I believe for all of us to cope effectively in life we need just two basic skills: Self Soothing and Problem Solving.
I view self-soothing as the ability to calm down in a healthy manner. Whether an adult calls it relaxing, or teen calls it "chillin", or a child calls it play time or quiet time, this skill is crucial. It is often the difference between people controlling or not controlling their impulses and making good or poor choices. For some, calming down may mean taking deep breaths. Others may relax by listening to soothing music. Journaling can serve as a wonderful means to let out stressful feelings for those inclined to write. Moving to the physically engaging realm, working out or playing sports can also serve as a valuable stress outlet. Obviously this is just a short list. There are many other wonderful ways we can use to calm down.
We all know, of course, that there are many unhealthy ways that people can release tensions. These can include illicit drugs, alcohol, sexual acting out, avoidance, self-mutilation, binge eating, hurting others, gambling, and the list goes on. I certainly do not claim to be perfect as I have made my share of past unhealthy choices. As my best friend since kindergarten says, "The only perfect people are in the cemetery." So I am not suggesting anyone try to be perfect...especially having made the point here about the cemetery. What I am saying is that it is helpful to stay mindful of helpful, healthy ways to self soothe and to use them. The good news is that if you are reading this you are probably interested in the healthy choices for self-soothing.
Problem solving is the second essential skill we need for managing our lives. There are many models of problem solving; far too many to mention here. Basically, healthy problem solving means:
1) Identifying a problem
2) Brainstorming possible solutions
3) Trying out the solution
4) Evaluating the results, and
5) Coming up with other options, if needed.
For me in everyday life, given my struggles with ADHD and managing life's anxieties, I view problem solving most often as breaking overwhelming problems down into smaller parts. I also try to get into the doing by taking action. This may mean doing office work for my practice, paying bills, making calls, or writing my psychology today blog, Some days for me this works easier than others.
I marvel at my fiancée Oi Yin as we are coming up on a year since the diagnosis of her pancreatic cancer. She calms herself by being around her vast amount of friends and family members. Oi Yin also calms herself by taking an interest in those precious others she cares about. She also calms herself by having her attitude of gratitude, even in the face of possibly losing her life to this vicious, deadly disease.
I could go on and on about how Oi Yin problem solves. For starters she regularly goes for her chemotherapy treatments. In addition, she continues to research and use, where possible, other treatments including many in the alternative realm. These alternative treatments include her taking many supplements, getting intravenous vitamin C, and jumping on a rebounder trampoline.
Whether your stresses and challenges are minor or huge, self soothing and problem solving are the two skills you can draw from to cope with what life throws at you. The purpose of these skills is not to make life easy. We all know that it often is not easy. Having ourselves mindful of self-soothing and problem solving options, however, can certainly help to make our lives easier than avoiding our problems and acting out in destructive ways.