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Coping Mechanisms

By Cherie Binns

We all have coping mechanisms to help us manage times of stress or overload. I think it is safe to say the pandemic we are living through qualifies as one of those times. As this is being written, I am in a self-imposed break from something I find I have become increasingly more immersed in, almost to the exclusion of some of the necessary things in day to day living. I am making high quality contoured masks (everybody needs them now right?) and I can’t wait to finish one fabric for the next. 

This is not as a revenue stream to replace my regular work. It is a hobby. Some days, lately, I am at the sewing machine for hours and the housework waits for another day. What started out as a simple, brief escape has begun to get out of hand. At the start of this pandemic, I did the same thing with computer games. I would rationalize that I was keeping my brain sharp. The immersion was deep enough that some days I didn’t get dressed until a couple of hours after breakfast.

Why the confession of overuse of a coping mechanism? I think all of us do this from time to time. My husband will spend hours some days in his workshop in the garage now that the work climate is different. He loses himself in the task of sorting tools or screws and nails. He discovers materials long-buried and puts them to use. My mother-in-law would knit for hours during times of stress. My mother would play solitaire by the hour and totally lose track of time until dad came in and asked why supper wasn’t ready. It is when we stop tending to the details, the routines that are part of what is necessary to keeping our home life or work life intact and working well, that these coping mechanisms may need to themselves be “coped with.” Too much of anything can be harmful. 

Too much food makes us gain unwanted weight. Too much exercise can mess with our hormones and cause mood changes. Too much sleep can make us even more fatigued. Too much-repeated movement can cause pain (as I am aware of the blister on my right thumb from cutting out 137 masks two days ago). Too much immersion into the screen leaves one living often outside of reality. You get the picture, I think. 

We all do this from time to time and it is okay when that coping mechanism, that diversion, gives us a break from the stress of what is happening around us. However, if we allow it to become the focus of our daily activity, it can derail a level of productivity and responsibility that keeps things around us functioning well.

Why not take a few moments to take stock of what’s going on in your own life at the moment? Do you feel stressed? Is your life careening away from you out of control? Here is a check list you might use to get back into a routine that allows you to get done what needs to and still leaves room for you to indulge in your favorite coping mechanisms and diversions.

1. Did I make the bed today?
2. Are there dirty dishes in the sink or counters not clean?
3. When did I last water the plants?
4. Is the laundry piling up?
5. When did I last run the vacuum (or sweep)?
6. Does the bathroom need to be cleaned?
7. Is there unopened mail (bills) on the desk that need tending?
8. Have I put off appointments that need to be scheduled (doctor, dentist, mechanic, haircut)?

Use this list to jumpstart your own personalized list of things that may have slipped lower on your list of priorities and take stock of where things might need to be shifted in your own life and routines to get back on track to greater efficiency and routine so as to give you the freedom to let down and let go with your own favorite coping mechanisms.