As the world faces a global pandemic that tests us daily, the importance of good coping strategies and resilience has never been greater.
Resilience is about being robust and capable of managing the various challenges that we face. Having good coping practices is what helps build our resilience.
Our coping is made up of our thoughts, feelings and actions in response to the demands of our everyday lives, be that in good times or in times of difficulty. And many of us already know what is helpful and what is unhelpful coping.
Yet more work is needed to increase the helpful strategies and reduce the unhelpful ones.
From decades of research we know that in general terms helpful coping includes strategies such as:
- working hard
- solving problems while maintaining a social dimension
- indulging in humorous diversions
- physical recreation, and
- attempting to improve the significant relationships in one’s life.
Helpful strategies also include techniques that attempt to maintain self-esteem. We want to do more of these things.
Unhelpful coping consists of a range of strategies such as:
- keeping to oneself
- blaming oneself
- wishful thinking, and
- ignoring the problem and tension reduction.
Naturally, we want to do less of the unhelpful stuff.
There are also many non-productive coping strategies that we use to release tension such as drinking, gambling, avoidance or taking drugs. These strategies become problematic when they are used to excess as they interfere with healthy living. Individuals need to make a judgment about what is helpful or unhelpful for them in a particular circumstance.
How adults cope impacts how children and young people cope. Young people are keen observers of adults’ actions, facial expressions and tone of voice. Remaining authentic is important. Good coping provides a model and it is also contagious. To be helpful with another’s coping, it is important to understand one’s own coping.
When engaging with another the most helpful questions to ask are:
- How are you?
- How are you coping?
- What would be helpful to you?
- Let’s problem solve together and consider the options.
Problem solving can be straightforward or an exercise in creative thinking, especially in unusual circumstances.
The most helpful messages to give:
- you’re not alone; there are ways we can be connected.
- choose to connect with people who are positive and make you feel good.
- choose healthy company rather than people who make you stressed.
- Self - care and self-compassion is important and showing care and compassion to others is uplifting.
When it comes to helpful strategies, working hard remains applicable whether we are doing so remotely or face to face. We can often achieve this by being organized and using a daily or weekly calendar of activities to tackle, and achievements to tick off.
Staying socially connected in a positive way is also very important when we are forced to isolate and relate only to people in our household. With the benefit of the internet, we are afforded a great opportunity to remain connected to our wider circle. And we need to remain connected both for giving and receiving support. We need to have friends with whom we can share a laugh or send a smiling Emoji. Because doing good makes us feel good. As for self-care, we need to engage in exercise and leisure activities in a creative way. This could be music, reading, doing puzzles, playing with the dog or dancing to your favorite songs.
Unhelpful strategies should be avoided at the best of times, and excessive worrying is one of the most common that tends to creep in. Being up to date on COVID-19 facts is important, but when there is excessive anxiety-inducing media coverage minimizing your exposure to it, is a good way to minimising unnecessary worry.
Generally, a problem should be tackled in a constructive way. This is why wishful thinking and avoidance will often elevate our levels of anxiety. Simply wishing a problem or situation didn’t exist is an extension of excessive worry and does not help.
And given we know the importance of keeping in touch with friends and family, especially in difficult times, keeping to oneself – i.e. avoidance – can often increase levels of sadness and even depression.
In all our research, self-blame is the least helpful and completely non-productive coping strategy. When things go wrong or you are dealing with challenges, blaming oneself does not improve the situation or get one off the starting block for action. The question is always what can be learned from what went wrong. How can I do it differently? We often use various strategies as a release valve when experiencing tension. This might be eating or drinking, which when done in excess will add to one’s self-loathing. As for doing drugs or gambling, or avoiding life’s everyday activities, this behaviour should be avoided as it is self-destructive.
What can be helpful is savoring the moment; taking note of what is beautiful and just enjoying being present. Mindfulness is an approach that can help us become more ‘in the moment.’
Some facts to consider
- kindness and positivity are contagious
- a smile relaxes the facial muscles and releases endorphins and serotonin– and you often get a smile in return
- make screen time your good time
- check in with friends but select the ones that are helpful – positivity is contagious (as is negativity)
- transform stress to courage by taking on a challenge
- identify your strengths and utilise them
General tips for staying healthy/reducing stress:
- stay active
- eat well
- sleep well – work out what helps you to sleep
- shelve your worries before you go to sleep
- practice relaxation/mindfulness exercise
- set up a wellbeing diary – what you are going to do each day to keep you well
- set your daily schedule – a timetable or daily planner
- seek support from teachers the best way to study for each subject
- who else can you turn to for support?
- stay focused on your studies by switching off your phone and emails to stop the distractions
- take breaks and do something that you enjoy
- organize study/work sessions with peers - utilize social media platforms
- talk to others about your feelings and concerns
- be aware of tension triggers if you are spending extended time in a confined space with other family members
- stay away from those who are ‘stress bunnies’
- hang out with friends who have a positive disposition and able to support you, share a good laugh etc
- who can you turn to for emotional support when you need it?
Staying Calm – doing good for yourself and others
- find a way to do a random act of kindness – doing good makes you feel good
- give a compliment
- enjoy the silence – try it out for seconds at a time and increase day by day
- worry when the time comes – worry is about the future – plan for the future – stay in the present
- write down your worry – writing down can help it disappear
- give yourself rewards for each achievement
- enjoy simple pleasure – sipping water, smelling roses, eat a treat slowing
- think calm thoughts – picture a calm image with calm sounds
- have a good laugh- with a friend or watch a funny show or read a book of jokes
- use a soft voice – calm people do not shout
A couple of useful websites
How Mindfulness Can Help You Navigate the Coronavirus Panic
Six Daily Questions to Ask Yourself in Quarantine
This guest article is written by Erica Frydenberg, PhD.
Currently, there are many resources available through the works of Dr. Frydenberg that offer resilience, wellbeing and coping strategies for children. At Vivi, we have partnered with Erica to ensure we are in the best position to help transition everyone to this new world of remote learning and continue to drive engagement while developing the coping strategies necessary.
Erica Frydenberg is an educational, clinical and organizational psychologist who has practiced extensively in the Australian educational setting. She is a Principal Research Fellow and Associate Professor in psychology in the Melbourne Graduate School of Education at the University of Melbourne.
She is an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Psychological Society She has authored and co-authored over 150 academic journal articles and chapters in the field of coping, developed psychological instruments to measure coping in children, adolescents and adults and authored and co-authored 25 books on topics ranging from early years through to adolescence and parenting.
She has received numerous Australian Research Council and philanthropic grants, been engaged as a consultant with organizations such as National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC), Department of Education, Catholic Education Authority and Victorian Assessment and Curriculum Authority. She was the recipient of the Distinguished Scholar Award of the American Educational Research Association Special Interest Group Stress and Coping in Education, the University of Melbourne Medal for Research Excellence Faculty of Education Award and the University of Melbourne Knowledge Transfer Award.
In 2013 she was the recipient of the Life-time Career Award of the Stress Anxiety Research Society, an international body of researchers and practitioners. In 2017 she delivered the Charles Donald Spielberger Address at the Annual meeting of the Stress, Anxiety Research Society. In 20202 she was awarded an AM for contribution to psychology research and training.