There are various ways for individuals and their loved ones to cope with stress and other difficult situations. A good start in developing resilience and coping skills is to become informed about mental and behavioral health. Knowledge can empower individuals and their loved ones to achieve personal growth, understanding, positive changes and emotional well-being.
A mental health professional, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist,may be able to first evaluate the need, and then provide appropriate coping tips and referrals for support groups. Other sources of information on mental and behavioral health include the Internet, community centers and libraries.
Tips and strategies for coping with stress include:
- Eat a well-balanced and healthful diet.
- Avoid or reduce alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking.
- Exercise regularly and get adequate amounts of sleep.
- Engage in activities that boost self-esteem, such as learning a new skill or hobby or joining a local social group.
- Accept personal feelings. It is normal to experience feelings of anger, sadness and grief from time to time.
- Build strong, positive relationships with family and friends.
- Seek medical help when necessary. Individuals should seek assistance from a physician or mental health professional if symptoms of stress are alarming in nature (e.g., pounding heart, shortness of breath, mood disorders) or impede daily functioning.
About coping with stress
Coping with stress can be emotionally and physically draining for individuals and their family members, regardless of the source of the stress. One effective way of dealing with stress is ensuring emotional and physical well-being.
People with good mental health have the ability to control their thoughts, feelings and behaviors most of the time. They usually have strong support systems. Such people have a strong foundation of mental health that allows them to keep problems in the proper perspective. They can also adapt to stress, adversity and traumatic events. This ability is called resilience and it is an important component of coping with life’s challenges in general.
Resilience includes remaining psychologically stable in the face of adversity or chaos. The majority of people experience difficult situations at some point in their lives (e.g., divorce, job loss). Resilient individuals are usually able to continue with daily tasks, remain generally optimistic about life and rebound from adversity in a timely fashion.
Contrary to what some may think, resilience is not about being “tough” or emotionally distant. Rather, it is about reaching out to others for support, accepting and dealing with events in life that one cannot change such as the death of a loved one or achronicmental illness (e.g.,major depression, schizophrenia). Resilience may also help offset certain risk factors (e.g., family history of mental illness, lack of social support, previous trauma) often involved in developing depression.
There are a variety of ways to promote strength and resilience. A good start for developing resilience is expanding protective factors such as becoming informed about mental and behavioral health issues. Individuals who take an active role in personal emotional and physical health are often better able to cope with difficulties when they arise. Knowledge can also help to empower patients.
Another protective factor for patients or caregivers is contacting support groups, which can also be a great source of information. They provide emotional support and practical coping tips and strategies for dealing with stress, regardless of the stressor. Some support groups are affiliated with organizations or hosted by experts. Others, especially Internet groups, may be hosted by the members themselves. A health care professional, such as a physician (e.g., psychiatrist), nurse, social worker or psychologist may be able to provide referrals for appropriate support groups.
Other sources of information on coping with stress include the Internet, community centers, libraries and bookstores. Acquaintances, friends and relatives who have had similar experiences may also prove to be valuable resources. State and national organizations such as the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH)can also provide reliable information on mental health and coping skills.
Coping tips and strategies
A person’s physical well-being can significantly impact their emotional and mental health and vice versa. Actively promoting good health can help build resilience to cope with stress and other life difficulties.
Tips and strategies for coping with stress include:
- Eat a well-balanced and healthful diet. This can be accomplished by eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, and reducing or avoiding excess fat, salt and sugar in meals. A well-balanced diet promotes energy, alertness and helps keep weight under control – all of which can lead to good mental and physical well-being.
- Drink plenty of fluids. Adequate consumption of fluids, especially water, helps prevent dehydration, which can lead to fatigue and lack of energy. Most health experts recommend drinking a minimum of six to eight 8-ounce servings a day.
- Avoid or reduce alcohol consumption and cigarette smoking. These are unhealthy ways of coping with stress.
- Exercise regularly, as recommended by a physician. Various research indicates that exercise helps boost production of chemicals (e.g., endorphins) in the brain that improve mood, thereby alleviating symptoms associated with stress such as increased anxiety, irritability, sadness, fatigue and anger.
- Get adequate rest. Proper relaxation and sleep habits can go a long way toward promoting emotional and physical well-being. Sleep requirements differ among individuals. Most adults require seven to eight hours of sleep, but some people need only four to five hours. Also, practicing relaxation techniques such as biofeedback, meditation or massage therapy can help reduce stress and alleviate anxiety, insomnia and depression.
- Participate in activities that boost self-esteem, such as learning a new skill or hobby or joining a local social group. Low self-esteem can be damaging because it can affect a person’s body, mind and spirit. It has been associated with a wide array of problems including emotional disorders (e.g., depression, eating disorders).
- Accept personal feelings. It is normal to experience feelings of anger, sadness and grief from time to time, especially when faced with adversity such as the death of a loved one. It is important to take time to express those feelings and not keep them inside. Crying, writing in a journal or confiding in a friend or relative can help provide relief.
- Maintain a positive outlook. It should be noted that remaining optimistic in distressing or stressful situations does not mean one is in denial. Rather, it can give hope when it is much needed. It can also nurture self-confidence, which can empower an individual to deal with hardships. Other positive coping mechanisms include avoiding self-criticism, being proud of one’s accomplishments no matter how big or small and finding sources of humor (e.g., books, movies).
- Establish a healthy social network. Strong, positive relationships with family and friends are an important source of support. They can fulfill an individual’s need to belong, which helps prevent loneliness, especially during hard times. In addition, family members and other loved ones can help ensure that an individual seeks proper treatment (e.g., counseling) when necessary.
- Work to resolve conflicts with other people in a positive way, such as by talking in an objective, non-accusatory manner.
- Set realistic goals at home, school or work. It is important to realize how little time there may be in the day to accomplish all necessary tasks. Whenever possible, delegate or schedule tasks in a manner that allows extra time for their completion.
- Prepare to the best of one’s ability for stressful events, such as job interviews. This can promote peace of mind and help one succeed in such situations.
In addition, people should get regular check-ups with their primary care physician – every two to three years for individuals under age 50, and annually after age 50 – to ensure that they are in optimal health. However, individuals should seek immediate assistance from a physician or mental health professional if symptoms of stress are alarming in nature (e.g., pounding heart, shortness of breath, mood disorders) or impede daily functioning.
Questions for your doctor on coping with stress
Preparing questions in advance can help patients have more meaningful discussions with their physicians regarding their conditions. Patients may wish to ask their doctor the following questions regarding coping tips and strategies:
- What coping tips and strategies do you recommend for dealing with my stress?
- How effective are these coping strategies for dealing with my situation?
- What can I do to take a more active role in my emotional and physical well-being?
- Do you know of community centers that offer recreational activities and other coping techniques for dealing with stress?
- How can I verify the accuracy of information obtained via the Internet regarding my condition?
- How can I help a family member struggling with stress?
- Is there any medical problem contributing to my stress?
- Where else can I turn for assistance with coping tips and strategies for my condition?
- Can you recommend a support group for people in my situation?
- Will my prolonged stress put me at risk for a nervous breakdown?
- What tips do you have for dealing with future stress?