When we encounter a situation or event we perceive as a stressor, some part of us feels very vulnerable and threatened. To survive the threat, whether minimal or colossal, some type of coping strategy is created to deal with it. Each stressor necessitates its own coping strategy. Some coping strategies are second nature to most people when the stressor is minimal, and a course of action is taken with little or no conscious thought involved. But as the number and intensity of stressors increases and a critical mass of tension manifests, then routine coping strategies may fail to do an effective job. The result can be feelings of immobilization, mental paralysis, and emotional fatigue until a more effective coping technique, or combination of techniques, is employed. For the most part, the expression coping responses(positive skills to cope with stress), unlike defense mechanisms, has a positive connotation, suggesting that a positive outcome is likely. However, this is not always the case, because some coping behaviors perpetuate stress rather than promote inner peace. The word coping, as defined by stress scholar Richard Lazarus (1981), is " the process of managing demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the individual's resources." He went to add that coping consists of both cognitive and action-oriented ( behavioral) efforts. According to Lazarus, this managing process involves several important criteria, including some or all of the following: an increased awareness process of oneself, the situation, and the environment an emotional regulation process he referred to as palliative coping( A positive emotional regulation process during a stressful encounter (e.g.,responding, not reacting) and quite often, a series of behavioral changes, referred to as instrumental coping(the implementation of a series of effective coping skills to alter one's behavior to stress), which accompany this awareness and cognitive process. Lazarus also believed that coping isn't the employment of several techniques so much as it is a specific frame of mind. Part of this mind frame is a personality trait, self-efficacy, a term coined by psychologist Albert Bandura to describe an inner sense of faith culminating in a " can-do" attitude. Self-efficacy describes access to several inner resources including self-confidence, faith, willpower, and self-reliance. The possession and implementation of this trait tend to divide those who choose effective coping strategies from those who elect noneffective ones. In other words, your dominant coping style may be a function of your personality. To date, the best and most comprehensive conceptual model to understand the coping process is that created by Lazarus and colleagues. According to Lazarus, every stressor undergoes primary appraisal to determine the extent of damage. It is then reprocessed in a secondary appraisal. At this point, a series of coping responses are lined up with the stressor to see which is the best course of action. These coping responses fall into one of two categories: action-oriented, such as a time management or assertive behavior, or intrapsychic(acceptance). The responses used to cope with stress can be derived internally ( from inner resources) and/or externally. Inner resources include, among others things, willpower, sense of humor, creativity, sense of reason, self-efficacy, faith, and optimism. External resources would include time, money, and social support from friends and family. Lazarus cites the purposes of coping skills as the following:1) To reduce harmful environmental conditions, 2) To tolerate or adjust to negative events or realities, 3)To maintain a positive self-image,4)To maintain emotional equilibrium, 5) To continue satisfying relationships with others. Coping responses can elicit three outcomes: 1) to regain the emotional status quo, 2) to resume normal activities interrupted by the stressor, or 3) to feel psychologically overwhelmed. Amid the countless tragedies and deaths caused by the COVID pandemic, there have been remarkable heroic survival stories and wonderful examples of calm bravery and clever ingenuity, all of which underscore the importance of putting effective coping strategies to work under the most horrific of conditions. In essence, these essential coping skills are nothing less than survival skills: ones we must learn to adopt and employ to deal with the mundane as well as the most inconceivable events that await us.( The senior nurse today came to my dorm and said to the whole dorm, " don't think you got away, its coming here too," talking about Covid 19), Information seeking, assertiveness ( in the form of leadership), creative problem solving, reframing, prayer, social orchestration, communication skills, acceptance, and, where appropriate, comic relief are used time and time again, proving themselves worthy of their merits. It behooves us to not only learn these coping skills, but also practice them so that we can rise to our highest human potential no matter the circumstances we encounter. There are two ways to deal with stress. The first is to see yourself as a victim. The second is to see yourself as the victor. Those who claim victimization tend to act out with a host of stress-prone personality traits to reinforce feelings and attitudes of victim consciousness. Conversely, those who take the high road with a conscious choice to rise above the problems they face tend to use effective coping techniques to become the victor over their stress rather than the victim of it. END NOTE: We, too, can learn from the experience of those who weathered through the turbulent times of scores of natural disasters and other equally devastating life transitions that happen nearly each and every day. The choice is ours. Stay healthy and safe.
By: Melvin Perez