Creative Coping and Tools for the Blues
By: Kristen Lipari, Ph.D. | March 12, 2021
The past year imposed an incredibly challenging time in our lives, in the nation’s history and the world. We can wrestle with our struggles, or we can accept them. By accepting them, we can direct our attention away from the problem toward a way to cope.
Of course, difficult times can stretch our normal coping strategies to their limits. This can lead us to feel like there’s really nothing we can do to feel better. We may dismiss small efforts as “pointless” or “too little” to make a difference. Does this mean to give up on coping? No. Feelings of helplessness and hopelessness make the situation worse.
Hard times call for creative coping.
We tend to cope with problems in two main ways: cognitively, by changing how we think about the problem, and behaviorally, through strategies that soothe and tools that distract us from the problem. And if you think about it, in difficult circumstances, our coping strategies are really all that we can control.
Cognitive Strategies for Coping with Uncertainty
- Acceptance can help us embrace uncertainty. Rather than pushing away our feelings (avoidance) or struggling with them too much (rumination), we ought to acknowledge and make room for them. This allows us to avoid the secondary emotions like guilt and self-blame – feelings about our feelings – that can compound the difficulty of hard times.
- Practice patience and take a non-striving stance. When we’re faced with difficulty, we often want to rush time along, hoping for better times ahead. But of course, none of us has this superpower. By embracing the value of each moment, practicing gratitude and mindfulness, we can take in the merits of the present, which we may otherwise miss.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts. In times of distress, we generate guilt by thinking about the worst-case scenario, trying to predict the future, and focusing on the negative. After all, thinking in a balanced way yields to thinking our world is falling apart. Ask yourself whether an alternative explanation exists for a negative thought: one that may lift some of the intensity of your distressing cognitions.
Behavioral Strategies for Coping with Uncertainty
When we find ourselves in a rut, the last thing we feel like doing is getting out and trying to enjoy ourselves. We feel fatigued. It can feel nearly impossible to muster the energy to do anything fun. However, the more we sit around – and there’s been plenty of time for sitting around in the past year – the more we feed the cycle of low mood. In this way, the pandemic limited our activities; but let us not dismiss everything as impossible. I offer you as follows some COVID friendly ideas that will get you out of the house along with the rationale for their utility:
- Spend 20 minutes outside each day. Expanding the limits of our environment can help us see the bigger picture. Consume your lunch outdoors, soak up the sunshine on your patio, or dust off your old bike and go for a ride around sunny San Diego.
- Go for a walk around the block. Getting even just a little bit of exercise can get our blood flowing and lift our spirits.
- Check in on yourself especially when doing mindless activities like watching TV or scrolling on Instagram and take a break if you gain no enjoyment from it. Put your phone down and take some deep breaths. Reorient yourself to things you might enjoy more.
- Make yourself a meal. It doesn’t need to be fancy, nor can we expect ourselves to run on empty. Nourishing yourself can feel fulfilling.
- Notice the last time you felt pretty good. Make plans to put yourself in that place again within the next week. Having something to look forward to can help us keep going amid the blues of difficult times.
If you are still struggling with coping strategies, do not be afraid to ask for help from a professional psychologist. The Therapy Changes team is here for you.