Written by: Go Figure Consultant Killian Potter, MSW

stressed man at work“One of life’s best coping mechanisms is to know the difference between an inconvenience and a problem. If you break your neck, if you have nothing to eat, if your house is on fire, then you’ve got a problem. Everything else is an inconvenience. Life is inconvenient. Life is lumpy. A lump in the oatmeal, a lump in the throat and a lump in the breast are not the same kind of lump. One needs to learn the difference.”
~Robert Fulghum

Every day we are faced with challenges. These challenges range from losing our car keys to the death of a loved one. The most important thing that we can do for ourselves when faced with stressful events is to first and foremost evaluate the severity and meaning of the situation. Because our actions are often determined by how we think and feel, we need to take a moment and examine these thoughts and feelings before we act.
For example, you may get a flat tire on your way to work which is extremely frustrating and may be a challenge to those of us who have not had the experience of changing a tire.

It may have deeper meaning for an individual who is recently divorced and their typical response might have been to call their significant other for help. The flat tire is a reminder of their feeling alone which makes the event more emotional and more stressful. The alternative response to the same situation would be a sense of empowerment that the individual would get from changing the flat tire on their own, realizing their own strength.

The second most important thing that we can do for ourselves when faced with challenges is to take care of ourselves. It is very common for individuals to react with unhealthy behaviors such as binge eating, drinking, isolating, lashing out, or remaining stuck in the negative emotions. In essence, we give ourselves permission to do these things because we believe they will bring us comfort or relief.

Unfortunately, unhealthy behaviors often make the situation worse and reduce your ability to handle future stress. Life is always going to bring challenge and, like a marathon runner, you need to prepare for your race every day by getting enough sleep, fueling your body, hydrating, managing aches and pains, and staying focused.

Finally, there are times when the challenges in life exceed our ability to cope. The lack of coping is often because there never seems to be a reprieve from the daily stressors or the event is so devastating and is something we have never experienced before. The top ten most stressful events according to the Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale are as follows:

  1. Death of a Spouse
  2. Divorce
  3. Marital Separation
  4. Jail Term
  5. Death of close Family Member
  6. Personal injury or illness
  7. Marriage
  8. Fired at Work
  9. Marital Reconciliation
  10. Retirement

In the event that one experiences challenges that he or she cannot manage, it is important to seek help from family, friends, or a professional. Click Here to take the online Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale test and see where your stress levels are at.

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