Stress! Everything you’ll read about stress suggests there are both positive and negative ways of dealing with it. This implies there are correct and incorrect ways we should cope. In fact the situation regarding the best way to cope very much depends on what suits us, as well as the circumstances we are in at the time.
It’s true however that some coping strategies appear to be more effective, but even those sometimes considered less positive can be effective if the situation demands it.
When psychologists talk about coping strategies they are usually thinking along the lines of problem-solving approaches and emotion-focused approaches. Problem solving, as the term suggests, is all about the actions we direct at a situation that is causing us stress. Our emotional strategies are those resources we employ to manage distress but which aren’t directed towards a practical solution to the situation. Here I’m thinking of things like avoidance, eating more, lighting a cigarette and so on.
Various attempts have been made to identify, list and classify the coping strategies we use but the one thing that stands out is that we all develop styles of coping that suit us according to the situation we are in. What one person regards as a positive coping style another might consider negative. Denial of a situation, for example, might be considered as a good example of a negative coping style. However, in areas of high street crime, tension and violence there is some indication that those who adopt an unrealistic view of the dangers are actually less stressed and more able to cope.
So what coping resources do we routinely tap into? Well, everyone is familiar with money. Cash in our pockets is a material resource that helps to free us from debt, allows us the freedom to escape from stressors by taking vacations, purchasing distractions like nice clothes, gadgets, and can even help to maintain health in a variety of ways like purchasing services, health equipment, good food and living in nice areas.
We also have physical resources in the form of our genes, our health status, physical attractiveness and strength. Our education informs us how to make choices and it provides us with the knowledge of resources we might utilise in times of stress. Some people find strength in things that give meaning to life, whether this be in the form of faith, being part of a group with shared values or experiences or a history that transcends the here and now.
Lastly we should consider our inner resources. These are the strengths we derive from our sense of self and our confidence to take risks and assert ourselves when necessary. In many ways our character as a person might be thought of as to the choices we make in relation to the resources we have available to us. And while we don’t necessarily all start from the same position or have the same benefits, it may be possible to refine those resources we can access to their best advantage.