Have you ever felt so overwhelmed and frozen that you just don’t know where to start? So instead, you go for a run or put on the kettle and escape into social media for a distraction?!
In fact, when we feel like this, we know what we’re doing isn’t the answer. But we just don’t have the physical or mental energy or motivation to address the stress as it is. We just feel overwhelmed and helpless and all we really want to do is bury our head in the sand and avoid thinking about all the things that are stressing us out.
This tactic (avoiding people or things that make us feel stressed or anxious) is called avoidance coping. Quite often we don’t even realise we’re doing it. And whilst it might be effective in the sense that it stops us feeling panicky or anxious in the moment, it's not helpful if the thing/person we’re avoiding, needs to be dealt with. Avoiding it only serves to make it worse. In fact, research carried out over a 10 year period found that people who avoid dealing with stress were more likely to be experiencing significantly MORE STRESS just 4 years later and more likely to be experiencing depression 10 years later.
If this resonates with you. Maybe you’re using avoidance a bit too often. Maybe you need to tackle things a bit more directly in order to help future you avoid the impact of chronic avoidance on your health?
So what can you do? Well, don't avoid - APPROACH!
‘Approach coping’ is a much more effective way to deal with things (especially if you have some control over them) that are stressing you out right now.
How to do it?
Approach coping can consist of emotional strategies or behavioural strategies. That’s to say, we don’t always have to DO something to change the stressor. Sometimes that can be too hard. So to start off with it might be easier to try emotional coping.
Emotional coping involves actively talking or thinking through the problem in attempt to better manage your emotions. This can be achieved by doing things like meditating, reading, journalling or deep breathing. All of which lower your nervous system activity which means we can feel less angry, anxious and stressed…even if the stressor is still there.
In contrast…Behavioural coping involves you taking small actions/steps to address reduce or remove the thing(s) that is actually causing the stress. This might sound overwhelming (hence why you want to avoid it) but it doesn’t have to be tackled in one hit. Behavioural coping can be a gradual process.
For example you might start by making a list or maybe you talk to someone you trust for their advice. It can be this small. Then you might go and tackle just one part of the task or stressor, for example, maybe you just draft an email, or start doing some research. This behavioural approach to coping can feel hard to do but even these small actions will make you feel better and make you wish you’d done it earlier instead of using avoidance coping (for weeks or sometimes even months/years).
So give it a try. Take small behavioural steps and the stress that you’re living through right now can have less of an impact on your overall health in the long run. Left to build up long term stress can affect things like your hormones, blood pressure, weight, cause sleep problems to name just a few.
Here's a link to an article that you might find helpful as you tackle stress right now. Today in fact. Why wait?.
But remember. You’re human. Stress affects us all. You’re not supposed to live a stress free life. I’m not sure that is possible for anyone!
What is important though, is that you don’t add to the stress on your body by mismanaging stress in the first place. Give yourself more breathing space by changing your automatic coping responses. Otherwise stress will build up and before you know it you can feel physically or mentally ill.