February 12, 2009 by Dr. Ken Tangen
We use a variety of methods to survive emotionally and physically. We take defensive measures whenever we’re under attack. We react whenever someone yells at, ridicules, or scolds us. It’s not that we don’t have coping skills. The problem is that we don’t select them. Usually we use whatever is at hand.
Coping is like opening a bag of potato chips. If you’re not under pressure, you realize there are many ways to open the bag. There are a lot of tools available to you. You could get out a pair of scissors or find a knife. There is a perfectly reasonable process you can follow.
But when you’re in a hurry, you use whatever is at hand. I’ve seen people rip open bags of chips with their teeth, slash at them with their fingernails, and stab them with a pencil or pen (my usual way). I even saw someone trying to smash a bag by stepping on it, in hopes of popping it open.
The same applies to coping. When we’re not under pressure, adjusting to world around us is fairly easy. We observe our environment, see the adjustments that need to be made, and make a smooth transition. When we’re under stress, we tend to use strategies that are familiar to us (close at hand), regardless of whether or not they are effective.
Developing good coping skills starts with identifying the techniques we use, and tracking how frequently and under what conditions we use them. We can also look at the effectiveness and the side effects of our strategies. Getting drunk may be effective in dulling our brains but the side effects (loss of control, inability to plan, disruption of personal relationships, and death) make it poor long term solution.