Tis the season for coping skills and affirmations! We have been discussing holiday boundaries, self-care, and coping with many of our clients lately. Making a "cope ahead" plan is one way to help you navigate experiences that many bring up uncomfortable emotions and stress.
COMPONENTS OF A COPE AHEAD PLAN
1. Describe the situation that is likely to prompt uncomfortable emotions. Be specific and factual in describing the situation. Name the emotions and actions likely to interfere with using your skills.
2. Decide what coping skills you want to use in the situation. Write out in specific detail how you will cope with the situation and with your emotions and action urges.
3. Imagine the situation in your mind as vividly as possible.
4. Rehearse in your mind coping effectively including your actions and any thoughts that may come up as well as words you may have prepared.
5. Practice relaxation after rehearsing by taking deep breaths, going for a walk, or engaging in another relaxing action.
COPE AHEAD EXAMPLE PLAN FOR HOLIDAY GRIEF
1. This is the first Christmas after losing my Grandmother and attending our holiday cookie baking night. This time of year we always gathered for cookie baking and some other family members and I will be carrying on this tradition next week. I give myself permission to feel... sadness, anger, overwhelm, and grief.
2. I desire to be as present in the night, make space for my feelings, and connect with my family members. I plan to go for a walk before the gathering to release some stress and move my body. I plan to take breaks throughout the night to go to the bathroom and splash cold water on my face and take deep breaths. I will drink tea instead of wine to support my emotional and physical health. I will talk with my family members ahead of time to let them know I will take breaks to deep breathe or cry if needed and how they can support me. I will repeat affirmations to myself as needed: "Grief is love" and "Taking breaks is honoring my grief."
COPE AHEAD EXAMPLE PLAN FOR INTERPERSONAL STRESS
1. I will be hosting a holiday gathering for extended family members and am concerned that some interpersonal conflict/stress will occur. I know my stress and anxiety will rise in anticipation of the gathering and while I prepare. I give myself permission to feel... anger, concern, sadness, frustration as it may come up and will work to protect my boundaries around self-care and what I can control. My aim is to avoid internalizing my stress in unhelpful ways that may lead me to shutting down or taking my stress/anger out on others. I have a love/hate relationship with these extended family gatherings and really want to support myself differently this year.
2. I will make a plan for preparing for the gathering and delegate some tasks ahead of time. I will tell my older kids (ages 9 and 12) and partner that I am trying to cope ahead this year and I will share with them my cope ahead ideas. I tell my immediate family that I'd like to have a 10 minute dance party before everyone shows up as a way to release some stress and laugh before the gathering begins. As a way of setting boundaries around conversations I will have games prepared to play as part of the gathering to limit the risk of unhelpful conversations occurring about topics that may lead to conflict. I will have a few of my favorite candles out as a way to remind myself to invite feelings of peace and take deep breaths. I will prepare my responses for certain possible topics and questions that come my way.
Take a moment to reflect on your upcoming holiday weeks. What moments/days/events may cause stress or emotional overwhelm? What are some ways you can support yourself differently this year? How do you want to experience your holidays and what would it be like to make more room for self-care, peace, and intentional coping skills? Our team is "coping ahead" in detail with many of our clients so they can go into their holidays feeing empowered and prepared to show up with the most presence during this season.
Blog post by Bridget Caragher, LCSW, CDWF.