This is what the nervous character Emily advises to the flustered character Andy, in an emotionally charged, yet humorous scene, in the 2006 motion picture “The Devil Wears Prada”. (A fictional story about Runway, a New York-based fashion magazine. The movie reflects the competitive environment and integrity-bending pressure on those working for the magazines sharp-tongued editor, Miranda Priestly who is a successful dream-crushing tyrant.) Have you ever worked with such a tyrannical boss in your career?
This highly successful film strikes a relatable-nerve with its viewing public, as many of us have indeed encountered over-the-top people like the Miranda Priestly character in our work environments. Although the movie is a comedy, it does reflect some genuine coping strategies that people sometimes employ in order to adapt to, or deal with, stressful work situations. Scene-after-scene shows how the energy of stress can spread wildly among a group of people too, especially when it is caused by a leader, or boss, inflicting absurd demands, threats, and control over all others around them.
The fictional movie is humorous, yet, similar real-life scenarios are usually anything but funny for the people involved. Stressed-out employees, in a scenario such as this, must typically develop coping mechanisms or literally be forced to quit their jobs for their own sanity! Our ability to cope with the demands upon us is key to our experience of stress.
Difficult life events, such as divorce, miscarriage, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, can cause distressful feelings such as grief or despair. Life-threatening events causing bodily injury, such as accidents or harmful diseases, can cause severe feelings such as anxiety or depression. Negative events, such as physical abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional trauma, can cause mental disturbances or physical anguish. Even events that are considered positive by many—getting married, having a child, moving, buying a home, or starting a new job—can lead to significant amounts of pressure and stress.
Coping occurs in response to physical or psychological stress, often triggered by significant life events or changes. Depending on the stressful kind of situation people may find themselves in, coping skills are required in order to deal with an abundance of stressors life deals out. This means utilizing some combination of behavior, thought, and emotion.
Defining Cope; Coping; Coping Mechanisms; and Coping Strategies:
- Cope- means deal effectively with something difficult.
- Coping- is a combination of cognitive and behavioral response efforts, which continually change, aiming to manage demands that are viewed as taxing. Coping aims to maintain mental health and emotional well-being.
- Coping Mechanisms- are ways to which external or internal stresses are managed, adapted to, or acted upon by an individual. Coping mechanisms can manifest as behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that you use to adjust to triggers or changes in your life.
- Coping Strategies- are consciously brought about in a person’s mind and produce either positive coping or maladaptive coping--also referred to as non-coping.
COPING MECHANISMS, DEFENSE MECHANISMS, AND MENTAL HEALTH
Many mental health issues begin with a physical or emotional stressor that triggers chemical changes in the brain. This is where the good-the bad-and the ugliest of coping mechanisms can come-in to-play with one’s health and well-being. Another concept, called Defense Mechanisms, is intertwined here. But, these two concepts are in fact different. Defense mechanisms are coping strategies that become rooted in a person’s subconscious mind--employed within and are outside of conscious awareness. One’s use of Coping Mechanisms, however, is typically conscious and purposeful.
Defense mechanisms are thought to safeguard the mind against feelings and thoughts that are too difficult for the conscious mind to cope with. They are subconscious psychological responses that protect people from threats and things that they don't want to think about or deal with. Defense mechanisms are a mental process (e.g., repression or projection) initiated, typically unconsciously aware, to avoid conscious conflict or anxiety. An ego defense mechanism becomes pathological only when its persistent use leads to maladaptive behavior such that the physical or mental health of the individual is adversely affected.
Coping mechanisms are used to manage an external situation that is creating problems for an individual. They can manifest as behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that are used to adjust to triggers or changes in life. People who employ adaptive coping mechanisms may be less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health concerns as a result of painful or challenging events.
People who have difficulty utilizing effective coping strategies can default to maladaptive coping mechanisms. Those who don’t know how to cope with anxiety, stress, or anger can struggle to the point of falling into the habit of relying on a maladaptive coping mechanism—including a defense mechanism. They may eventually see a negative impact on mental and emotional well-being.
- Maladaptive behavior is a type of behavior that is often used to reduce one's anxiety, but the result is dysfunctional and non-productive.
- Adaptive behavior reflects an individual's social and practical competence to meet the demands of everyday living.
Here is a link to an informative article that sheds more light on this part of the subject:
Coping Strategies And Defense Mechanisms: Basic And Intermediate Defenses, By MARK DOMBECK, PH.D.
Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem. -Virginia Satir
(Virginia Satir (1916 – 1988) was an American author and therapist, known especially for her approach to family therapy and her pioneering work in the field of family reconstruction therapy.)
COPING STRATEGIES & MECHANISMS: CATEGORIES AND CLASSIFICATIONS
Categories of Coping Strategies:
- Appraisal Focused: Involve revision of thoughts, change of mindset, or denial.
- Problem Focused: Involve modifying behavior.
- Emotion Focused: Involve altering emotions to tolerate or eliminate the stress by using distraction, meditation and relaxation.
Classifications of Coping Mechanisms:
- Adaptive: Tolerates the stress.
- Attack: Diverting consciousness away from stressor or stressful situation to a person, or group of people.
- Avoidance: Denial, dissociation, keeping self away from stress.
- Behavioral: Modifying actions in order to minimize or eliminate the stress.
- Cognitive: Altering way of thinking in order to reduce or remove stress.
- Conversion: Convert-changes thought, emotions, or behavior into another.
- Defense: Unconscious ways of coping with stress, e.g. denial; regression; acting out; dissociation; compartmentalization; projection; reaction formation.
- Self-harm: Harms self in response to stress.
LEARNING TO COPE: ADAPTIVE & HEALTHY--VERSUS--MALADAPTIVE & UNHEALTHY
Healthy-Adaptive Coping Strategies:
The following activities develop positive coping skills that provide mental support, strength, and courage when dealing with stress and overwhelming situations:
- Meditation- alone time.
- Relaxation- recuperative time.
- Eating healthy- supplying adequate nutrients to the body.
- Exercise- regularly staying fit.
- Sleeping- adequate hours nightly.
- Relationships- loving and supporting.
- Problem solving- identifying the stressor and coming up with an actionable solution.
- Humor- making light of a stressful situation.
- Spirituality, Faith- uncovers and clarifies what's most meaningful and purposeful in your life. Helps place focus less on the unimportant things.
Unhealthy-Maladaptive Coping Strategies:
The following activities develop negative coping skills that block or stunt mental focus, weakening support and abilities to overcome stress and overwhelming situations:
- Excessive alcohol drinking.
- Ignoring or bottling up strong feelings.
- Excessive working.
- Avoiding problems and denial.
- Escape-withdrawing socially into isolation and solitary activities.
- Reckless risk taking-compulsions, adrenaline rushes such as unsafe sex, multiple sexual partners addiction, theft such as shoplifting, reckless driving.
- Self-blame or blaming others.
- Self-mutilation-harms self.
- Self-soothing-other destructive or addictive behaviors-e.g. shopping or gambling addictions, excessive use of internet or video games, overeating and binge eating.
JUDITH’S TOP 3-HEALTHY COPING STRATEGIES:
These are the top-three coping strategies I highly recommend employing when working to combat stress:
- Attitude. Nurture a relaxed and positive attitude using awareness (mindfulness) to calm your mind--as challenging as that may be at times. It can really help ease struggles that must be faced within difficult situations. It helps to keep your mind open. Remember: Attitude is everything!
- Accepting Realty. There will always be some situations and other people’s actions that you cannot control! When these circumstances arise, first be discerning about the reality of the situation. How can you respond? What choices do you have? Can you change it or positively affect it? What are you willing to do? How much of your attention and energy will you give to this? Evaluate your place and value--accurately recognizing the level of power that you possess in any event goes a long way towards alleviating stress.
- Self-Care. Self-care is never a selfish-act! It’s quite necessary, especially during difficult times, that you maintain your health. Eat, Move, Sleep, Relax. It’s essential that your mind and body be in a quality of condition that when stressors come--and they will--you are able to handle it, deal with it, and bounce back from it without wrecking your psyche or well-being.
SOME OTHER PEOPLE’S THOUGHTS ABOUT COPING:
It is what it is. Isn't that how these things always go? They are what they are. We just get to cope.
Two words will help you cope when you run low on hope: accept and trust.
-Charles R. Swindoll
We have two strategies for coping; the way of avoidance or the way of attention.
Somehow our devils are never quite what we expect when we meet them face to face.
Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through. Face it.
You do learn how to cope from those who are coping.
When life's problems seem overwhelming, look around and see what other people are coping with. You may consider yourself fortunate.
Focusing on developing (adaptive) positive and healthy—versus--negative and unhealthy (maladaptive) coping skills is important to our personal health; it affects other people around us too. We use our coping skills daily to help deal with stress, work through it, and process our emotions. We all have emotions, but we don’t all have great coping skills. In the words of Virginia Satir: Problems are not the problem; coping is the problem! Life is not what it's supposed to be. It's what it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.
By Judith Garner, Certified Health Coach
Helping people stay healthy inside & out!