Since we cannot use yesterday's solution to solve tomorrow’s problems, we need to refine our coping strategies as we progress through life — an effective coping strategy includes emotional management and an adaptable attitude. We need to be aware of our emotions and adapt to the changing environment.
Children who are overly protected from negative emotions cannot learn how to cope with them. As society modernizes and wealth increases, parents protect their children so much that once they are exposed to a little stress in school, they get depression and attempt suicide. On the other hand, some adults unintentionally cope by using their children (or parents or pets) as the reason for every decision and action.
During our early years when things did not go our ways, some of us threw tantrums (fight), some ran away (flight), some cried and some changed tactic. It is human to have reactions, but a habit forms when we do it over and over again. Like any other habit, we develop them when we feel successful after each action.
For example, maybe as kids, adults gave us food to make us feel better when we were sad or angry. Over the years, whenever we felt sad or angry, we coped by eating to reduce or suppress uncomfortable emotions. We never learned to face these emotions, so we continued to use happy foods to cope with sadness and anger as we grew up.
If we watch TV to decompress at 10 and 20 years old, the habit of watching TV to decompress at ages 30, 40 and 50 continues. Old habits die hard and they just get more extreme — if we need an hour of TV to feel good at age 10, the mere hour will not feel sufficient by age 20 and beyond.
It is easy to use drinking, eating, gaming, shopping or smoking as a coping strategy. We can be addicted to the product (like cigarettes) or process (like gaming or shopping), but usually, we are more addicted to how the product and/or process makes us feel (like high on alcohol or chocolates). These short-term strategies are least useful when we are overwhelmed with multiple issues at the same time. Sometimes, they may create more stress due to deteriorating health, reducing wealth and time crunches.
Emotions are results from spiritual feedback system based on mental thoughts and physical body sensations. When someone makes us feel frustrated, we usually think it is the person or action that causes the anger. The uncomfortable truth is that we are angry with ourselves. The world is a mirror and whatever we see externally is a reflection of our deepest, darkest internal environments.
With so many coping strategies available, we need to concoct a coping cocktail that’s most effective for each of us personally. For example, an ounce of humor + an ounce of anticipation + an ounce of social support + an ounce of acceptance + half an ounce of physical product can make an effective coping cocktail for one person but might be less useful for someone else. It’s better to know early than late, but better late than never.
The simplest way to identify and measure the effectiveness of our coping strategies is by trial and error. The different strategies should include some with no cost, some that require little time and resources and some that necessitate minimal effort. For example, yoga might be a great coping strategy for some but create additional stress for others.
Standard stresses and simple solutions include:
Health: Be in a natural environment often and consider complementary healing.
Relationships: Ask for others' opinions but make your own decisions.
Money: Meditation and creative expression.
Time: Breathing exercises and productivity strategies.
Overwhelmed: Chocolates and ice cream and getaways.
Being adaptable is a learned skill. Every action we do is to avoid pain and/or gain pleasure. It is a human instinct to avoid pain, which is why delayed gratification is a challenge. To become more adaptable, constantly expand from your comfort zone to get used to being uncomfortable.
Develop a habit of doing something outside of your comfort zone once a week to improve the adaptability muscle. Young children always step out of their comfort zones to learn new things and that is how they develop their character and increase their knowledge. By doing something different or deliberately earning new information or a new skill, we move successfully into uncomfortable zones via the act of taking action.
Being able to cope with what life throws at us is something everyone must do. How successful we are in life depends on how well we cope with these challenges. Most of us spend our lives trying to figure it out, but the happiest ones are those who learn to cope by "making lemonade from lemons."