For all of us, there are some days which just don’t seem to go right. You wake up with a headache, realize you’re running late and yet have a spat with your partner on your way out, then you spill coffee on your never-ending trek to work. The icing on the cake is when your boss makes a snide remark at you during your morning meet – can this day get any worse? Such hassles have the potential to pile up and cause significant stress in our lives.
How do you usually respond to these kinds of stressors? Do you start swearing in frustration? Or maybe you start blaming yourself for all the things gone wrong. Maybe you blame someone else for your troubles. However, such reactions are unlikely to destress you, help you feel better or solve the problems at hand. Psychologists suggest using problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies to help you through your bad days.
Problem-focused coping involves trying to amend a modifiable situation that is causing you stress. If your computer breaks down when you have a report to submit in a few hours, focus on possible actionable steps that you can take such as speaking to the IT specialist at work and letting your boss know that a problem has arisen. In the meantime, maybe try to work on the other tasks that you need to complete before the day ends, so you don’t feel entirely unaccomplished. Don’t let the stress overwhelm you.
Emotion-focused coping is about engaging in strategies to help yourself feel better about situations that are not modifiable. You are already late to work this morning, and regardless of how much you stress, you will not be able to turn back time and get to work earlier. So, take a deep breath, clear your mind and focus on things that you actually have control over, such as starting to respond to your emails on your commute.
You can use either problem- or emotion-focused coping strategies depending on whether the situation can be changed or not (or both strategies if the situation has modifiable and non-modifiable components to it). In reality, it might be difficult to clear your head enough to implement these theories into practice when you’re extremely frustrated or upset about your situation. Therefore, before you can start to cope with any kind of stress, you need to:
- Take a step back to understand the situation for what it really is
- Acknowledge what you’re feeling, and why you are feeling it
- Try to deliberately and consciously regulate your emotions
Going back to the example of a frustrating start to your day – you can take a step back and realize that your stress is primarily stemming from your argument with your partner. You are feeling angry, misunderstood and hurt because you feel that they were not understanding towards you this morning. Now that you’ve identified your feeling and what caused it, you can start to get your emotions under control. Notice what your body is going through: your heart may be racing, your hands shaking and your tears welling up. These are all automatic reactions of your body to the stress you’re feeling. Use the rational parts of your brain to control these responses. One way to do this is to count from 1 to 10 while taking deep breaths and clearing out your mind. Once you’ve achieved a certain level of self-control, you can then take on the problem at hand, and maybe call your partner to resolve the matter so you can get on with the rest of your day.
It is inevitable that some days will just be overwhelming and difficult to get through. However, we can try to turn these days around by using healthy coping strategies such as the ones outlined here to keep our stresses from getting the best of us.