Life is full of challenges, small and big. Every day a lot is coming our way. And that can ask a huge amount of us.
But how is it that some people deal with it better than others?
Resilience is the ability to adapt to stress and adversity. You ‘spring’ back, so to speak. People with high resilience are less likely to lose courage. They keep going, no matter what. What’s more, they come out even stronger!
“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” is their motto. Resilience can vary from moment to moment and you can also train it, just like you train a muscle. Unsurprisingly, resilience is related to the ways we deal with problems on a daily basis.
Now, everybody has a unique automatic response to problems. Psychologists refer to that as coping styles or coping strategies.
A coping style or strategy works better in one situation than in another. Most of us use these coping styles interchangeably, although everyone has a favourite style that suits their character. Some are more passive, others are very active. One reacts emotionally, the other reacts rationally.
Suppose you open your computer at night and see an angry e-mail from a colleague who feels hurt by you. That mail evokes a range of feelings, ranging from angry, guilty, sad, anxious to powerless and gloomy. So, how do you react? Let’s have a look at 7 of the most common coping strategies.
1. Ignore or postpone the problem
You totally block, you move on to the next mail as if nothing’s wrong. This is the avoiding/postponing coping style: you can’t handle the problem yet. Some people are so good at ignoring bad news that it seems as if they haven’t heard it or forgotten about it. In the meantime something happens: in your subconscious you slowly get used to the bad news. So that later, when you see that mail again, you can handle the problem.
2. Don’t do anything, because everything is useless
You may also spend the rest of the evening worrying about what you did wrong. That’s the coping style of powerless passivity: “Everything goes wrong, I can’t do this.”
This bump seems not very constructive, but this exaggeration does help to accept that something has gone wrong. Chances are that the anger of your colleague turns out to be not that bad when you read the mail again later.
3. Actively tackle the problem
You grab the phone to settle the argument right away. That’s the active approach. It can quickly resolve the issue. There is a risk: perhaps you react too defensively, too angry or too radically, because you didn’t take the time to come to yourself first.
4. Look for social support and advice
You call a mutual colleague for comfort and advice. That social support can offer you comfort and maybe your colleague also has a tip on how best to respond.
5. Express your emotions
You write in your diary what’s going through you, or you grumble out loud while you’re cooking. This is the coping style of expressing emotions – it reduces your stress. Feeling and expressing emotions generally helps to control them better than trying to push them away.
6. Put the problem into perspective
You think back to previous quarrels that ended well; that’s how you reassure yourself. By putting the problem in perspective, your stress decreases and your confidence in the outcome grows. Relativating is often a good coping style, except when it leads to a quarrel taking too long, or when there is something urgent going on that requires quick action.
7. Look for distraction
You turn off the computer and cozy up on the couch with your significant other to watch movies. That distraction does you good; your stress decreases. Chances are that at the end of the evening you will have a completely different opinion about the fight.
What’s the most effective approach?
Some coping strategies are more effective than others. No style is always effective – that depends on the situation and the kind of problem you are facing. We also say that there are adaptive and maladaptive coping strategies.
Adaptive coping strategies mean that coping strategies are effective in the long term, while maladaptive coping strategies can provide relief in the short term, but often help you in the long term. Of course this is not always so black and white, it can differ per person and per situation.
Although the active style often leads to a quick solution, not all psychological problems can be solved by action. Sometimes it is better to let go. The great sadness of a deceased friend, for example, cannot be overcome. Mourning is more about a combination of expressing emotions, social support and distraction. Powerless passivity, on the other hand, may seem ineffective, and this style is also dangerous, because those who get stuck in it are at risk of depression. However, recognizing powerlessness is also healthy – those who recognize what cannot be changed stop fighting and can begin to come to terms with this loss.
Some coping strategies focus on making you feel better: expressing emotions, avoiding, putting things into perspective, seeking distractions. The active approach, on the other hand, focuses on the problem itself.
It is good to always keep both these sides in mind in difficult times. Try to solve your problems, but don’t forget to take care of yourself at the same time.
Boost your own resilience
If you find that you continue to run into problems throughout your life, or if you feel that you can deal with your surroundings just a little more effectively, then it certainly doesn’t hurt to take a closer look at your own coping strategies. Your resilience is actually largely determined by your ability to deal with problems and stress:
– Do you make use of the resources around you (do you dare to count on friends or ask for help)?
– Do you dare to talk about what is going on inside you or do you get excited?
– Do you tackle problems or do you prefer to avoid them?
– Do you only think about everything that goes wrong and that it never goes well for you, or do you see a problem as a challenge?
– Have you found good ways to let off steam?
– Do you believe on the inside that everything will fall on its feet in the end?
People with high resilience make more use of ‘positive emotions’. They are optimistic and put problems in a broader perspective. They set goals and look for distractions in things that make them happy.
I’m curious about your coping strategies. Which one has your automatic preference? Do you find this one adaptive or not? What would you possibly want to change?
With love ❤,