Original art work Francesco Ciccolella as published in New Scientist 16th October 2019.
I recently read an article on Psychology Today by Tasha Seister, she put the idea that coping skills don’t work as intended. As I thought about this notion I thought about coping skill and how they are often applied as a short term fix, to enable us in some way to form a bridge from one experience to a better one in the future. A way to just feel better. It seems reasonable that we all try to cope in some way or another in the hope that things may get better or back to “normal” sooner rather than later. Coping I suppose in the most part is at best a short term strategy employed with the hope that things will return to how they were. However when we think about change and how change works in our lives we know that things never really return to how they were. So if we think deeply about this strategy of coping we may begin to notice a pattern, that this short term strategy and as Tasha Seister argues maybe a form of avoidance that actually maintains psychological distress. So how does this play out in our daily lives? Just consider how much time and energy you spend involved in avoiding, or problem solving strategies of coping compared to how much energy you spend really being involved in really living and being engaged in the things you truely value. You may be surprised by the result. Just coping can consume a very large proportion time and energy and leaving little for living life the way you would like too.
So what happens when this short term strategy seems to get stuck and becomes our fallback position, our automatic response to our daily struggles? It seems that there is a lot of pressure to ’just cope, get on with it, being positive, trying not to be upset or feel unhappy‘. This can feel unrelenting and with little upside and often more downside. Like feelings of being overwhelmed and becoming more sensitive to ‘every little thing’ in life. It can build into a cycle where we feel like we have no control, having to spend more time and energy trying to fix the problems that now seem to crop up at every turn. A cycle of where problems seem to be reinforced by our thinking, worrying and ruminating and by coping strategies that don’t seem to ‘fix’ anything. Our problems often start to feel bigger and more overwhelming, adding strain and stress to our day and stretching our physical and mental resources. Which leave us feeling like our daily activities like work, home life and our relationships are less engaging or satisfying.
A lack of success with ‘fixing’ problems tends to reinforce our idea that I have to get rid of or fix all these problems before I can get back to ‘normal‘ and start living again. Experiencing this endless cycle of coping, judgement, criticism, avoiding, evaluating on repeat is like digging in the sand, exhausting, not satisfying and unhelpful, but easy to get caught up in.
All this time and energy employed in the hope of feeling something other that what we are feeling. All that effort only to leave us feeling worse, unfulfilled and disconnected from what Is important for our life now. Trying to make changes by thinking about our lack of success with our coping strategies and problem solving efforts to date often leads us to the false belief that there must be something really wrong with us. Again we seem to get caught up in this thinking and head down the blind alley of attending to what doesn‘t make a difference to our lives, or more digging in the sand, which is just not helpful.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT).
So if the latest covid-19 lockdown in Melbourne has you feeling like you are stuck digging in the sand with your thinking, your feelings or those uncomfortable sensations in your body and you feel it is time to try a different strategy. What's the alternatives? Maybe its time to put down the shovel and engage your energy in something that can actually make a difference?
Alternatively strategies to just coping are offered in Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), a third wave Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), which is show in the research to offer effective strategies and interventions that clients can adapt for there day to day life instead of digging in the sand.
The goal of ACT is developing psychological flexibility, a way of being in the word which involving six principles; acceptance, being present, cognitive defusion, self as context, values and commuted action. Clients involved in ACT learn to drop the struggle with their painful thoughts and emotions, change the way they see themselves and free up their energies to be fully present in their lives and do what matters.
So if you have decided it is time to stop digging and get some professional help, find someone who won’t settle with just providing you with coping strategies but a therapist who will help you with effective strategies to let you live your life now and into the future.
For and simple explanation and introduction to the principles of ACT check out this short YouTube presentation https://youtu.be/ScwXgqO_d7Y
Or alternatively you can call me on 0431212099 for a 15 minute phone consultation at no cost to you.
Francesco Ciccolella original art work, as published in New Scientist, 16th October 2019, Author Helen Thomson. Retrieved from https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg24432520-900-worried-about-the-future-the-science-behind-coping-with-uncertainty/#ixzz6wVkd2RFj
Image of Man digging a deep hole with a shovel. Video by avoodin. ID: 287911862. Retrieved from https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fdepositphotos.com%2F287911862%2Fstock-video-man-digging-deep-hole