I have had a very stressful and sad couple of days. The frustrating thing is that I can’t talk about the two biggest sources of stress on my blog, to protect the privacy of other people. I could make a password protected post on the subject(s), but I am lacking the motivation or energy to do so at the moment. People who have me on Facebook might have noticed me mention at least one of the upsetting situations from the last few days (this one is still ongoing, but I wouldn’t avoid being a part of it regardless, it’s important and I feel able to cope with it), but with some things I’m largely on my own. I have dealt with things by a) making stars, b) baking a cake, c) going for a (healthy, well fuelled, non-eating disordered 😛 ) run and d) having a nice long bath with a book. It’s quite nice to know that I can take care of myself and cope with stressful weeks without harming myself in any way. I guess if everything always went well then I would never have any confidence in my ability to cope. I really do have a sickening ability to find a silver lining in most circumstances, heh. Not going to complain anyway 😉

One of the other things I did today was listen to live coverage of the earthquake/tsunami in Japan for a few hours. This made me think of one of the concepts in DBT that I did NOT like or find helpful – the idea of comparing your life to that of others who are worse off. I think people with mental health problems do this quite often enough, and even if in DBT you are supposed to keep a non-judgmental stance towards yourself, it is usually far too difficult to maintain this if you are actively looking for people who are coping more healthily than you with harder situations. So comparisons never did it for me – although I do find a lot of DBT techniques very helpful for managing my anxiety, like mindfulness and the other distress tolerance exercises.

Anyway, back to comparisons. There is actually one form of comparison-related coping mechanism that can lift my mood and make me feel better about my life. Whenever I feel really low, anxious or overwhelmed, I check the updates on this site. I defy you not to laugh. Seriously, I have it bookmarked on my mobile phone internet 😛 so that is one form of comparison that I can get behind!

Healthy coping mechanisms are very personal things, and I think sometimes they are better learnt by trial and error than taught. I stumbled on the fact that my coping mechanisms needed to engage at least two of my senses/cognitive functions by accident (bath+book, driving+listening to radio, feeling+describing visually an object, and etc), but now I know that about myself I find it easier to distract myself. I also needed to get over my tendency to want to subscribe to one approach only and/or dismiss anything that I don’t agree with completely – now I pick and mix exercises I’ve learnt from all sorts of different sources, from CBT to DBT to motivational interviewing and relaxation exercises. I leave out the parts I don’t find helpful (coughcomparisonscough) and use those that work. I even make up my own variations along those themes – for example, one of my favourite relaxation exercises is to lie down on my bed with some classical or otherwise heavily instrumental music on, and imagine that I’m in a massive ruined cathedral or castle. I imagine that the different sections of the orchestra are in different parts of the building, so I go and find the violins (concentrating hard on the violin music), then the wind instruments, and so on. I’ve become a sort of coping virtuoso 😛

The main problem with healthy coping mechanisms is not finding ones that work – the internet is FULL of information, and with a bit of practise a lot of them can really make a difference. I think the main problems are learning to keep your head and remember them, and then finding the motivation to use them. It is much quicker and easier to cut myself or lose myself in designing a weight loss plan or pour myself a vodka and orange. The way I’ve short circuited that loop is to first of all practise like crazy, to try and make coping healthily my new default setting, and secondly to keep on reminding myself of the consequences of my actions. Thinking about the consequences wasn’t something that deterred me when I was ill, partly because I was too spaced out to think straight, partly because I didn’t believe anything bad would happen to me (I wasn’t sick enough, of course) and partly because I didn’t really care if anything bad DID happen to me. But now I’m a way into recovery one way that I maintain my motivation is by constantly questioning my behaviour and reminding myself of what would happen if I gave myself a day off and gave into any urges which might creep up on me when I’m stressed. The answer is invariably that one slip would make it a hundred times harder to resist next time, which could escalate quickly and easily into a full blown relapse.

This takes varying amounts of effort. Some days I cope with things automatically, with little conscious thought. Like today, when I distracted myself in several ways without really thinking that I was doing those things for the purpose of distraction. Other days might be a real battle to avoid hurting myself in any one of several rather creative ways. Luckily those days don’t happen too often (long term stress and/or PMS are probably the biggest triggers!), but they do still happen.

Uh, yes. So I started writing a post about how sad I was and it turned into an essay on coping strategies. What was that I was saying about silver linings?


12 responses to “Coping

  1. Once again – big inspiration 🙂 I’m so happy to hear that you are dealing so well with stressful times. The earthquake in Japan has already made me think about my (lack of) coping skills – I would love to be the kind of person who could be strong and heroic should I be caught up in any form of disaster, but I fear I would be a coward and go to pieces. I would also love to be able to give support to friends and strangers when they are in distress. Recovering and developing coping skills can benefit SO many people, as well as the ‘recoverer’ – I want to be that strong person. I hope I can keep this in mind as motivation. On the subject of developing coping skills – could you recommend any resources (books or websites) that would be good for teach-yourself-DBT-techniques?

    Keep on doing awesome, x x x

    PS. I think of myself more as the Great Bear consternation… (I ❤ geeky punning too)

  2. Nurse Converse

    Firstly, sorry about the stressful things. I did see you refer to something on FB which I could imagine would be extremely upsetting to have to deal with for anyone, nevermind someone with personal experience of the event.

    Secondly I think it’s great that you’ve developed coping mechanisms and like the pic ‘n’ mix approach. Something I think would be v useful for your future clients when you’re counselling.

    You’re totally right about the difficulty being remembering the coping skills and then mustering the motivation to use them. When I learn how to do that that I’ll be set (me and the rest of the world!)

  3. I agree that the ‘comparing yourself to those worse off’ technique doesn’t work for me either. I think because normally you are not comparing yourself to people with a very different background, rather, you are comparing yourself to your friends, family and peers and if your life is more difficult than theirs, then it’s reasonable to feel you are worse off. After all, it’s not as if you necessarily want the life of a famous rich person, you just want to have an easier life. However, it doesn’t let you off the hook completely; you just have to make the best of what you have (or don’t have!) and get help to do that where possible.

    I did CBT with a psych and psych nurse and I would come to a sticking point where if I had a ‘hot thought’ that made sense to me, and I felt was true for me but the psych/CPN would try to re-frame it and I would vehemently disagree because I didn’t think the re-framing was true at all. How I saw it was just as bad as it was, and there was no point in reframing it because that would be a lie. CBT did and does help sometimes but it’s not very flexible in some ways and downright silly sometimes!

    I love your stars, I am enjoying Prof Brian Cox’s new series :-). I wish I had an iPhone to download the app that shows the stars in the sky, a friend showed me and I thought it was kind of awesome! My favourite constellation’s Orion, it goes upside down when you go to Australia, lol.

    • Prof Brian Cox ❤ 😀

      • Cathy, you are completely obsessed!

        Hi Claire 🙂 I don’t think you’ve commented before so I had to say hello! I agree with you, I think if any therapy is used too rigidly it becomes unhelpful, hopefully when I qualify as a counsellor I will be able to match the therapy to the client rather than the other way around! I have a deeply ingrained hatred of the idea of squishing people into boxes 😛

  4. I’m sorry you have been feeling so stressed Katie 😦

    What has just happened in Japan is terrible. In fact, there have been so many disasters of late. What I have seen on the TV is horrible, and I have the utmost sympathy for all those people (and animals) that suffered. However, I agree that self-comparison strategies don’t work for everyone, and in fact, there is no one-size-all coping strategy that helps everyone.

    One of my closest friends, who suffers anxiety and depression (but not an ED) swears by socialising as a temporary cure for her periods of low mood. When she knows I am ‘low’ mentally she often suggests coming round to sit with me, or us going out for a coffee. That is very sweet and thoughful of her, but for me, personally, the best emotional restorative is solitude. I may go for a walk on my own, or bury my nose in a science paper and analyse systems. It really helps me, but it goes against what I have ever been told in therapy, which is to not isolate! Sure, if I were to isolate in order to harm myself – that would be bad. But to isolate and become engrossed in some geek project is not bad – at least for me.

    And neither does it help he to draw smiley faces on the mirror, or to look in the mirror and tell myself that I am beautiful. This may help some people, but my worries usually have little to do with how ‘beautiful’ I am or am not!

    I love your model of The Plough asterism 🙂

  5. Katie,

    I’m sorry that you’re so stressed out at the moment. I really wish for you to be able to find some peace and some healthy coping mechanisms that truly work for you. You’re such a resourceful and intelligent person and I’d like to be able to offer you all the right answers, but unfortunately I think we all have find our own…
    What I can offer is my support and perhaps just the simple knowledge that you’re far from the only one who feel the way you do; I’m with you all the way. 🙂

    I hope the weekend brings you lots of peace and happiness.
    Take care.


    • I have lots of healthy coping mechanisms which truly work for me – that’s what this whole post was about! Unfortunately those don’t stop the stress from occurring in the first place, they just make it easier to cope with.

  6. I recognise those stars 😉
    Seriously though, I definitely agree with the comparison thing (e.g. Japan/disasters etc) not being a good idea – strategies like that certainly have and probably would still make me feel worse. Your coping mechanisms are cool – meditation and relaxation music are really working for me right now, and Dexter…which I have recently become addicted to.

    I’m sure your personal experience and understanding re: coping mechanisms will be really valuable to your future clients too 😉 Anyway, hope this next week is a better one…


    Sarah x

  7. Thanks a million for the various links on the blog to places that now have the ability to distract me too, because they’re so irreverantly funny and just a great ‘time out’ moment from periods of overwhelming anxiety.

    I think that it’s not the coping mechanism itself which is important, but the ability to fight the anxiety and sadness long enough to start engaging in the coping mechanism, because that can be a monumental effort. Once the process of distraction has started as it were, things tend to become calmer and more secure, at least for me. I do like your list of strategies very much and it’s interesting that you point out the problems with comparing your situation to that of others because I was trying to do that this morning with the Japan earthquake/tsunami and getting very frustrated about it.

    Your stars are beautiful. I know about one of the situations, which I think you’re handling amazingly, and I really hope that the other resolves itself for you.



  8. “Today, in an attempt to impress a girl I like, I tried to crush a soda can by hitting it with my forehead. Not only did I fail, I knocked myself out in the process. When I regained consciousness, the girl was gone and someone had taken the liberty of drawing a penis on my face. FML”

    That made me laugh… I didn’t even know this site existed in English (in France we have VDM – Vie de Merde).

    I had never thought about needing to engage more than one sense – but it makes so much sense. My current favourite coping strategy is putting spoken word on my iPod and going for a run – alone neither help, but together they work like magic.

    The problem with comparing is that, in my opinion, it’s almost impossible to do – having never been in that situation myself, I can’t compare the two – the distress that they are going through is almost unimaginable. The other problem is that with me, it just causes more guilt – that what they are going through is so terrible and yet I feel so low whilst having such a “great life”… and then you feel selfish.

    Sorry, not very coherent post! I love reading your blog, you make me think about things that I would never have connected before.

  9. (I’m reading through your last 3 weeks of posts as I’ve been a bit internet staved recently)

    Was interesting to read you talk about comparassions specifically mentioning Japan and the recent earthquake. I’m from Christchurch NZ where we have also just had an earthquake and have lost my home and a lot of my possessions etc. I had someone tell me to pull my head in (and I was telling myself too) that Japan has it way worse and to think myself very lucky but my psychologist told me NOT to do that this morning, that I had a very stressful situation on top of an already very stressful situation. I think for some people, allowing yourself to acknowledge that parts of your life do suck and are crappy is just as important as looking for others worse off than you… dont know why I thought you’d want to know that, but I think just the fact you mentioned earthquake compelled me to comment. Hope you’re doing ok Katie xx

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