The Best Coping Skills for Finding Calm in a Stressful Environment

5 minute read

By Jordana Weiss

If you’re struggling with how to deal with stressful situations, something you can do for yourself is come up with some coping strategies. Fortunately, you can learn everything you need to know about coping skills with a search online.

Over time, you should be able to use coping skills to help yourself avoid getting so overwhelmed in the first place. With this in mind, take some time to explore ways to cope with stressful situations.

Take a few deep breaths

One of the best things that you can do when you’re in the middle of a stressful situation is to take a few deep breaths. It’s something that our body does all the time, but when we’re in a heightened, stressful situation, often our body starts to engage our fight or flight response, which can cause us to take faster shallower breaths.

The best thing that you can do to take yourself out of the fight or flight response is to deliberately slow your breathing down. Inhale slowly in through your nose for a count of four, and exhale slowly out through your mouth. Do this several times, or for up to one minute.

This breathing exercise is quiet and discrete, so you can do it at work, or in a public area. The faster you’re able to calm your breathing, the easier it will be for your mind to sharpen and focus.

Do a body scan

One of the ways that we can understand how our body responds to stress is by doing a body scan. This is an activity that involves closing our eyes and turning our attention towards different parts of our body, making our way from the top of our head down to the tips of our toes. As you turn your attention to each different part of your body, really explore how it feels, but try not to react with any judgment. The aim is not to “fix” anything, but merely to observe where your body is in that moment.

The more you practice body scanning, the more comfortable you’ll become with your body at any given moment.

Practice progressive muscle relaxation

If you’re taking stress home with you, or if you’re in the middle of a stressful situation and can feel pain in your body from tension, you should try and release it as much as you can.

One of the best ways to do this is by practicing an exercise called progressive muscle relaxation. It’s easiest to do in bed or while lying down, but once you get the hang of it, it gets easier to do while seated. The best way to do it is by working upwards from your toes to the top of your head, clenching and releasing your muscles as you go. Start with your toes, then move to your ankles, calves, knees, thighs, and so on. The clenching helps remind us of how tense and strained we are and helps us differentiate between tension and relaxation.

Begin a practice of mindfulness

Many people find that practicing mindfulness on a daily basis helps them feel more comfortable with the different emotions that they experience in their lives. Mindfulness is simply the act of being present for what you’re currently experiencing, without judgment. It helps give insight into how your mind works, so you can better cope with stressful situations. It can also change the way that people relate to their emotional, mental, and physical experiences.

Mindfulness practice looks different for different people, but it generally begins with a small amount of meditation. There are tons of podcasts and apps that are great for beginners, including Headspace and Calm, which is specifically marketed as a tool for stress reduction.

Keep a positive attitude

Is the glass-half-empty or half-full? Attitude is the only difference between a person who deals with conflict and stress with grace, and someone who lets themselves be affected by the strain and inflames the situation further.

One of the best ways to cultivate a more positive attitude is to start dealing with your habit of negative self-talk. This is the voice in our head that tells us we’re not good enough, that people don’t like us, and that we can’t handle the situation. The more you’re able to counter that voice with positive self-talk, the more capable you’ll feel in stressful situations. If you find practicing positive self-talk difficult, pretend you’re talking to a good friend or family member. You would never approach one of their problems with pessimism or negativity, so why should you speak to yourself that way?

Learn what relaxes you

The longer you undergo stress, the worse you’ll feel both physically and mentally. Stress affects our bodies in a ton of negative ways. In fact, over 40 percent of adults suffer adverse health effects due to stress. Recently, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration officially declared stress a workplace hazard, recognizing what psychologists and doctors have been trying to tell their patients for decades.

Each of us reacts to stress in different ways — some people eat unhealthy food, while others overindulge in alcohol and prescription or illegal drugs. Finding healthy ways to cope with stress is a key part of learning to live with it. Figure out what relaxes you; it could be a hobby, a walk outside, or a chat with a friend. Once you know what relaxes you, practice it on a daily basis to avoid continued stress.

Keep active

When we feel jittery, sweaty, breathless, or panicked, it’s a sign that our body’s fight or flight response has been engaged. This is our body’s instinctual response to dangerous situations and is an evolutionary mechanism that has kept our species alive for so long. However, our bodies aren’t always great at distinguishing between stress and actual danger, and it can kick us into this response far more often than we’d like.

While it is possible to breathe and calm our bodies down, one way that you can satisfy your body’s fight or flight response is by exercising. An intense activity like running, boxing, or lifting weights can help us fulfill our bodies desire to either run or fight, which essentially “metabolizes” the stress, and leaves us feeling much more relaxed.

Feed your body with healthy food

When our bodies are in the middle of a fight or flight response, food isn’t always the first thing on our minds. This leads to situations where people either stop eating or overeat because they’re stressed. If you’re undergoing a stressful period of your life, the best thing that you can do for yourself is to maintain a healthy diet of balanced meals and filling nutritious snacks. This will give your body energy to think and work to the best of your ability.

Maintain a normal sleep schedule

When we’re in the middle of a stressful situation, it’s natural to turn the events of the day over in your head, thinking about different ways that you could have handled each interaction. While analysis is good, right before you go to bed is never the right time for this kind of introspection. If you’re tossing and turning at night, try drinking a soothing cup of chamomile tea before bed, and practice good sleep hygiene by limiting your exposure to blue light within an hour of bedtime.

Accept that there are situations that are out of your control

One of the most essential things in dealing with a stressful situation is to acknowledge that there are sometimes factors that are out of your control. While you never want to become complacent, it’s essential to acknowledge the things in your life, or in that particular situation that is not within your control. Acceptance of this unavoidable reality will allow you to put your energy into the things that you can change.

Jordana Weiss