Ever wonder why some people seem to take things in stride no matter how tough it all gets? These people seem to bounce back from every setback and weather all the storms with what appears to be complete calm and poise.
We all experience hardships in life. Whether it’s loss of a job, divorce, illness, death of a loved one, or a myriad of other unfortunate circumstances – bad things happen to everyone. But some people just seem to be better equipped for handling them. As it turns out, they probably are.
Contributors To Successful Coping
Although temperament and a predisposition to embrace coping mechanisms have a basis in biology and personality, that’s not the whole story. While these play a role in a person’s resilience, it’s really only a small part of the equation. People aren’t born with an innate expert ability to handle stress, it’s something that’s learned and cultivated through the experiences they’ve had in their lives.
The largest contributor to developing effective coping is life experiences, both those in childhood and adulthood. These experiences provide opportunity for each of us to choose to learn the skills necessary to become resilient. This doesn’t mean a person has to experience trauma and hardship as a child (although they may have), but rather maybe was shown by a trusted adult how to bend but not break when things become difficult.
The same learning can occur as an adult as well. Of course, not all people who are able to successfully cope with stress and trauma have had the benefit of how to do so modeled for them. Some have had to discover these things on their own.
Everyone has encountered stressful events throughout their lives, some more difficult than others. With this comes the opportunity to discover the best ways to cope. While some people may naturally embrace coping mechanisms more fully than others, it’s the experience of stressful circumstances that allow every one of us the chance to learn the practices that foster resilience. Consequently, this gives us the ability to handle things and move on more effectively.
Among the most common and useful things that active copers do are the following:
1Cultivate a social support system
Having people around you that you trust, care about, and care about you is crucial to effective coping. In fact, it seems to be one of the most important factors when it comes to handling stressful or traumatic situations in the healthiest manner.
When stressed or in crisis, it’s the people you trust and love that can often provide a sounding board and perspective that help keep you grounded. They can also limit the tendency to isolate, which can be a common response for some when dealing with difficult circumstances.
2Actively problem solve
The most resilient people are also active problem solvers. When things are tough, they automatically think, “How can I fix this?” and begin looking for solutions to their situation.
3Recognize and accept help when needed
The world doesn’t rest on one person’s shoulders alone. Effectively coping with difficulty means knowing when you need help and accepting the help when given. This can be difficult for people who have trust issues and struggle with personal relationships. It can also be extremely difficult for those who feel isolated and possibly responsible for their own unhappiness.
4Look for larger context
I knew a man once who, in the face of any difficulty, would say, “Well, they can’t kill me.” In this way he was looking at the larger picture of his own circumstances – things may be tough, but he’ll survive. People who cope well can generally put their situation in perspective and calm themselves by seeing things in a greater context. One common way people do this is through religion.
There are many other practices that effective copers do, but these are some of the most reliable.
Not All Things Can Be Solved
Probably the biggest secret of those who handle stressful situations well is their understanding that not everything can be fixed. We put a great deal of emphasis on working through things, dissecting them, fixing them, and agreeing on what to do next. The truth is that not all problems can be solved, some just have to be accepted.
Being able to get past things rather than fixing them (or fixating on them) is a difficult ability to cultivate, and it’s a slippery slope. It can be easily confused with the desire to ignore a problem or put your head in the sand when what you need to be doing is facing things head on. That being said, understanding the difference between what you have the ability to fix (or control) and what you need to accept and move past can be a very useful skill when it comes to coping.
If you are struggling with something and finding it difficult to cope, you’re not alone. The skills it takes to do this effectively take practice and sometimes coaching. If you find yourself in need of help then refer to point three above – recognize your need for help and seek it. If your social support system isn’t providing what you need, counseling with a professional who is experienced with your particular issue can be a great alternative.
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Author: Dr. Kurt Smith
Dr. Kurt Smith is the Clinical Director of Guy Stuff Counseling & Coaching, a Northern California counseling practice that specializes in helping men and the women who love them. His expertise is in understanding men, their partners, and the unique relationship challenges couples face today. Dr. Kurt is a lover of dogs, sarcasm, everything outdoors, and helping those seeking to make their relationships better.