By Marie-Hélène Pelletier
This article was originally published on the author’s website and is being shared on Seeing Beyond Risk with permission.
Let’s face it: 2022 has gotten off to a challenging start for many. The effects of the global pandemic are still being felt in many work, home, and life situations. Even those who are back in a regular routine may be fatigued and burned out. These days, it is not uncommon to hear that people are just ‘over it.’ Fed up, frustrated, exhausted, and at the end of their rope.
So what do we do now? How do we go forward, and move towards renewing our resilience, energy, and optimism?
The good news is that we have more influence on these factors than we realize. When things happen outside of our control or we’re experiencing a challenging problem or event, it’s difficult to feel that we have any influence, but we absolutely do.
Active coping – the key to navigating difficult times
What I’m referring to is called active coping. Rather than passive coping, active coping is taking action of any kind to deal with the problem and its effect.
When you are faced with a challenge, you could either avoid and go into a passive state of not doing anything at all (passive coping), or you can take action, and any action counts. For example, a 15-minute walk, swapping out one soda a day for water, taking five deep breaths twice a day, or calling a friend for 20 minutes.
Active coping is an important part of getting through difficult times. Even when it’s hard – especially when it’s hard – it’s so important that we engage.
Consider a car. You need to keep filling up the tank, even when you don’t want to, or the car won’t go! Your active coping strategies are the gas to your tank. Doing them is critical to your overall resilience and ability to cope and keep going when faced with life’s challenges.
Be friendly with yourself and manage your expectations
One of the biggest roadblocks in active coping is often an ‘all or nothing’ mindset.
We go for one walk, have one social phone call, or eat one healthy meal and think (or hope) we will instantly feel better. When we don’t (which is to be expected), we give up. Conversely, we may think that just one short activity in the midst of passive coping isn’t worth it (not true), so we don’t even try.
So the critical point – and I can’t stress this enough – is to manage your expectations of results. If you expect yourself to do too much or if you expect too much from what you are doing, you set yourself up to fail which of course is not what we want.
When thinking about your active coping, keep these three things in mind:
Balance: it’s not about doing all active coping things all the time. It’s integrating one, two, or three activities into your day or week at a pace that is friendly to you.
Consistency: being consistent and not giving up is extremely important. Say you go for one walk one day, but then you don’t feel better so you don’t go for another walk for a week. Do you feel better after that next walk? Probably not.
But what if after that first walk, you went for a walk every other day or even every day? Would you start to feel better sooner? Most likely, yes. And if you miss a day, don’t give up! Let it go and try again the next day.
Set realistic expectations: if you are deciding on an activity, make it one that you feel at least 85% likely to complete. If going for a one-hour walk once a day feels like only 50% doable, what about a half hour walk? Only 70% doable? Then see how doable a 20-minute walk feels, and so on.
In addition, have a plan b prepared for the days you need it. For example, if your goal is a one-hour workout, your plan b might be to have a 10-minute YouTube video lined up that you can do instead when your time or energy is limited.
While certain things (like a pandemic) may feel completely out of your control, realize that you do have influence over how you feel and react. When you’re faced with a problem, rather than avoid it completely, take some steps to build your resilience. The key is to not only utilize active coping skills but to approach them with balance, consistency, and realistic expectations.
What you can do today: your mental health (MH) minute
Pick one activity that you think you can start or continue doing as of now. Set realistic expectations and have a plan b.
And don’t forget, the best thing is to just do something, anything. Doing something is always better than nothing.
Marie-Hélène Pelletier, PhD, MBA, is a workplace mental health strategist and registered psychologist. Dr. Pelletier will deliver the closing keynote at act22, the CIA’s annual conference. Explore the act22 program to learn more about her presentation on mental health strategies and other sessions.
This article reflects the opinion of the author and does not represent an official statement of the CIA.