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We each have different strategies for coping with stress. Some strategies are more helpful, and other strategies are less helpful. What kinds of things do you do in order to cope? Maybe you turn to exercise, or talking a problem over with a friend. Perhaps you cope by trying to control the situation, or escaping through drugs or alcohol.

Life gets stressful for all of us, so it’s pretty normal to use our coping strategies to deal with tough problems. But sometimes coping happens automatically. We’re so used to using a certain coping strategy that it becomes our ‘go-to.’ We might do it without even thinking about it, or understanding what is going on inside of us.

Today I want you to think about the idea that your coping strategies are protecting you from something. You are using the coping strategy to make sure something bad doesn’t happen. Sometimes the coping strategy works, and sometimes it doesn’t. (Sometimes it even makes your situation worse.) But we use coping strategies for a reason, and the reason is usually to protect us from something bad happening.

Sometimes it can be helpful to identify what is going on underneath our coping strategy. In other words, what is the coping strategy protecting us from? This can lead to important learning and growth by uncovering a core issue that we are dealing with.

Here is a 3-step process to identify what is going on underneath your coping strategy.

  1. Identify the coping strategy. The first step is to identify the coping strategy. This can be difficult, because sometimes our coping strategies are automatic. We just use our coping strategy when we are feeling stressed, and might not think a lot about it. Any time you feel compelled to do something, or do something in reaction to something stressful that happened in your life, you are probably using a coping strategy. Popular coping strategies include positive things like exercise, journaling, talking with a friend, and meditation, but also negative things like alcohol, drugs, overeating, and cutting.
  2. Ask yourself ‘What would happen if?’ The second step is to think about what the coping strategy is protecting you from. What bad thing might happen in your life if you didn’t use the coping strategy? Asking yourself the ‘What would happen if…’ question can identify what is going on underneath the coping strategy. Often there is fear underneath our coping strategy. We might be scared that we would lose control, or that we would find out we are incompetent or unlovable. Even if there are consequences associated with our coping strategy, those consequences might be better than the terrible thing that our coping strategy is protecting us from.
  3. Do some work around the underlying issue. There might be some work to be done around the issue that is underneath the coping strategy. If you are seeing a counselor, this might be a good topic to discuss in counseling. If you are in a small group, this might be a good issue to address in the group. Or it might be a good thing to journal about, or read a book about.

Discussion: What are your ‘go to’ coping strategies? What might be going on underneath these coping strategies? What are your coping strategies protecting you from?

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