Coping Strategies

On Sunday night’s #teacherwellbeingchat we looked at stress coping strategies and the response was two things – overwhelming and phenomenal!  Thank you to all those who contributed.

My objective for the session was not for people to just have a whinge or a bitch about their work life.  My intention was more to create meaningful discussion and have those involved articulate and share what it is they do to manage the emotional demands that are associated with working in education.  I wanted participants to have the opportunity to do 2 things as a result of sharing their experiences which were:

i) articulating (and therefore bringing to consciousness) what they did to manage their stress and

ii) share this information so that it could be made available to others

I’d especially like to mention the contributions made by @Corisel ‘Teaching – Why I Don’t Give Up’ and @catchkitey – please make the time to read these, wonderful reflections from two fabulously articulate educators.

A range of responses re coping strategies came through and I have tabled them below.  We’ll explore those in a moment.  But before we do that let’s have a quick look at coping strategies and what we know about them in general:

Coping strategies:

Coping strategies refers to the way we respond to certain situations.  We see this in the students we work with (think avoidance behaviours, withdrawal, acting out, running away, compliance, over-pleasing, dissociation, hypervigilance and the list ges on).  As adults we also have our own coping strategies and we use them in our everyday interactions with others.  Some may even be the same as the ones I’ve listed above as they served us well in our childhood but they might not be so useful to us now as adults.  Although these behaviours may have become habituated they may also be outdated and no longer of use to us and may now be counter productive, even detrimental to our wellbeing.

The same applies to the way that we respond to stressful situations.  We all have our own way of responding or coping to stress and this will to a large extent be very much based on our experiences as children, even infants.  Think about how babies might self sooth or be soothed by their carers.  The might suck on something (their fingers or a dummy for example) or be given something to eat or chew.  Even though we might not remember these things as adults what we might find that similar stimuli in our adult lives have that same capacity to soothe when we are overwhelmed or stressed – although not mentioned in the chat how many people do you know who use vices such as drinking or smoking to manage the stress in their lives?

There’s a plethora of ways that we might cope with stress.  Some of these will be healthy, adaptive and productive.  In other words, these coping strategies might make things seem better, might actually reduce the cause of stress or even make it disappear altogether.  On the other hand, some stress management strategies are maladaptive, unhealthy and unproductive, that is they do very little to affect the cause of stress and in the long term engaging in these activities can actually make the problem worse.  Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol and the use of drugs fit this category.

Healthy, productive, adaptive coping strategies:

These can be classified in to 2 different groups.  Palliative action strategies are as the name suggests, palliative.  That means that they may ease the burden of a situation and make it seem more pleasant but in actual fact they do very little to address the cause of a problem.  If we remove this activity, the problem remains unchanged.  The second type of coping strategies are called direct action strategies and these can affect the whole stress experience, making it seem much less intense or changing it altogether.  The table below shows some of the examples given on Sunday night.  Can you see where your strategies might fit in?

Palliative Action Strategies

Direct Action Strategies

Hobbies Debriefing
Drinking alcohol Thinking about the situation differently
Eating chocolate Journaling
Exercise (including walking, running, riding esp to and from work) Showing gratitude
Yoga Crying
Sleeping Delegating
Diversion/distraction (shopping, reading, tv/films, hobbies, playing with children, cleaning, gardening, ) Mindfulness
Social network (Face to face and Twitter)  Organising time (including regular scheduling of digital detox time)

Research suggests that its actually a combination of palliative and direct action strategies that are most potent in managing the stress we experience in our lives.  By giving our attention to how our past experiences affect our feelings, thoughts and behaviours we may be able to make conscious decisions to alter the extent to which we respond to stressful situations, including those we experience in the workplace.  If we focus on what we can change (being our own responses) then the likelihood is that things will improve and stress levels will be reduced, as with this comes a sense of agency and regained control over situations that cause angst in the first place.

3 thoughts on “Coping Strategies

  1. Hi Louiza, This is a really interesting and helpful post. I had no idea about palliative and direct action before. It makes so much sense. Some help lessen the burden, while others can change things – so I can see why a combination is important.

    Thanks too for mentioning my blog – I’m honoured.

  2. Thanks for this post Louiza. I’m currently sitting in the sun, enjoying a School Closure day. Others might wonder ‘Why are you working on your day off?’ as they see this form of PD as extra work, but choosing to spend time catching up on posts such as this that I’ve wanted to read, is a form of stress relief for me. Debriefing with a good (non-judgemental, non-directive) listener is a strategy I find very helpful. Just talking about things can help put things in perspective & provide stress release for me. Lucky I’m married to someone who understands that ‘just listening’ is often all that’s needed!

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