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Coping in the World of Medicine - Part 2

coping internal skills stress Apr 10, 2021

Last week we discussed the net-negative effect of poor coping mechanisms and positive external alternatives.  Today, we go a bit deeper into internal coping strategies. 


We are human, and as such, will experience the full range of human emotions. We need practical ways of dealing with the negative and stressful ones.


When you are on the verge of an emotional outburst or inburst, utilize a quick grounding or centering exercise. There are several out there.  Sit with your feet on the ground and back against the chair while you remind your fight-or-flight state of mind that you’re actually safe. Then take some slow deep breaths. I like the 4-7-8 breathing technique, inhale to a count of 4, hold for a count of 7, and exhale to a count of 8. The other quick tool I like involves the 5, 4, 3, 2, 1 approach to senses.  Start with 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can taste or smell, and 1 thing you can smell or taste. (Don’t get too caught up if you don’t have more than one for taste or smell). This technique gets you out of your head and its perceived situation and into your actual surroundings.


At the end of a stressful day or week, when you find yourself saying, “I deserve x, y, z” or “I need an x, y, z” to reward yourself for a terrible week – proceed with caution. Reflect if the decision is based on buffering (avoiding an emotion) and if the decision could bring about any net-negative effects. Those choices are slippery slopes for some unhealthy patterns reinforced with bursts of dopamine. If you need some immediate external comfort – look over the list from last week. But for lasting habits that will serve you and lead you toward growth despite stressful circumstances, let’s look into some internal modalities.


Here I will list a few. You may have others. The key is finding the ones that best help you deal with stress in a healthy manner.


-Affect Labeling. Accurately labeling the emotion you feel, in and of itself, can improve emotional regulation and decrease the intensity. Use a chart of emotional words if you need to – it’s fascinating that most of us physicians have a limited emotional vocabulary.


- Meditation. You don’t have to become a Zen master. You can download the Headspace, Ten Percent Happier, or the Calm app. Some find meditating on Scripture empowering and calming. Choose whatever fits best for you. It’s a practice that gets better with time as your mind will wander. That’s normal. You’re not doing it wrong.


- Mindfulness. Improve your ability to be present with the people and tasks at hand instead of thinking of future or past events (or even current events remotely via social media or the news). Mindfulness conjoins with non-judgmental acceptance. Again, it takes practice. Our brains like to constantly be on alert and attach a lot of judgment as well. When that happens, be aware and bring it back to the chopping of vegetables, the paying of bills, the detangling of hair, or the pulling of weeds. 


- Journaling and thought downloads. Get things out of your head and onto paper to be the compassionate observer, again without judgment.


-There are many things such as guided imagery, progressive muscle relaxation, prayer practices, deep breathing techniques, and non-sleep deep rest exercises you may find helpful.


-Some find relief in reviewing goals and purposes regularly or reading affirmations that they’ve picked out for themselves.


-Last, but the most essential – learn to process emotion (more on this next week).


Have a joy-filled week!  Tonya

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