Over this last couple of weeks, an awful lot of my clients have had some really difficult situations occur. Things such as being made unemployed, bereavements, and illness. We know life can be really uncertain and we all face these things from time to time. But how we deal with them can vary. And that's the thing of noticed. Some people that believe that they're not coping, or can’t cope, and others think that they can cope with what has happened to them. A potential covid 19 episode can also increase the chance of not coping, here is you can be mindful in case of potential episode.
This is independent of the event or situation that has been difficult. So, two people in similar situations can have opposite responses.
I have been really interested to understand what it is that causes some people to feel more able to cope than others. I've tried to deduce what's different between these people. If I know what this difference is, then I can teach those that do not believe they can cope how they may learn to manage situations differently and feeling like they are coping in the future.
The main difference I have noticed is belief. The individual’s belief in their own ability to cope.
Let’s start by thinking about what is ‘coping’?
When a client says to me, they can’t cope, or don’t think they will cope, I ask them what coping means to them. Almost always, they stumble and cannot answer. Then through a series of exploratory questioning we tend to arrive at a version of:
‘Coping is feeling confident in the ability to understand, and respond appropriately to, my own, and other people’s, emotions in a given situation’.
If the person believes that they have the skills to ‘manage the emotion’ in any situation, then this confidence enables them to believe they will cope. This could be their own and/or other people’s emotional responses to the event.
So even before anything happens an individual has a belief in their coping ability. It doesn't matter the extent or type of difficulty face. But it is feasible to assume it could potentially vary depending on the intensity of the emotions or which emotions are encountered. One person may be more accustomed to sadness and feel confident handling their emotions in those situations yet may not be so adept and managing anxiety for instance. Some people can be good at managing all their own and other peoples’ emotions, and others may not be so practiced at this.
So why is this? Why do some people believe they can cope, and other don’t?
I’ve alluded to part of the answer above. It is due to practice. Some individuals are brought up to be emotionally intelligent. They recognise emotions as biologically based bodily sensations, as neurophysiological messages about our environment, relationships, mood, actions, and cognitions. These people have grown accustomed to interpreting these signals quite automatically and allowing them to pass.
Conversely, someone may not have received this education in childhood or could have learned any level of it in-between.
This leads to the conclusion that many people will not have learned how to be completely emotionally attuned and therefore will find themselves believing that they cannot cope in stressful situations.
So how can we rectify this?
If we look at those that feel able to cope to see what they do differently we can see that they are those that more frequently meditate, journal, take exercise, enjoy nature, have a close circle of intimate-emotionally-attuned friends. They pre-load the positives.
This isn’t to say that those people that find these situations a lot more difficult to cope with never do these things. It’s more that they don’t have a daily/regular self-care practise. They may be taking time out to go for a walk in nature or spending time emersed in an activity that they really enjoy but this is not done on a daily basis. It is usually more adhoc.
In therapy sessions I sometimes ask people about their stress temperature. If we work at keeping our stress temperature lower, then if we walk into a hot room/difficult situation then it’s a lot harder for us to get over-heated.
By practicing any ongoing emotional self-aware self-care, we can keep a closer eye on our temperature and regulate it easier. This is what those that believe they can cope are doing.
When you are cooler you are also more able to think of practical solutions and see problems as challenges to be overcome.
So, if we pre-load the positives, practice self-aware self-care to monitor and reduce our stress temperature, then when we face difficult situations, which we all do from time to time, we will know that we can cope. If you want to learn more on how to recognize if you're not coping click here.
Please let me know if this has struck a chord with you, or if you have any other self-aware self-care practice suggestions.