March 13, 2016

Pulling Ourselves up by the Bootstraps: 13 Coping Strategies for Difficult Emotions.

Andre Hunter/Unsplash

I’m the original bootstrap kind of girl—whether I fall down or get knocked down by life, I typically pull myself right back up by my metaphorical bootstraps and get moving.

I’m not one to stay in a defeatist mentality, and I rarely allow myself to wallow in misery for too long. Often, I’ll schedule time to grieve a loss or deal with anger at a more convenient time in my day. (No, I don’t put it on a calendar. Typically, I’ll just internalize my emotions until I have time to let them out.) I tend to be the one who will look for lessons in my experiences and try to put a positive spin on whatever obstacle comes my way. That being said, there are times when even I can’t compartmentalize my feelings and arrange to experience them at a more convenient time.

This week I’ve been angry. I’ve been hurt. I’ve felt discouraged. I’ve experienced waves of sadness that I don’t know how to shake.

What have I done about it? I’ve cursed, and I’ve cried. I’ve vented to friends. On one memorable occasion, I fell down the damn stairs and hurt myself because I was so angry that I wasn’t paying close attention to where I was stepping. Then I got sad and angry that I was hurt. I basically pitched what we Southerners call a hissy fit.

In the end, we sometimes have to sit with our emotions and allow them to just be. We can’t always push them around or make them behave. We can’t even politely ask them to come back at a more convenient hour. We just have to experience them and accept them.

It can be challenging to just sit with our emotions. It’s uncomfortable, and it doesn’t have the numbing qualities of denial or anger. Having a good cry actually doesn’t feel that good sometimes, and we can struggle with calming ourselves when angry.

Our bodies also react to the stress in our lives. Some of us experience nausea or stomach pain. Others get debilitating headaches. Still others have skin conditions or other visible signs of the discomfort caused by an onslaught of emotion. These physical challenges are often vivid reminders of the importance of managing our stress more effectively. The mind-body connection is an intricate one, and our bodies often manifest illness as a way of making us slow down and take the time to care for ourselves.

We cannot control our every emotion, but we can certainly learn how to cope with them. When we manage our emotions well, we’re often healthier and happier individuals. When we’re tempted to let the emotions overwhelm us, we can remind ourselves of our ability to help ourselves, to pull ourselves up by the bootstraps. Sometimes we have to dig deep for those reminders of our own strength and the coping strategies we have at hand.

Here are a few coping strategies that we can use to experience our pain, grow from it, and move on:

1. Accept what is. Instead of telling ourselves the story we want, we need to tell ourselves the truth. The most notable red flag for me, and for others that I know, is when you start having to explain your significant other’s actions to other people. If we’re trying to justify a behavior, it is probably a red flag that something is wrong. Instead of telling ourselves the version that we want to be true, we need to dig deep into our sense of discomfort and figure out what’s really going on.

2. Accept others for who they are, not who we want them to be. We’re all beautiful, flawed humans sharing this planet together. We often fall in love with the idea of someone, never truly seeing who they are in reality. Or, conversely, we expect perfection and move on when we don’t find it (because we never will).

3. Our emotions are valid. Once we accept that whatever we’re feeling is okay, we can allow ourselves to feel them and then let them go. Denying our hurt or anger will not make those feelings disappear. When we accept that we’re going to have uncomfortable feelings, we’ll be better equipped to deal with them as they arise.

4. Take deep breaths. While this is a concept touted from rooftops, it’s still a valuable way to calm ourselves. In times of stress, we can forget to really breathe in. Additionally, in times of anger it’s helpful to take those breaths before we speak, waiting until we’re calm to express the emotions we’re experiencing.

5. Be aware of our bodies. We need to take the time to listen to the messages our bodies are sending us. This is often an early warning sign that we must heed to avoid the sickness or pain that could come as a result of not taking care of ourselves.

6. Meditate. We can meditate in a form of a quiet moment, a prayer, a long walk or any other way that allows us to be mindful of the moment we’re in.

7. Exercise. Our bodies often crave physical exertion when our emotions are in turmoil. I have found that running has been a wonderful way for me to work out my thoughts. Regardless of the exercise that you choose, exerting oneself can be a valuable tool for coping with life’s challenges.

8. Utilize the healing power of music. Put on a playlist that allows you to deal with the situation at hand. I have many friends who utilize a hard rock playlist to deal with anger and hurt. Music can be a powerful motivator, and sometimes that’s the exact motivation we need to keep going.

9. Talk it out. While we may have a tendency to isolate ourselves when stressed, our support systems are important. Send a text or an email, shoot a Facebook message, or call someone. Go see a friend. Make a connection. We need to be reaching out to those around us in times of stress.

10. Get creative. Draw, paint, or even grab a coloring book to pass the time. Did you know there are adult coloring books available? We can color nature scenes or mandalas or any number of inspirational pictures. There are also curse word coloring books available if you need a laugh while you’re working. There’s nothing quite like coloring the word “Asshole” to really brighten the day.

11. Laugh! As a certified laughter yoga instructor, I can tell you that laughter is healing. When we’re stressed or angry, it can be difficult to find reasons to laugh. In order to bring this coping skill into action, we may need help—from a comic strip (I prefer Pearls Before Swine), a comedy club, a humorous show, or whatever tickles our funny bone.

12. Be grateful. Taking the time to be grateful for the blessings in our lives is a powerful way to recover from anger, fear, hurt, loneliness, and all the other emotions that come our way. There is always something to be grateful for if we’re paying attention. This also takes the focus off the negative for a while.

13. Never give up. Whatever we’re going through is just part of the journey. It’s not the whole story. We have to remind ourselves of our strength and keep moving.

A friend once told me that it’s important to have many coping skills in our lives so that we’re able to cope with any given situation in a variety of ways. If our main coping skill is going for a bike ride and it’s storming outside, it’s great to have another option available.

I’m still learning to deal with the discomfort of these inconvenient emotions. I’m still learning to sit with them and to face the underlying causes. I still struggle with telling myself the true story rather than the one I want to hear at times because it is so hard to face another disappointment. While it’s a struggle, I keep reminding myself why it’s so important, and every day I get back up and keep going.

Life will surely knock us down from time to time. Hopefully, with the support of our friends and family and with the regular practice of a few coping strategies, we can pull ourselves up by the bootstraps and meet the next challenge head-on!


Author: Crystal Jackson

Editor: Katarina Tavčar

Photo: Andre Hunter/Unsplash

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