What is your coping style?

How do you react to challenges? Especially when they’re unforeseen?

We all have our very own coping styles, plural, yes, because we may react differently depending on our competence and self confidence in that domain of our life.

For example, I may actively react to a situation related to my business and not have a real issue with the challenge, but feel completely off-guard when facing a problem related to my health. I may be very good at dealing with unfriendly mails from co-workers, but react hurt and upset to a opinionated mail from a dear one.

You can find a few coping styles here below. Try to imagine how you would react in different situations.

1) Denying that the problem exists or deferring it

We can react as if nothing happened. This can be a tactic to disarm the enemy – I personally have used this in the past quite effectively.

When we actively ignore the situation or the problem, we are probably not ready to face it.

The first time I noticed this reaction in a friend I was deeply worried because he was living in denial and not doing anything. But what surprised me was that a few days later he seemed to have solved the problem. What happened? His subconscious had adjusted to the bad news and he had found a way for him to get out of it.

Not everyone who denies the problem will actually solve it though: sometimes we need others to “wake us up” and help us with facing the next steps.

What we think and say: “No problem…”, “What?…”, “Ok…”, “No big deal…”

2) Powerlessly inactive 

Some situations make us feel completely helpless. When we have the impression that all is happening to us and we’re victims of the situation, we can get into the “powerless” mode. Some suffer in silence, others complain about it – more or less overtly –, or ponder. Whenever we are in this vicious circle, we need to rephrase what we think and say: “All goes wrong”, “Why me…”, “I can’t do this…” into “What exactly can I do right now?”, “Who can help me put things into perspective?”, “This might be a misunderstanding…”.

If it’s something said in a mail, don’t ever respond impulsively! Take time – a day or more if you need! – to get some inner distance and work on your response until you feel that it comes from a safe place, that it is the adult-you talking, not the impulsive-hurt-you.

If it’s something someone said or did, go into another room to let off steam, take a walk or anything that makes you feel good again (yes, tea, chocolate cake can help too…), before you respond.

3) Facing the problem actively 

If you react straight away for example by picking up the phone to talk to the person who wrote you a strange mail, said or did something inappropriate, you face this problem actively. This is not the impulsive reaction where we get into an animated discussion – in some cultures this is what we do, but it might not always be appropriate… The kind of active response I mean here is the one where we come from a “good and calm place”, when we are very confident about what is going on, and we’re prepared to any kind of reaction.

There is one risk: it can be that we underestimate the situation and can slip into reacting in a defensive and impulsive way because we didn’t take the time to think this through and prepare, mentally, to all kind of reactions.

What we think and say: “I’ll fix this straight away…”, “Let me do this…”

4) Looking for social support 

Friends, partners or colleagues we trust are those we turn to when we are caught off guard. They can help us put things in perspective and maybe even have suggestions about how to handle the situation. If you tend to ask others for help in difficult situations, make sure they are good listeners. Be careful to think about what they say and evaluate their tips. Other people’s point of views and opinions might not be ours, and although they might be our safe haven, we are the ones who have to deal with the situation and we have the final say. Always.

What we think and say: “I need to talk to … first…”, “I have to ask…”

5) Reacting emotionally

Sometimes we react overtly, upset, frustrated, sad, or have the need to discuss about the challenge. In many cultures this is very common, in others not… I grew up discussing and overtly talking about everything. I would spend many hours, talking, re-assessing situations with my friends. I still do so in certain situations and it is very beneficial for me, personally, because I can feel that the stress, the tension, decreases. By expressing our frustration overtly, we quicker gain control over our emotions. If we push them away, we may feel even more stuck.

Many studies confirm that acknowledging emotions is beneficial for our health. 

What we think and say: “I’m angry/upset/(fill in the blank)….!”, “I find that…!”, “This is so….!”

6) Putting the problem into perspective

If we can link what is happening to a former experience and situation, we put the problem into perspective. We remember how we reacted the other time, if it was a good reaction or if we would rather do something else this time. We need to have made this former experience though! This is why I often tell parents who expect this kind of “reasonable reaction” from their children, that they probably don’t have made the experience yet and can’t make this link! People with a lot of imagination can also link new problems to situations they haven’t experienced first hand, but only heard about or seen in a movie, and find great solutions. 

What we think and say: “This is exactly how it happened the last time when….”, “Oh I know what to do…”, “If… then…; if not…. then…”, “When… then…”

7) Distracting ourselves 

When the situation is too much for us at the moment to deal with, we may choose to do something completely different to get distracted from the problem. This kind of reaction differs from what I mentioned in 1, because it is an active decision to take a time out. We remove ourselves from the situation, switch off the computer, walk away from the person, to actively seek distraction that gives us some “head space”, time to clarify our thoughts. Our stress and apprehension will decrease, and after a few hours we have a clearer view on how to react and deal with the challenge. 

What we think and say: “I need a time out…”, “I have to clear my head…”, “I can’t deal with this right now, I have to get some distance…”.


What is the best coping style?

It depends on the situation. Some situations require that we react quickly. We have to trust our instinct and just hope that our reaction is the right one. The active coping style leads to quick reactions, which makes it less suited for situations where we should think and maybe consult others before reacting.

When we have to deal with a great loss, we need to give ourselves time. Time to grieve and find out how to function again or make sense of the situation, therefore acknowledging and embracing our emotions, social support and distractions all help to bare the shock.

The passive coping style can lead to more problems especially because if we stay in that passive phase for too long it can lead to depression or anxiety. On the other hand, recognizing that we have no opportunity to change what happened is also healthy because we won’t fight it and start processing.

Usually we will instinctively opt for the coping style that makes us feel better: where we express our emotions, where we deny or relativize the problem or even look for distractions. If immediate reaction is required, we need to face the problem actively. If you find yourself in a challenging situation, the most important thing to decide is: does the situation require immediate reaction or do I have time?

While solving your problems, we should never forget taking care of ourselves! No matter what the challenge or problem is, we should take care that our basic needs are met, and only then decide about the next steps.

If we have lost our job, we can start setting up a plan to send out our résumé regularly, but in order to keep a safe balance, we shouldn’t forget to also meet with friends, distract ourselves so that we stay mentally fit.

As I mentioned above, we all can have two or more different coping styles, depending on the circumstances, our competence and self-confidence in that domain of our life. Sometimes we react in a more emotional way, sometimes more rationally. In one situation we become more passive, in others more active.

If we are stuck with a problem for a longer time, it may be good to try out another way to cope with it. Taking challenging situations as learning opportunities to grow and to get to know a part of ourselves is, in my personal experience, the positive aspect of this all. It has to do with resilience. 

If you find yourself in a difficult situation and feel that you can’t find the right way to deal with it, don’t hesitate to contact me at info@UtesInternationalLounge.com.

I have helped clients deal with all kind of challenges, from misunderstandings at work or with family, to anxiety, bereavement and loss.

For this article I got inspired by a Dutch article in Psychologie magazine Omgaan met problemen: zo kies je de beste copingstijl

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