Your “Go To” Toolbox of Positive Coping Strategies for Stressful Situations

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When a serious situation arises at work or home, your first instinct may be to react by panicking or not do anything. For example, a work-related crisis may require you to put in long hours at the office or spend weekends working at home creating added tension with your family. Most of us typically have negative reactions to these kinds of situations which can impact our health and performance. This increases anxiety and stress often resulting into chaos, fear and even a meltdown.

In today’s new reality, we are all dealing with constant stress — whether it’s from a traffic-jammed daily commute, holidays with family, conflict at home, an unrealistic workload, or a natural disaster from flood or fire. If you remain in a prolonged state of stress, you may cause long-term damage to your health and undermine your ability to make rational, informed decisions. We’ve all heard that long-term stress can also have real physical effects on the body and mind. In fact, it has been linked to a wide range of health issues, including sleep disorders, mood, stomach problems — and, even heart disease.

The challenge is how we deal with the stress. Most of us have automatic ways to cope and not always effective. We need a toolbox of positive coping strategies to help us navigate these stressors that continue to pop up when we least expect it. Did you know that many of the world’s greatest achievers, including star athletes, musicians’, entrepreneurs and artists, could not reach their level of success without learning how to stay extremely calm under stress? Phil Jackson, former coach to the Chicago Bulls and LA Lakers, integrated mindfulness into their practice sessions so players learned to develop and maintain a healthy state of mental preparedness they could call upon when needed.

No matter what is going on your world, when you can remain calm, are mentally strong and stable, you are more likely to handle the negative stress in a more effective way. This allows you to be more focused and able to handle the crisis, find a solution and in some cases, achieve a better outcome.

Here are some positive coping strategies to add to your tool box and apply to your daily life:

1. Take a Pause.

Stop, wherever you are and long enough to feel your “feet on the ground,” wiggle your toes, notice how it feels with your feet firmly planted. Be present and notice what is going on before responding. You can do this anytime, anywhere to quickly ground you.

2. Breathe.

When stressful situations occur, your mind may go in a thousand directions and some of your thoughts may be negative. Take a deep breath, literally, count 1,2,3,4 as you take it in and release it on a count of 1,2,3,4. Repeat three times. This immediately helps reduce the cortisol levels in your brain, so you can be calm and focused to determine what is the best decision to move forward. As you breathe out, let go of high anxiety thoughts and refocus your mind on something you can do, no matter how small.

3. Avoid going down the rabbit hole.

Stay away from asking yourself or others in the middle of a crisis “what if” because it promotes panic and forces you to process negative situations that have not occurred and may never happen. It keeps your thoughts spiraling downward. Rather than focusing on the negative which compounds the fear and escalates the problem, ask yourself what can I do right now that will help, if nothing comes to mind, ask others for a viable solution.

4. Take care of your body.

Eat a balanced diet, exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Exercise lowers the level of stress hormones in our brain and helps the body function at its highest level. Even though it may be counter-intuitive, give your brain a rest, take a nap or at very least get a good night’s sleep. Take vitamin D before going to bed to aid in sleeping. When we are physically and mentally healthy, we can make better choices.

6. Know who to call.

Be sure you have a trusted friend, mentor or coach to go to for support. When under stress, people who aren’t afraid to ask for help deal with the situation more effectively. Find someone who isn’t emotionally invested in your situation and will be able to see the dilemma from a different perspective to help you see potential solutions. When you reach out to people you trust and respect, you’ll feel more grounded. Knowing that will provide security and will help you control your stress and anxiety.

7. Unplug.

Pull away from the situation for a while, even if only for an hour or two. It’s impossible to escape stress when you are “in it.” Take time each day — even if it’s for just 15 minutes — to escape from the world. Find ways to take the edge off your stress like call a friend who makes you laugh out loud, take a warm bath, listen to your favorite music, or spend time on a hobby, take a tech break and avoid emails and TV news. These simple techniques to unplug can give you a much-needed break from the daily stressors in your life.

8. Practice Mindfulness.

Mindfulness is the awareness of putting one foot in front of the other in a purposeful way. An example is literally noticing your “feet on the ground.” Try it, notice how your feet “feel on the ground” and see what happens the more often you do it. Notice when you eat, how does the food taste, pay attention when you are driving, each of these actions are examples of being mindful. It only takes a minute and can help destress you.

Lastly, developing a coping strategy that works for you is key because what works for you may not work for your friend or co-worker. Simply put, when you practice self-care daily, it makes it easier to deal with the unexpected crisis or negative situations that arise along the way. Perhaps you’ll choose to meditate in the morning, take regular walks or sign up for a yoga class. These techniques can help you feel more empowered to handle difficult situations. Having a toolbox of coping strategies that you can use on a moment’s notice is vital to living a happier and more successful life. You’ll increase your self-control, memory and emotional intelligence — important benefits that will help you remain calm and respond better to life’s little and big emergencies. What is your “go to” coping strategy?

About the author: Michelle Burke is a Communication, Workplace and Team Strategist, Coach, published Author and Speaker. She is Founder and President of The Energy Catalyst Group dedicated to creating more positive and mindful leaders, teams and engaged workplaces. Her years’ experience working with Fortune 100, 500 companies, established her as a leading expert and coach in bridging communication, gender and cultural gaps. Michelle consults with HR and leadership to focus on increasing individual, team and organizational mindfulness. She collaborates with clients using her 3-A Model: Awareness, Accountability and (purposeful) Action and Energy Impact Model™. Clients include Stanford University, Visa, Disney, Microsoft, Cisco, BlueCross, Genentech, Sony PlayStation and Snap Inc. Michelle authored, The Valuable Office Professional, and was featured in Business Week’s Frontier Magazine, LA Times, SF Chronicle, and Wall Street Journal. Her articles have been published in Training, HR, and Chief Learning Officer Magazines. She is a regular contributor to Huffington’s Post Great Work Cultures. She also co-created Personalogy®, Amazon’s Top 100 Best Selling Card Games of 2015. Please connect with her at