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Stress- How do you Cope?


            A week has passed since many people living in Orlando had a reality check. There are more elements in life out of our control then in our control. Scary when you think about it. Thankfully, we can bring the big world into a smaller more manageable “world” for ourselves, such as family, career, friends, spirituality, finances, etc. There are many things, often small we can control, but it seems the most catastrophic and traumatizing are those we can’t. When trauma or stress happens it is a good time to check your coping skills. What do you do when your tiny part of the world feels like a tornado spinning around you? I was reminded by several clients lately, there are as many dysfunctional as functional methods of coping during an uncontrollable season of life.
            As a child, if you felt the tornado of “no one likes me” spinning around you, what did you do to cope? You may have organized your pencils on your desk or put the notebooks in your backpack in a certain order. When the classroom felt out of control, or you did not fit in, all you had to do was look at the neat and orderly placement of your writing instruments to know there is one small thing you could control. You were able to breathe and survive.  You may have even chosen food to comfort the pain, you could control the food that goes into your mouth and it brings instant pleasure. When middle school came and the chaos of the world (classroom/ peers) began to swirl again, you may have organized your locker, isolated yourself, or chose a group of friends that led you down a dangerous path. These are things you could control.  Let’s take it home, out of school for a moment. What did you do when your parents fought or you lost a loved one? Did you organize your room, did you try to be a good child, or did you withdraw? These are small things you could control.
            As an adult, when your job, marriage, or family seems out of control, where do you turn? Often it is still the same tools you used as a child. Eating, addictions, withdrawing, lashing out, and even being busy.  Exercise, ah, often seen as a healthy coping skill as long as you are in balance, and I don’t mean a yoga pose. If the skill you used as a child helped you survive it served its purpose because you are still here, but do you consider it healthy today? Is withdrawing from the chaos of your family, healthy? Would it be better to communicate or even seek professional help? You can only control how you handle the stress in your life, are you choosing as a child or as an adult with many choices? Children are not able to see options like adults do. If, for example, food was a way of handling your parents’ divorce, it may have seemed like a good option as child. It was readily available, instant relief, and you could take care of yourself without needing anyone else. As an adult, food may not be a good choice. Is it causing physical harm to your body, is it keeping you from facing the stress in your life, is it affecting others around you in a negative way? If you answered yes to any one of those 3 questions, look careful at your coping skill and actively seek a healthy alternative.
            What is your way of coping, what is your anchor, where do you find your peace? When there is tragedy that we cannot control, where do you turn? We are not designed to function well in a chaotic world, we must find control somewhere to survive. How do you gain control when the tornado spins around you? If you have children in the home, would you want the way you cope to be their way of coping? It is your choice, be who you want them to be.
            There is a great song that I heard the other day on a Christian radio station entitled, “Eye of the Storm” by Ryan Stevenson. Here is the YouTube with lyrics version, . Caution, if played too loud in your car, your rear view mirror will keep the beat.

Author: Elizabeth Havens, MFT Register Intern-
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