Coping with Stress: Three scoops please!

It’s October, and the Covid cloud is still hanging over us! Even if we are healthy, the stress of it is palpable and has permeated every facet of life. As we know, stress comes in many flavors, and can be positive, tolerable, toxic, acute or chronic, as I discussed in earlier posts.

In the Building Personal Resilience course that I took through my work with the International Rescue Committee, we learned about the three coping styles for stress. These three, and eventually the one which we unconsciously default to or enact the most, are based on a bunch of things – our personality, genetic predisposition, socialization, culture or other factors. They also reflect the beauty of life, in that their strengths and vulnerabilities are flip sides of the same coin. And, like three scoops of ice cream, sometimes we have a favorite, go to flavor, and sometimes we mix it up. 

First scoop is the avoidant style response. Task master or shut down? For people who react with this style, they tend to focus on work, or other things to avoid the negative feelings of stress. They tend to go into “task-mode,” finding tasks and activities that need to be done and jumping into them. This can be helpful in some ways, but maladaptive if that person does not find ways to deal with their emotions, which are still there underneath the actions and things that are getting done.

Second scoop is the ruminative style response. Light bulb moments or channel stuck? People who respond this way tend to worry about things. Ding, ding, that is often my style! Worrying about what can go wrong, or if I handled the situation appropriately, or if I should have done something differently. Worrying about worrying! On the one hand this can lead to creativity, empathy or other cognitive discoveries or insights, but there is also a risk that this response leads to a channel getting stuck. Ruminators can be helpful with figuring things out or problem-solving situations, but may need to find ways to change the channel from the stressors in their own mind. 

Third is the hyper vigilant style response. Mind reader or too tense? Typically, this response is effective in a crisis, as the extra sensory awareness may come in handy to deal with everything going on. However, there can be extra wear and tear when someone is overloaded from constantly being on guard or having their stress response activated overtime. People who adopt this coping style may benefit from participating in more physical activity to let go of the stress. 

For me, it’s two scoops of ruminator with one scoop of hyper vigilant. How about you, what scoops are in your cone? How about your significant other, or close friends’ cones? As this pandemic drags on, and to help manage our stress response, more awareness is better than less…better for coping, better for health, and better for living with stress. And don’t forget the extra toppings please!