By Crystal Raypole
When a challenge comes up for you, you probably have a handful of go-to strategies to help you deal with it. Even if your approach varies slightly from problem to problem, you probably manage most difficulties in similar ways.
You might, for example, be a problem solver. When navigating a challenge or stressful event, you go straight to the source and work at it until you’ve either fixed what’s wrong or brought your stress down to a more manageable level.
What if taking immediate action isn’t your strong point? Maybe you try to hack your emotions by considering the situation from a different perspective or leaning on loved ones for support.
These two approaches represent two distinct coping strategies:
- Problem-focused coping involves handling stress by facing it head-on and taking action to resolve the underlying cause.
- Emotion-focused coping involves regulating your feelings and emotional response to the problem instead of addressing the problem.
- Both strategies can have benefits, but emotion-focused coping may be particularly useful in certain situations.
Emotion-focused coping skills help you process and work through unwanted or painful emotions and reactions. In other words, this approach helps you manage your emotions rather than outside circumstances.
This approach won’t help you solve a problem directly, but it’s a great tool to have for dealing with stressful situations you can’t change or control.
When you can manage your emotional response to a given situation more effectively, you may feel somewhat better about what’s happening — or at least more equipped to handle it.
Research from 2015 suggests people who tend to use emotion-focused coping strategies may be more resilient to stress and enjoy greater overall wellness.
Meditation helps you learn to acknowledge and sit with all of your thoughts and experiences, even the difficult ones.
The key goal of meditation? Mindfulness: to recognize thoughts as they come up, accept them, and let them go without stewing over them or judging yourself for having them.
You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, and it won’t cost you anything. It may feel a little awkward, even unhelpful, at first, and it can take some time before it feels natural. If you stick with it, you’ll generally begin seeing some benefits before long.
If you’re new to meditation, get started by learning more about different types or trying this easy body scan exercise.
Journaling is a great way to sort through and come to terms with challenging emotions.
When something goes wrong, you might experience a lot of complicated, conflicting feelings. They might feel jumbled up inside you, making the thought of sorting them out exhausting. Or, maybe you’re not even sure how to name what you’re feeling with words.
Exhaustion and confusion are valid feelings and can be a good starting point for putting pen to paper.
Sometimes, writing down your feelings — no matter how messy or complex they are — is the first step in working through them. You might eventually find that journaling offers a type of emotional catharsis, as you purge them from your mind and into your journal.
To get the most out of journaling, try:
- Writing every day, even if you only have 5 minutes
- Writing whatever comes to mind — don’t worry about editing or censoring yourself
- Keeping track of any mood or emotional changes you experience and any factors that might be contributing to the pattern, whether that’s your exercise routine, certain foods, or particular relationships
3. Positive thinking
Optimism won’t solve problems alone, but it can certainly boost your emotional wellness.
It’s important to understand that optimistic or positive thinking does not involve ignoring your problems. It’s about giving challenges a positive spin and finding pockets of joy to help you get through them.
To add more positive thinking to your life, try:
- building yourself up with positive self-talk instead of talking down to yourself
- recognizing your successes instead of focusing on “failures”
- laughing off mistakes
- reminding yourself you can always try again
- All these things are easier said than done, but with a bit of practice, they’ll start to feel more natural.
It’s easy to focus on feelings of injustice or unfairness when someone wrongs you or does something unkind.
Most of the time, though, you can’t do anything to change the hurt you’ve sustained. In other words, the damage is done, and there’s nothing to do but let go and move forward.
Forgiveness can help you let go of hurt and begin healing from it. Of course, forgiveness doesn’t always happen easily. It can take some time to come to terms with your pain before you feel able to forgive.
Practicing forgiveness can benefit your emotional wellness in a number of ways. You might notice:
- Reduced stress and anger
- Increased compassion
- Greater empathy
- Stronger interpersonal relationships
When you reframe a situation, you look at it from another perspective. This can help you consider the bigger picture instead of getting stuck on little details, as difficult or unpleasant as those details sometimes are.
Say, for example, your relationship has been struggling over the past few months, primarily because you and your partner haven’t had much time to do things together or communicate about problems.
Suddenly, you lose your job and find that you’re now spending plenty of time at home.
Not working isn’t ideal, of course, but for the moment there’s nothing you can do to change that situation. Instead of letting frustration and boredom build up, you can look at the bright side of the situation: You now have plenty of time to reconnect with your partner and strengthen your relationship.
6. Talking it out
Burying or pushing away negative emotions usually doesn’t do much to improve them.
You might not actively notice these unwanted emotions if you work very hard at keeping them hidden, but they do eventually tend to resurface.
In the meantime, they can trickle out in the form of:
- Mood changes
- Emotional distress
- Physical symptoms like muscle tension or head pain
It’s generally a good idea to talk about your feelings to any others involved in the situation. They may not even realize they had an impact on you unless you tell them.
Communicating your difficulties won’t always resolve them, but if an approach to resolution does exist, you’re more likely to discover it together.
Talking about your emotions to a trusted loved one can also help you feel better, especially when there’s no good solution to your problem. Friends and family can provide social and emotional support by listening with empathy and validating your feelings.
7. Working with a therapist
Some serious concerns can cause a lot of distress, especially when you can’t do anything to improve your situation.
Maybe you’re going through a breakup, facing a life-threatening health concern, or dealing with grief.
There’s not much you can do to change these circumstances and dealing with the painful emotions that come up on your own can be hard. But there’s no need to go it alone.
A trusted mental health professional can help you manage emotional distress by offering guidance on any of the emotion-focused coping strategies above. They can also provide support that’s more specifically tailored to your situation.
The bottom line
In an ideal world, you’d be able to face all your problems head-on and solve them right away. In reality, though, many challenges are beyond our control. Emotion-focused coping can help you weather these challenges and build resilience.