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some coping techniques

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lost soul

Day-to-day hassles have a detrimental effect on our physical and emotional wellbeing. However, researchers have found that the negative effects of these are less for people with good support systems.

In general, self-esteem helps us bear up to the negative effects of day-to-day stress. Also, having support from other people goes a long way to alleviate the hold of stress - on both our moods and psychological wellbeing.

Realistic appraisals
Effectively coping with life's problems and failures requires realistic expectations. Psychologists call these expectations and judgements appraisals. Life events (such as traffic bottlenecks or the boss's gruff voice) aren't a problem unless we appraise them as such. If our appraisals are realistic, we'll be better able to react to the events of day-to-day life.

Appraisals are a product of our belief system. If we hold unrealistic, inflexible beliefs then the appraisals we make may not be the most appropriate for the situation.

Irrational beliefs often include 'musts' and 'shoulds', with an emphasis on perfection. "I must be liked by everyone", "I should worry about anything that might be the least bit dangerous" and "I must be competent and perfect all the time" are all irrational beliefs. They're difficult - if not impossible - to achieve.

Is it possible to put an alternative interpretation in the place of an irrational judgement? Suppose someone treats you rudely. You may be tempted to think that that person is horrible and deserves to be punished, or even "everyone dislikes me".

An alternative interpretation could be "that person was just in a bad mood" or "I wonder what's happening with that person for them to behave so rudely?" We have the choice how to frame our perceptions.

In addition to these 'primary appraisals', it's important to develop 'secondary appraisals' after the fact (when we ask ourselves if there's anything we can do about a life event we've appraised as stressful). If we feel helpless to change things, or incompetent when facing challenges, then we're less likely to come up with a suitable coping response.

Psychologists have theorised that people have different levels of 'self-efficacy': a confident view that the responses we make to life challenges have a meaningful effect. People with strong self-efficacy face problems with energy and a 'try, try again' spirit.

But how does this quality develop, and why do some people appear to have a higher level of self-efficacy than others?

Self-efficacy comes from life experiences and from people who serve as significant models. It's built up over the years by responding to challenges with action, flexibility and persistence. Research suggests that we can increase the self-efficacy we bring to bear on our experiences by:

Living a life of goals. We can't develop self-efficacy unless we succeed at things, and we can't succeed if we don't have goals. Set goals for your life, and give yourself credit when you achieve them.
Setting reasonable goals. Aim to set challenging levels, but also realistic enough to actually reach them.
Finding good role models. A model or mentor doesn't have to be someone you actually know, but they should be inspirational figures who demonstrate mastery.
Talking to yourself positively. Instead of belittling yourself for the tiniest faults, build yourself up for the smallest successes.
Remembering that it all takes energy and effort to succeed. Athletes know that you have to want to win and put in hours of training to make the mark; everyday life also needs that push to succeed.

Successful coping responses
Making constructive use of the network of people around you is a coping skill often forgotten by people under pressure. Are there people you can count on to listen to you when you need to talk? Can you speak to them frankly, without worrying about what you say? And are there people in your life you can count on to support you in major decisions?

The number of people you can count on to be there for you is important. It's been shown that people with a good social support system are less depressed and anxious - and more optimistic about their lives - than those with a poor social support system.

Other studies have shown that those with a good support system are more successful at overcoming depression, maintaining self-esteem and overcoming loneliness.

There's also some evidence that people boasting a good support system are likely to have fewer health complaints. The mere task of building your own support system is a coping skill, because it requires personal effort.

Taking action - instead of passively waiting for things to get better - actually gives us an increased feeling of competence and self-esteem.

Relaxation doesn't just happen - surprisingly, it's a skill you can practise.

Talking ourselves through challenges
It's only human to talk to yourself, silently or out loud. We can use this ability to coach ourselves through difficult challenges. Although you probably do this to some extent already, there are three techniques that may help you do this more effectively:

Prepare for the challenge - by talking to ourselves confidently before an event we can increase our feelings of control over situations. Think in terms of how you'll cope and what you'll gain from the experience, even if it's certain to be stressful. Phrases such as: "It may not be enjoyable, but I can handle it" and "I'm anxious about this, but that's only natural" would be good examples.
Confront the challenge - during the actual event build yourself up by tackling the challenge head-on and talking yourself through things. "This is tough, but I'll survive" and "I'm getting stressed - I need to relax and stick to my original plan" might be ways of dealing with the situation. Remember not to be too hard on yourself; nobody's perfect.
Reflect on what you've learned - it's natural to notice your mistakes. Be sure to take time to think about what actually happened and ask yourself how you can improve, without being too self-critical. Visualise yourself as you were coping and getting through the situation: appreciate what you did right, and don't be too harsh while correcting what went wrong. "I survived - and it wasn't as bad as I thought" might be an excellent reflection after a very trying task.

The benefits of regular activity for both our physical and mental health are well-documented. Exercise is a useful skill for coping with stress and reducing anxiety, and also seems to enhance our sense of internal control and self-efficacy.

However, it's possible to exercise too much and if you're new to exercise, or haven't been active for quite a while, be sure to speak with a qualified fitness coach or your GP before beginning your new fitness regime.

Good luck developing your own coping techniques, as well as searching out alternative ways of approaching daily problems and hassles.
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