When times are particularly challenging, it’s tempting to think we can just imagine our stresses away. It’s much easier to drift into fantasy and imagine that we don’t need to talk to our boss about that raise or with the challenging customer about the project they need done by yesterday than it is to take the practical steps to deal with the situation.
Aside from the practical implications of trying to wish away your problems, a new study suggests that doing so may also have implications for our how we feel the following day. It reveals that attempting to day dream our problems away will probably make you feel worse rather than better.
"What you do on Monday really makes a difference for how you feel on Tuesday," the authors reveal.
Participants in the study were asked to complete a daily diary over a nine day period. In the diary they were asked to share things such as their mood, their physical health, any stressful events they had to deal with (or will have to deal with) and how they planned to deal with those stressful events.
For instance, each participant was asked what the probability was that they would have an argument with someone in the next 24 hours. After this they were asked to rate the most likely coping strategy they would use to deal with that particular situation.
How to Cope with Stress
The coping strategies offered up to the participants were broken down into four core categories:
- analyse the problem, i.e., think why that problem has happened
- rehearse your plan, i.e., think about what needs to happen to solve it
- stagnant deliberation, i.e., dwell on the problem without making any progress with it
- outcome fantasy, i.e., day dreaming that things will magically resolve themselves
The results revealed that the coping strategy deployed by people tended to change depending on the context of the particular stress they were tackling. For instance, work based stress required a different strategy to home based stress.
"The findings tell us that one person may use multiple coping mechanisms over time — something that’s pretty exciting, since we didn’t know this before," the researchers say.
It should perhaps be no surprise to anyone that the participants who tended to deploy the latter two strategies (deliberation and fantasy) seldom tended to resolve their problems. But what is really interesting is that those folks also reported being in both a worse mood the next day and also in worse physical health. The people who had utilised the two other strategies however reported the opposite to be true, with better mood and health the general result.
"The more we understand what’s really going on, the better we’ll be able to help people deal effectively with the stressors that come up in their lives," the authors conclude.
Now, suffice to say, this is only a pilot study and we should be careful about reading too much into things. However, the results do appear to show that the only way to really tackle problems, be they at home or at work, is to be proactive and not try and wish them away.
What coping mechanisms do you use to deal with stress at work? Do you find them effective? Your thoughts and comments below please...