Coping patterns

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Feelings and emotions are part of the human experience. How we deal with them are learned coping patterns, some of which benefit us in the short and long run, and some have undesired side effects. Most of these patterns we adopt in our childhood. Unfortunately, we are not taught in school how to deal with emotions in a healthy way, but the way we learn is partly by copying what we see in adults, partly pure survival mechanisms and partly by 'trial and error'.

The intensity of emotions experienced might vary between different people, but sadness, joy, anger, frustration, fear etc. are part of life. The key is how we deal with them, especially with those emotions that are unpleasant. I consciously didn't write 'bad' or 'negative', as these words imply that we shouldn't have these emotions, and they are something to get rid of or to be ashamed of.

Common coping patterns are avoiding, escaping and numbing. Instead of feeling unpleasant emotions we run away from them, seeking relief through outside distraction like watching tv, binge eating, alcohol or drugs. The problem is, we actually don't process them. Imagine it as a bucket that we keep filling up with water, without emptying it - at one point the bucket will overflow. At one point our physical and/or mental health, as well as our relationships will suffer.

So how can we do it differently?

1. Feel it, accept it, be with it. Get still and present. Where do you feel it in your body? How exactly does it feel? Name it. Our vocabulary of feelings and emotions is often quite limited. Identify how you feel and accept it, and at the same time know that it's temporary.

2. Movement. Any form of movement that you enjoy will help you shift your state and bring you back into the present moment. It leads to a number of physiological responses that bring your body back into relaxation. Personally, I turn up the music and dance. It is a great and healthy way to express your emotions and move on. As opposed to suppressing emotions, it helps you process them.

3. Relaxation. Techniques like breathing exercises, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation are great ways to deal with stress.

4. Connection with other people.

5. Action. Analyse the problem and set up action steps to solve it.

6. Perspective. Instead of only seeing the negative, see what’s good already. Gratitude is a mindset that shifts your perspective from scarcity to abundance.

7. Humor. Don’t take yourself and life too seriously. Think forward in time ‘will this issue still matter 2 months from now?’

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