Healthy Coping

To cope is to deal with a problem successfully, to adapt to change in ways that are effective and healthy. Coping skills are abilities possessed by people who face reality, manage the distress of a circumstance, event, or change, and adapt personally in a positive, growthful way. Mothers may be able to cope effectively on one day but not on another day. Grief is not static, and pain ebbs and flows. The important thing is for mothers to have a repertoire of skills to choose from when they experience stress and painful emotions.

When coping effectively, a person is able to manage the stress and tolerate the distress. Mothers will experience a multitude of stressors following disclosure,and these vary depending on the identity of  the perpetrator and to what extent external agencies are involved in their lives. Stressors may be either external or internal. Examples of stressors include: ambivalence , fear, pain and grief, lack of sleep, nausea/inability to eat, angry family members, perceived interference of social services, maintaining work and family schedules, abuse-related appointments and interviews, court appearances, finances, and victim symptoms.  
Effective coping skills are healthy and adaptive. They include defense mechanisms that help mothers relieve pain, function in daily activities, maintain personal health, support victims, find effective solutions to problems, and make decisions. Examples of effective coping skills include:
  • Affiliation - Turning to others for help and support. Discussing problems with friends, family members, counselors, and others who express willingness to help.
  • Altruism - Managing the distress of a life-altering event by reaching out to others and helping them. Feeling a sense of satisfaction and gratification from working to meet the needs of others.
  • Anticipation - Managing an emotional conflict or stressor by anticipating a situation, event, or circumstance and experiencing the emotional response ahead of time. Then, planning how to deal with the conflict or stressor effectively by developing realistic positive responses.   
  • Humor - Finding the amusing or humorous aspects of a given situation, no matter how serious or life impacting, and choosing to laugh. Laughter is like medicine. It raises the level of endorphins (the body's natural heroin) in the body and elevates the mood. Humor is healing.
  • Assertiveness - Communicating feelings, thoughts, opinions in a respectful manner. Standing up for yourself. Confident and direct speech that is characterized by holding the head high, eye contact, and non-aggression.
  • Self-awareness - Observing internal and external response, feelings, thoughts, behaviors. Self-reflection on motivation and responses. Mindfulness of the five senses: sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch. Aware of surroundings and present experience.
  • Sublimation - Channeling negative emotions into socially acceptable behaviors. Managing pain, conflict, and distress through participation in sports, music, volunteer activities, education, and art. 

Some of the most common coping skills that help mothers deal with disclosure include:

  1. Breathing - When stressed, you may temporarily stop breathing and then notice that you have been holding your breath. The old saying, "when all else fails, breathe" is a basic truth. To breathe is to return to the body - is to return to the senses - is to increase awareness of this moment. Getting out of your mind helps you to get out of your "stuck" thought process, You temporarily leave your thoughts and experience your physical response to this moment. Breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in slowly, breathe out slowly. Focus on sensations in your body. What is your experience in this moment?
  2. Positive Self-Talk- Give yourself positive words of encouragement. Support yourself. Plan and practice useful changes. When a self-blaming thought enters your mind, such as "I'm an awful person," "I'm bad," "I'm an idiot," substitute a positive phrase for the negative one, applauding your strengths instead of focusing on your weakness.
  3. Physical activity - Walking for 15 minutes will lift your mood. Regular exercise will result in a healthier body, increase your ability to manage stress, provide a positive self-esteem boost, and increase your endorphin level.When the stress is worse, and you least want to do anything physical - when you most want to close the curtains, go to bed, and forget about life - that is the time you most need to engage in strenuous, invigorating exercise. Join a gym. Join a dance class. Watch a video on yoga or kick boxing. Find a friend to hold you accountable for regular exercise.   
  4. Journaling, poetry, and other writing - Writing, whether daily entries in a journal, writing poetry, or writing a short story or song, are all therapeutic and healing. These are ways of expressing negative or angry thoughts that may be incapable of release in other ways. These are safe, healthy ways of self-expression, creative exercises that offer multiple healing benefits. 
  5. Art - Creativity releases pent-up emotions and allows the expression of otherwise  unspoken feelings. Art is self-expression - externalizing the internal and facilitating healing. It is calming and elevates self-esteem. You feel better about yourself, and in that moment feel competent and capable. Any artistic expression is therapeutic, whether, coloring, painting, making a collage, yarn work, basketry, quilting, crafts -each is a process to express feelings, and the process, not product, is the goal. 
  6. Meditation - Meditation slows you down and enhances presence in this moment.  It allows you to experience your life. Meditation increases awareness of the five senses and enables you to know your thoughts and feelings. It fosters your ability to survive the distress of the moment through Mindfulness. Sitting meditation, walking meditation, standing meditation, and yoga are all meditative practices that maintain your in-the-moment aliveness. 
  7. Music - Listening to music is a coping skill that many people say they use during stress. It is important to choose music that is opposite to your negative mood. For instance, if you are depressed, listen to upbeat music. Also, pick music with words that emphasize wholeness, health, positive thoughts, and positive relationships. 
  8. Friends - Turning to friends during stressful times and surrounding yourself with caring, supportive people reduces painful moments, provides a sense of security and safety in your life, and meets your need for love and affiliation. Pay attention to how your friends respond to the disclosure and your experience. If you sense judgment and alienation, choose whether to directly discuss your feelings or simply avoid that person for a time. You need support, not judgment and criticism from your friends. 

Healthy coping skills will keep your body healthy. Stress creates a chemical process in your body, releasing hormones and causing a cascade of physical responses. Chronic stress depletes transmitters that enhance positive mood such as serotonin and dopamine. Chronic stress negatively impacts the immune system and leaves you susceptible to many illnesses and disease processes. 


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