In times of difficulty—whether it be an illness facing a loved one, a personal challenge to your health, or just a great deal of stress that you might face—there is much to be said of healthy coping mechanisms. How can we learn to cope so that we heal in the short and long term and stay healthy? Below are 7 coping tips.
1. Be aware of the signals your body is telling you.
When you are facing stress, your body will tell you. You might have difficulty sleeping, get headaches, come down with an illness, or possibly have a fainting episode or palpitations. Take these as a sign that you will need rest and to take care of yourself. If you feel like you can’t take a break and reboot, remind yourself that in order to help others, you must take care of your own health.
2. Remember that facing difficulty will make you a stronger person.
Certainly, when facing stress, we all cope differently. For the greater part, if we collect ourselves to cope mostly in healthy ways, if we persevere and find meaning in our difficulty, then we become stronger individuals. At times, suffering or stress may seem meaningless, and we might feel overwhelmed. This is a signal that we must express our emotions to get to the bottom of our struggle. While not all difficulties may feel like they build us up, the truth is that they really do if we can figure it out for ourselves. Suffering is temporary (which at times may seem very difficult), but additional strength and courage lasts forever.
Importantly, when we cope in a healthy way, our brains become wired or rewired to be less afraid of difficulty. Our courage and strength builds our character and resolve. We can help others who might be facing a challenge. We can become beacons of hope.
3. Learn to say no when you mean it.
This is similar to watching the signals from your body. It is worth mentioning on its own, however. When we are coping with an illness, or helping to care for a loved one, we must not take on everything ourselves. Try to avoid pushing through when you feel completely overwhelmed or exhausted. Learn to say no when you mean it. You can always ask for help from a friend or even a neighbor.
4. Find ways to build your body emotionally and physically while facing your difficulty.
First, you can exercise. This will create a natural high which will support good brain function. Second, eat plenty of healthy foods and nourish your body with water and other healthy fluids. Avoid too much sugar. This will help prevent your weight from fluctuating too much. See what feels right for your body. If you need to, take a warm shower or a bath to relieve some of the immediate tension.
Both diet and exercise can influence your resilience, and in turn, strengthen you emotionally. Other practices to help you resolve tough emotions include positive and realistic self-talk, expressing your feelings (see tip #7) when appropriate and non-judgmental meditation. For more on non-judgmental meditation, see here.
5. Remember, everything is not in your control.
For many, prayer can help in times of difficulty. By praying, we remind ourselves that we are not in complete control of the circumstances; in effect, stress can be lifted from our shoulders. However, it is also important to remember that all our hopes and desires may not be fulfilled at a given time. In effect, the way our prayers are answered may be different than what we expect or want. We can renew our hope and still pray, however, by finding meaning in the response of our prayers as life continues.
6. Be in the present. Focus on the present. Do not worry about the past or the future.
This is difficult, for most. However, it cannot be underestimated and underemphasized. Our focus on the present alleviates worry, tension, brings the right amount of alertness and attention to a difficulty, whatever it may be. We may forget to focus and grieve at times over potential consequences, but what good does this do? If needed, express your frustrations over past or future concerns in order to redirect your focus. This is a healthy coping mechanism.
7. Self-expression will help you alleviate tension and worry.
When we’re younger, it may seem like in order to be an adult, you have to keep everything to yourself and just let your body somehow cope with it internally. When we grow older, perhaps we forget to express our emotions given this false perspective of adulthood. It is critical to express yourself in order to avoid burnout or overwhelming emotions. Find a solid relationship in which you can express yourself completely without worry of being judged. Letting yourself feel emotions is vital, and as needed, share with other loved ones at appropriate times.
In sum, coping mechanisms are critical, can be learned, and are needed, especially in the midst of difficulty. We can heal quicker, and stay healthy, by reminding ourselves of these tips and more. Relax, rejuvenate and reboot, so that you can stay a strong spirit. Surely, you will gain courage and strength that will last long into your life.
Najma Khorrami is a global and public health professional. She earned her Master of Public Health in Health Policy from The George Washington University in 2012, and rounded out her studies with a Global Health Certificate from The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. In addition to her passion for global health policy and wanting to one day help create public health programs for the disadvantaged in developing countries, she enjoys cooking and volunteering. She hopes to spread self-empowering messages for audiences of all ages, especially youth, through her writing. You can follow her on Instagram at @najonoor!