Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Coping skills

Several people I care for are struggling right now. Because I’m an emotional person, I feel their pain as if it were my own. Even the stories and the grief of people I don’t know can bring me to tears. Sometimes I lose sight of how beautiful life is when I see so much hurt around me. 

We all go through dark times. Nothing exempts us from that fact. But knowing how to cope when dark times befall us is what gets us through life. As a social worker, I’d like to think that I have a good arsenal of coping skills. But what really works? What is more than lip service but is actually something you can count on to help you deal with heartache and pain and frustration and anxiety? After having experienced crushing grief on a couple occasions, I have a few suggestions of things that worked for me.

By the way, this is not to say that I didn’t make a mix entitled “Sad” and lay on my couch in the dark listening to it a time or two. I did. (Let me know if you want the playlist). Because even wallowing can be healthy, I think, in moderation. But among my more pro-active ideas are as follows.

1) Volunteer

There is something about doing for others, especially when you are feeling victimized by life yourself, that is healing. It’s hard to put into words why or how this works. Perhaps it is the gratitude that comes with seeing others in a more difficult situation than the one you’re in. Perhaps it is putting positive energy into the world that brings it back to you. Perhaps just feeling like you have something to contribute makes you feel better about who you are and where you are in life. For me, when it came to my infertility, I was so consumed with having a baby that I needed to find a way to channel that love that I was so aching to give. So, I volunteered to be a cuddler in the neonatal intensive care unit of the hospital at which I was working. Did you know that’s an actual job?? A cuddler! It was perfect for me. I could go whenever I wanted to hold and love tiny babies who needed the snuggles just as much as I did.

2) Get out in nature

For some, this may be easier than others. When you live in the city of Chicago, “nature” may have to be loosely defined as “outside.” Whatever. Just get outside. Go for a walk. Breathe some fresh air. Take a day trip to a place you can hike or bike or sit and write in a journal. I recommend the Chicago Botanic Gardens. Being outside, away from distractions, helps clear the mind and calm the soul. So does disconnecting from technology for awhile. If at all possible, turn off your phone.

3) Do something really, really nice for yourself

I don’t mean get a mocha at Starbucks or buy yourself a new pair of shoes (though by all means, do!) I mean plan ahead and make a date with yourself for something that would be truly healing. A day of peace at the spa. A trip to escape a little and see a friend out of town. A day of shopping for (and buying) a new stash of clothes that fit and make you feel good about yourself. I needed to do this last one a few months after my miscarriage. As I mentioned before, losing a baby does not also mean losing all the weight you gained while pregnant. It is a very frustrating reality. After fighting it awhile, I decided that I needed to feel good getting dressed everyday. It was the least I could do for my broken self. So, I went to my favorite store, Anthropologie, and unapologetically spent a good chunk of change. Don’t underestimate the impact of feeling comfortable and confident.

4) Talk to a counselor

I’m talking to you. Yes, you, who thinks they don’t need a counselor. That therapy isn’t for them. If you haven’t had a good experience with counseling then you haven’t had the right counselor. If you don’t know where to begin, I’ll tell you. But first let me say this. When coping with any kind of struggle, it is important to put your hurt and frustrations into words. Keeping them inside does not make them disappear, it often makes them intensify. And using your friends or your spouse as your therapist isn’t a good idea because they haven’t been trained. They don’t know how to help you process and heal in the same way a good therapist can. I have seen different counselors on and off since college and am a big fan of this kind of coping (obviously, considering my line of work). It’s not always easy – you don’t always find the right person on the first try. But once you do find someone you can open up to, it is a gift. Here’s a place to start:

You can search by zip code and then set your criteria (issue, insurance accepted, therapist’s gender) of whatever’s important to you. Search, contact and give it a try. You can also go through your employer’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if you have one.

Wishing you peace and healing, whatever your struggle.

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