Some guidelines for choosing coping actions

Coping effectively with stress is not the same as finding happiness. Do you ever find yourself thinking, “If I could just handle all this stress better, I would really be happy”? Sorry to say, you’re kidding yourself. The problem is, when you think like that, you’re treating happiness, an emotion or feeling, like it’s some sort of goal, something you will magically find.

Some things can be treated as goals. If company is coming later, you can work like a dog cleaning the house, and know that by late afternoon you will reach your goal, a clean house.

But emotions and feelings don’t work that way. Imagine if you circled a date on your calendar, a date two months from now, and wrote, “I will be self-confident.” You might be in for some disappointment in two months.

The secret to dealing with stress, and experiencing feelings and emotions like happiness, satisfaction, pleasure, confidence, self-esteem, etc., is to remember that those inner states are things that emerge, develop, and grow out of actions you perform.

So, rather than get hung up on feelings and emotions you long for, focus on actions you can take, actions that give you a sense of personal satisfaction, empowerment, and meaning to your life. Before you begin considering specific actions, however, there are some cautions to keep in mind:

First you must identify your strengths and your weaknesses. That will help you choose actions that are realistic for you.

Keep your expectations moderate so you can derive something positive from almost any outcome.

Don’t focus on actions that bring you material rewards, such as money. If rewards come, consider them icing on the cake, not the reason you’re baking the cake.

Don’t brag about your activities to others or do things just to receive praise. In other words, take yourself out of the picture.

Discard any feelings of entitlement. Life isn’t fair and was never supposed to be. The only things you are entitled to are those you earn.

Don’t focus on “if only I could…,” or I really should….” Instead, focus on what is already there. Tell yourself, “Here is the reality of the present. What are my options and which ones would be appropriate for me?”

Choose actions that you can do yourself. Being independent increases life satisfaction.

Include “serve others” on your list.

It’s OK to “celebrate yourself” now and then with a pat on the back when you feel you have done something worthwhile. “Good job, Self; I must do this more often.”

Your actions may require the help of others. Thank them, and show them you care for them and appreciate their presence in your life.

When we say that to cope better you should focus on actions you can take, can you see the larger message here? We’re saying you should not seek things from life. Rather, you should participate in life, experience it, and let satisfaction and productivity come you as the result of appropriate actions that you perform.

Experiencing life allows positive emotions to emerge from your actions. Consider, for example, serving others. Such an action can bring you a sense of personal empowerment, along with humility from knowing your efforts are sincere, authentic, and that others are important to you. This coping orientation will guide you to feeling you are participating with life in ways that will give you confidence to face your stresses and challenges. Don’t look for emotions and feelings; allow yourself to experience them by acting in ways that don’t make you the center of attention. Depressed? Anxious? Feeling adrift, lost and unfulfilled? Feel like life is suffocating you with stress? Stop cooking with life recipes that make you the main ingredient.

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