Coping Strategies for Turbulent Times

by Diane Berenbaum

These are challenging times—many people are feeling more anxious than ever as they ponder the economic situation and challenges yet to unfold.  Some have already been directly affected; others fear what will happen next.

Perhaps all of us are experiencing some degree of doubt or concern, frustration or fear.  It is perfectly natural. They key is to ensure that these feelings don't get so overwhelming that they become debilitating. 

So how does one cope with the wide range of physical and emotional feelings that accompany stress?  While there is no one sure-fire technique, there are many practical coping skills that will help you get you through tough times:

1.  Acknowledge and Accept Feelings

  • First and foremost, recognize that it is OK to feel tense, discouraged or depressed—or whatever you are feeling. It is perfectly normal and very common. Stress happens to everyone and you may have no control over the events that caused the stress.
  • Acknowledge the stress and allow yourself to express whatever you are feeling. Communicate with your friends and family. Chances are they may be sharing some of those same emotions. Pulling together and supporting one another will help you get through any difficult period.
  • Make a stress journal, recommends Describe the stressful situation and your reaction. What seemed to cause the stress? Rate the intensity of your feelings using a scale of 1 (not very intense) to 5 (very intense). This will help you understand your triggers and manage your responses.
  • Think of times when you successfully managed a difficult time in your life.  What happened and how did you respond? Recognize that you can handle tough situations. You did it before and you can do it again now.
  • Keep a list of things that make you feel good. For example, a walk with your dog, dinner with friends, baking (and eating) chocolate chip cookies or an afternoon nap. Every now and then, refer to your list and make a commitment to do one of those things.

2.  Redirect with Hobbies

Some hobbies are particularly useful for relieving stress. Here are just a few of them:

  • Gardening: Breathe in fresh air, soak in the sunshine and use your creativity to design your garden. Feel a great sense of accomplishment when your seedlings start to grow and you see the fruits of your efforts.
  • Photography: Use your camera to capture more moments in your world. When you look through the lens, you may begin to see things differently and realize that the world is a beautiful place—and life is not as bad as you thought.
  • Painting and Drawing: There is an artist inside all of us. Release your creativity and energy with paints and pencils.  Don't think too hard—just let the ideas and shapes flow and you'll end up with something distinctly “you” that can be kept or shared.
  • Knitting: Using your hands in this repetitive motion activity is a sure way to relax.  And you'll feel a great sense of pride and accomplishment when your finish a project.  Plus, you can use the finished product to accent your wardrobe, keep you warm or surprise a friend.
  • Writing: Some people find that keeping a journal keeps them relaxed and grounded.  Or get creative and start writing that story or book you've always dreamed of completing. It will help you take your mind off the stressors and focus on accomplishing an important goal.

3.  Stay Calm with Relaxation Techniques

  • Take a “breath break,” says Woodson Merrell, M.D., assistant clinical professor of medicine at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons.  A breath break is a way to increase the oxygen supply in your blood and create more energy.  How do you do it? 
    • Pause for one count. First, inhale slowly for four counts, with abdomen expanding with each breath.  
    • Then exhale slowly and completely to a count of six, with abdomen deflating.  Pause for one count.  
    • Repeat four times. Listen to your breath throughout the process.
  • Repeat the “happy mantra,” created by the noted Vietnamese monk and writer, Thich Nhat Hanh. Woodsen Merrell says that saying these two sentences can refresh you even when you are feeling extremely stressed. “Breathing in, I feel calm. Breathing out, I smile.” You can say the word “calm” out loud or to yourself when you inhale. And, say or think the word “smile” when you exhale.
  • Use your imagination to picture one of your favorite places or somewhere you would like to be.  Close your eyes and go there in your mind. It may be a favorite vacation spot, a treasured family memory or a soothing scene by the ocean or under the stars.  Relax and enjoy the experience.

4.  Use Music to Manage your Mood

  • “A large body of clinical evidence shows that music can counteract stress on both physical and psychological levels,” states Elizabeth Miles, author of Tune Your Brain. She also cites research that shows music can lower the levels of stress hormones in your blood and induce not only physical relaxation but also mental clarity. She suggests the gradual relaxation method:
  • Start with music that matches your mood. Then move toward music that matches the state you want to attain. You can choose to lessen the intensity to relax (with something slow like Anita Baker's “Sweet Love” or Stevie Wonder's “Superstition”) or rev up the music to energize (with Michael Jackson's “Beat It” or The Eagles' “Take it Easy.”) 
  • The book has a myriad of suggestions for using music to energize, relax, cleanse, uplift and focus.
  • Listen to tunes that make you feel good; that have meaning for you. Perhaps they bring back happy memories or make you want to get up and dance.  Our favorite songs can do wonders for our mental outlook. For example, I find Carole King's “Tapestry” very soothing and I can't help but get energized when I hear Gloria Gaynor's “I Will Survive.”
  • Play an instrument or start singing! Creating music can be even more powerful than listening to it. Use the instrument or the song to express yourself or to bring you to a better place. Sing or play with all your heart—on or off key—it doesn't matter.  (No one else has to hear). It's the release and joy of it all that helps you feel better.

5.  Take Care of Yourself

  • Staying in good health will help you ward off stressors and limit potential damage. A stressed state can only wreak havoc on your physical, mental and emotional well-being. Maintain a balanced, healthy diet and drink plenty of water. Resist the urge to use sugary and fatty products to make you feel better (It's only a temporary fix!).
  • Exercise regularly! Shoot for a minimum of 20 minutes of aerobic activity three times per week. If you are “allergic” to exercise, work in your garden, rearrange some furniture, dance to your favorite music or take a long, brisk walk. You'll still get your heart pumping and your muscles working, which will help you feel better.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Most of us need seven to eight hours to function at our best. A lack of sufficient sleep can impair your performance, reduce mental acuity and increase irritability—a recipe for more stress.
  • When you look good, you tend to feel good about yourself. When you feel down you may want to dress down, which will only keep you down. Smile and look your best.
  • Aim to find the positive in any situation. Avoid persistently negative associates who want to bring others down with them. Move away and stay above the fray.

Find what works for you and make a plan to do it on a consistent basis.  You'll be happier, healthier and better able to take on any challenge that comes your way—now or in the future.

Diane Berenbaum is a long-time contributor and former editor of the MAGIC Service Newsletter. She has more than twenty-five years of experience as a consultant, coach, and facilitator. Diane is the co-author of How to Talk to Customers: Create a Great Impression Every Time with MAGIC® .
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