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3 Uncommon Ways to Cope When Life Gets Tough

Unusual ways to feel better when you're feeling extreme stress.

Key points

  • It's easy to feel beaten down by stress and exhausted by life. Times like this often lead to standard advice being given.
  • Having a variety of coping mechanisms at hand can increase one's resilience.
  • One underutilized method for coping with stress is avoiding procrastination.
eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock
Source: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

I watch a YouTube channel about a young woman who lives in a camper van with her dog. She's a tough cookie, and resourceful. She converted the van herself from a cargo van to a camper.

Recently, she talked about struggling with depression, and then to add stress, her van broke down. The first mechanic who attempted to fix it didn't, and instead replaced a part unnecessarily. Then, she had a hard time finding a dealership that could look at her van in a timely fashion. She ended up needing to pay for an extended stay in a hotel, in an unfamiliar town, with her dog and no transportation, until it got fixed.

There are times like this we all face when life is just hard. We can easily feel beaten down by stress and exhausted by life.

If you're a regular reader here at Psychology Today, you've probably heard a lot of the standard advice for coping with this type of stress. Here are a few ideas you may not have heard.

1. Stretch your time perspective.

This tip won't suit everyone's coping style, but it works for me and might work for you too. What feels really tough today isn't compared to some of what our fellow Earth-dwellers have faced historically. When I'm stressed, it doesn't help me at all to reflect on recent tragedies, like wars. However, it does help me feel better if I go right back to the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs, and early humans migrating out around the world from Africa.

Anything that stretches your time perspective can help the stress you're experiencing now feel less intense.

There's a chance that thinking about more stressful situations might leave you feeling worse, so this is a tip you'll need to try for yourself and see what impact it has on you. And, remember, I said there's a lot of nuance in what exactly might help. If I were to watch material about the Holocaust or modern famines when I already felt bad, it would make me feel worse. Yet, it helps me to watch videos about the history of the earth/universe and evolution. Find what helps you.

The effect of stretching your time perspective is quite different from merely reflecting on how other people have it worse than you, which often isn't helpful.

2. Don't leave little to-dos to the last minute.

Some of people's natural coping when they're feeling crushed ends up generating further stress. Most people become avoidant and procrastinate when they're down. Perhaps you leave a task until the due date, assuming it'll go smoothly, and then it doesn't. If you had a few days to figure out the snafu, it wouldn't be stressful, but because you've left it, it is. For example, you attempt to pay a bill at 5 p.m. on the due date, but the company's website glitches, when it never has before. Or, it's the last day to submit an application and you realize you're missing a piece of information you need.

Whatever big issues you're experiencing, you might need to take a little breather from trying to fix those. It can help you get your confidence and self-efficacy back if you take care of unrelated little things. You'll also dramatically decrease the stress that can occur when you attempt to do things last minute.

Why is this so important? If you're already feeling vulnerable, it can be hard to cope with seemingly minor sources of stress like a website glitching. This tip both can boost your confidence and decrease necessary stress.

3. Take a yoga class or do a compassionate meditation.

Now, you might be thinking, "Didn't you say this was a list of unexpected tips?"

Yoga and meditation are very standard tips for reducing stress. The subtle difference is that I'm not suggesting you start a yoga or meditation habit. I'm suggesting you do it once. Starting a habit can feel like too much pressure or not your priority for your limited time and energy. I don't want to do daily yoga or meditation either.

When you've been tough and holding it together, sometimes you need a release valve. You need to let go of that toughness and let yourself feel vulnerable and feel all your emotions. However, that can be really hard to do if you've been coping by extreme "gutsing" through your stress.

Slowing down to do a single yoga class or meditation might be what you need to let the flood gates of your emotions open, and ultimately release the pressure cooker situation that can happen when we attempt to hold it together through extended, difficult challenges and tough times.

While venting is generally considered unhelpful, allowing yourself some emotional release (e.g., crying) is generally therapeutic.

An in-person yoga class with an instructor (yoga is meditation with movement) might feel more containing than doing an online yoga class or meditation. Try that if letting go, even a little, is really hard for you. For meditation options, you can Google around for self-compassion or loving-kindness meditations. There are lots of free ones out there.

These tips won't be right for everyone. I have plenty of others if these don't appeal. However, if you're bored of all the same-old, same-old coping suggestions you've heard before, you might consider these strategies. Empower yourself to try different coping options from whatever you usually do. Having a variety will increase your resilience. You might find a new favorite or an alternate you can use when your go-to strategies feel stale or overused.

LinkedIn/Facebook image: eldar nurkovic/Shutterstock

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