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Stress and Coping

As part of our ongoing efforts to try to provide some help to leaders during this time, CMA’s blog post today is one of many that we will produce on stress and coping.  We hope you will find it useful to any of your group.  As always, please feel free to pass this along and modify to fit your needs.

It’s worth taking a moment to consider what stress really is.  Fortunately, we have decades of research on the topic.  Initially, social science thought stress was a response—it was the outcome of a noxious stressor that was seen as a threat.  A competing model thought about stress as a stimulus.  Stress is a nasty thing, and it creates an insult to us both psychologically and physiologically.  The best thinking on the topic, as championed by two researchers named Folkman and Lazarus, identifies stress as a complex transaction between the stressor that exists in the world and the response the individual or the community takes.  By thinking about stress as a complex transaction between the eventand the response (while not being either the event of the response) , we have an ability to have an impact on the response.  Below, please find the most simple way to think about it and respond positively.

If you collapse much of the research on stress and coping, it suggests that all coping responses fall into one of two categories.  The first is problem or solution focused—doing something to resolve the issue.  The second is emotion focused—doing things that make you feel better about the problem.  Think about the response you would have to your car breaking down.  You have the option to try to solve the problem (get the car going again), and then you have the option of having people helping you feel better (calling your best friend who can commiserate with you how awful it is when your car breaks down).  All of the research tells us that the most effective copers participate in all of the solution-focused strategies first and all of the emotion-focused strategies second.

A more dire example would be a cancer diagnosis.  Those that respond best to this crisis first engage in everything they can do to possibly improve their prognosis, such as seeking good health care, seeking out second opinions, participating in their therapies, etc.  The act of participating in all of the solution-focused coping is actually, in its own way, therapeutic.  It reminds people that they have a level of control with a circumstance, and the first step is to do everything you can to control the circumstance.  Only after all of the solution-focused strategies have been engaged, do people move towards emotion-focused strategies.  These include seeking social support, engaging in positive self-care, seeking out those with similar circumstances, and cognitively reframing as much of the stressor as a challenge and not a threat.

CMA will continue to produce more in this series.  It is our hope with this initial article that we encourage everyone to remember to focus first on creating as much progress as they can with solution-focused behavior first in dealing with the issue in a behavioral and actionable way, realizing that those behaviors will, in and of themselves, help you feel less stressed.  Once you feel like you have made good progress on that, use the wide variety of social support mechanisms that are now available to us (calling friends, FaceTime, and other ways to have virtual presence) to maximize emotion-focused coping.  Subsequent blog posts will deal more with what strategies appear to be most effective in emotion-focused coping.

CMA continues to wish you health and safety during this time.

Terence J. Bostic, Ph.D.