
Effective Coping Strategies
and clarify your feelings
and take control of your thoughts
- Get support by communicating your thoughts and feelings about the problem to someone you trust
Trusting Your Feelings
are certain feelings common to all of us when we are overwhelmed with stress
and pressure in our lives and experience an emotional crisis.
- Anxiety is a feeling of nervousness, vulnerability, fear, loss of control, and a loss of self-confidence. It is a response to perceived threat, like having to perform for an exam.
- Depression is a feeling of deep sadness. It is often a response to perceived loss or failure and it may include feeling powerless, hopeless, or unworthy.
- Anger is a feeling of deep frustration in response to the belief that you're not getting what you want, or that you're being unfairly treated.
These feeling are normal!
Feeling anxious, depressed, or angry at times is understandable, normal, and perhaps even unavoidable given all the pressure of college life. It's a way for your body and mind to tell you there is too much going on, you're juggling with too many things, and you're not getting enough support.
Regaining Your Perceptive
Becoming aware of your feelings is the first step to resolving a problem. It gives you the option to express your feelings directly and assertively rather than acting them out in aggressive or self-destructive behaviors. Honestly acknowledging you feelings may help you avoid losing your balance completely by warning you to:
- get support
- analyze your thinking
- clarify your needs
- prepare yourself
- get needed information
- set limits
- make changes if necessary
If you feel overwhelmed by a problem, try reaching out to get support before you explore your feelings or thoughts, or before you act to alleviate the problem. It's hard to maintain perspective when you're all alone.
When you experience stress you can probably identify the external event or situation which caused it and you can probably identify your feelings in response to the event. What you may not be aware of are your thoughts or self statements that you make about yourself or the event ("I blew it! This is horrible! I'll never make it now!"). These thoughts have a great impact on how you feel and act.
Sometimes these thoughts work against you. As a result of past learning and experiences, your interpretation of events or thoughts about yourself become distorted. You are no longer thinking rationally, and your perspective becomes quite different from the external reality, or from other's perspectives.
Through your irrational thoughts and negative self statements, you may unknowingly increase your feelings of being overwhelmed. Here are some common ways we distort problems:
- jumping to conclusions: making a negative assumption even though there are no clear facts supporting the conclusion ("He cancelled our date, he must not like me anymore").
- personalizing: assuming external events are automatically being caused by or directed at yourself when in fact they are not ("She's yawning a lot, she must think I'm boring").
- Selective Attention: ignoring accomplishments and positive experiences and focusing only on negative events and perceived failures. This colors your perception of all future experiences as you selectively look for only negative results and reactions.
- Catastrophizing: exaggerating the significance of an unpleasant event or events ("I got an 'F' on that exam. I'm so stupid. I'm going to fail Plant ID and I'll never be able to finish the program.)
- Predicting Doom: Deciding that failure is imminent before the task is even begun ("I'll never find another girlfriend. I'll never pass Statistics")
- Shoulds and Musts: Are punitive statements based on the faulty belief that you are inherently bad or worthless. Therefore, the only way to motivate yourself or succeed in life is to beat and whip yourself into shape. You do this by placing unrealistic demands on yourself ("I must never disagree with him or he won't like me. I must be liked by everyone I know in order to feel like a worthwhile person. I should never make mistakes. I should never cry").
- Dualistic Thinking: Perceiving situations and people, including yourself, as either all good or all bad with no room in between. If your performance is less than perfect, you feel you must be a failure.
- Labeling: Taking one or two instances of your own or other's behavior and over generalizing by attaching an exaggerated label ("I'm a loser....she's a liar").
If you use these distorted thinking strategies, you will inevitably feel angry, anxious, depressed and overwhelmed. Just as we have learned to think in stress producing ways, we can also learn to think more rationally and calmly. Once you have identified your distorted thought patterns, you can start to replace them with more logical thinking, and feel more in control!
Rational Thinking Alternatives
- Focus on the Present: Or, don't jump to conclusions! ("He cancelled our date, but said he'd call tomorrow so there is no reason to think anything is wrong. I'll use the free time to relax with that book I just bought").
- Stay With the Facts: Or, beware of catastrophizing! ("I got an F on the exam but it doesn't mean I will fail Plant ID. I didn't understand what the instructor wanted. I think I'll meet with him so I'll know what to expect on the next exam").
- Be Realistic and Objective: Or, avoid personalizing! ("He's yawning, he's probably tired. This doesn't mean I'm boring him").
- Be Optimistic: Or, try not to predict doom! ("I'm lonely now that I don't have a girlfriend. Someone new and different will come along when I'm ready").
- Be Kind to Yourself: Or, don't 'should' and 'must' yourself to death. ("It's OK to disagree with him and it doesn't mean he won't like me. My opinions are valid").
- Retain Your Perspective: Or, watch out for negative labels. ("I may not have won this time but it doesn't mean I'm a loser").
This Campus Cares: Support
There are many resources available on campus and in the community to help you or someone you know deal effectively with the stresses of college life. There is the Health Office (nurse), the Learning Assistance Center, instructors you trust and respect, and access to the Olds Ministerial Association. We are also fortunate to have an Alberta Mental Office in town. All of these services provide confidential counselling, support, and consultation at no charge.