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There are two ways to cope or deal with stressors: in a positive / adaptive way, or in a negative / maladaptive way. Adaptive coping means dealing with the stressor effectively. Maladaptive coping means ineffectively responding to stress, often resulting in harm to oneself or others.
There are a variety of coping styles that people use when dealing with stressors. The three most effective styles in dealing with stress are confrontive coping, supportant coping and optimistic coping.
While talking on her cell phone, Sara accidentally backed her mother’s brand-new car into a light pole when pulling out of the restaurant parking lot. She is now faced with what to do about this.
Most effective coping styles: Confronting the problem head on or directly dealing with the problem.
Least effective coping styles: Avoiding / running from the problem. In this case, Sara may take the car to a friend’s house and avoid going home for the weekend.
Katie began cutting herself when she was 12 years old. When her mother discovered this, she took her to see a psychologist who diagnosed her with major depression. She began therapy and was prescribed an antidepressant medication.
However, two years later, Katie began feeling numb and stopped taking her antidepressant medication without telling her parents or doctor. She then began cutting herself and tried to stop on her own, but continued to be tempted daily to do it again. She didn’t know how to tell her parents or doctor about it and just wanted to run away to show them how she was feeling.
Most effective coping styles: Asking for help. Katie had already been seeing the school nurse for some headaches she had been having at school. This would have been a good time to tell the nurse about how she was feeling numb and stopped taking her medication. The nurse could have helped her talk to her mom about the problem before things became worse.
Least effective coping styles: Trying to “fix” the problem yourself. Katie thought the medication wasn’t helping her so she quit taking the antidepressant. After she quit taking the medication, she began cutting herself and tried to stop on her own. However, she continued to be tempted to cut herself and began feeling more depressed, as well as having thoughts of wanting to die. Her depression was getting worse.
Tony, 16, and two of his friends decided to go squirrel hunting one Saturday afternoon. Tony’s friend, Matt, was directly behind him when he saw a squirrel running up a tree. Matt took a quick shot at it and ended up shooting Tony in the right side of his skull and ear. Tony had massive bleeding from the ear and head. His friends rushed him to the hospital where he was immediately taken to surgery. Tony needed multiple skin grafts to reconstruct the ear and was in a lot of pain. He ended up with permanent hearing loss and a continued loud ringing in the affected ear.
Most effective coping styles:
Looking at the bright side – Tony realized he could have been killed or brain damaged if he had moved his head or body to the right when his friend pulled the trigger.
Using a sense of humor (not sarcasm) – Although Tony was in a lot of pain, he joked about it. When asked by others what had happened, he replied, “Oh, my friend thought we were ear hunting.” Humor does help people feel better by causing endorphins to be released into the bloodstream. These are the body’s natural painkillers, which are also released during exercise.
Thinking positively(or being hopeful) – For example, although Tony didn’t like the loud ringing in his ear, he was hopeful that he could find ways to adjust. For instance, he discovered the ringing wasn’t as noticeable at bedtime when he had the radio on. Another way to be positive is to have an attitude of gratitude. Tony was actually thankful to be alive with no brain damage, which aided in his recovery.
Least effective coping styles:
Pessimistic / negative thinking – For instance, Tony could be resentful about his hearing loss and constantly complain about the loud ringing. He could also think that his life has been ruined because of his impairment. Your body is negatively affected by each negative thought you have. It is important to challenge negative thinking or add supportive statements.
Thinking there’s no way out, feeling hopeless – For example, Tony could have thought that he can’t live the rest of his life with this hearing impairment and, as a result, end up with suicidal behaviors. However, although you may not be able to get out, around or over a situation, you can always get through it. Often this may be with the help of other people.
Palliative coping is doing things to feel better. There are healthy and unhealthy ways of feeling better:
Healthy ways include:
Eating a balanced diet – it’s important to eat at least 3 meals a day and to get enough protein in your diet, such as eating meat and dairy products. If you’re a vegan you have to eat a lot of soy, beans and nuts to get enough protein. One essential protein is tryptophan, which is needed to make serotonin (an important brain chemical)
Keeping blood sugars level by eating complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains (e.g. whole grain bread). Also, avoid a lot of concentrated sweets for snacks, such as candy. Instead, eat fresh fruits and vegetables.
Exercise – your body releases endorphins when you exercise, which gives you a natural high and can ward off depression. You need one hour of aerobic exercise a day. The more physically active you are, the more conditioned your body is to handle stress.
Relaxation exercises – such as deep-breathing. Visit these websites for more examples:
Unhealthy ways include:
Using illegal drugs, such as marijuana
Engaging in excessive and/or dangerous risk-taking (e.g., driving above the speed limit, self-harm behaviors)
Emotive coping is letting off steam.
Crying – emotional tears have stress hormones, so it’s a good way to let off steam or stress
Exercise – doing exercise (e.g. push ups, jumping jacks, running, taking brisk walks)
Writing out your angry feelings- this works better than lashing out at people
Venting – talk out your feelings with a friend instead of yelling or lashing out at people
Punching a pillow or a punching bag
Yelling into a pillow
Doing work that involves physical activity - such as:
Physical fights or hitting others – try “talking it out” instead of “acting it out”
Screaming and yelling at someone – instead try:
Self-destructive behaviors (e.g., punching the wall with your fist, cutting, etc.)
With support a teen is able to face her parents' divorce and be more optimistic about her future.
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