We’ve looked at common signs of stress, like changes in appetite or forgetfulness. Today, we’ll look at coping patterns — the things we do to feel better when we’re overwhelmed by stress.

What are Coping Patterns?

After a tough day at work facing big boss’s “black face” and answering complaints, we may comfort ourselves by polishing off a large bag of sour cream and onion potato chips when we get home.

We feel better for a while, but soon after that, the sodium and fat content kicks in and we feel tired and lethargic.

On the other hand, we might choose to go for a jog to clear our heads and get a dose of the happy hormone, endorphin. After our workout, we feel happier and more energetic — the “bad day” wasn’t so bad after all.

That’s right, coping patterns can be healthy or not-so-healthy. Not-so-healthy coping patterns make us feel worse in the long-run.

For example, we might feel lethargic after eating a whole bag of chips, or feel alone after we shun social outings.

We want to do more of the productive things, and avoid the unproductive ones. Let’s start by being more aware of some common coping patterns.

Stress Eating isn’t Stress Beating

When stressed, do you eat more than usual or have strong cravings for high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt food? Do you turn to food — and mainly food — for comfort when you feel down?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, you could be a stress eater: you use food to deal with stress and difficult emotions like sadness or anger.

Awareness might help you break out of stress-eating mode: the next time you crave sugary, fatty food or can’t stop eating, ask yourself if you’re physically hungry, and if not, why you’re eating.

Isolation or Consolation

You might cope with stress by withdrawing and isolating yourself. For example, you turn down friends when they ask you out, or shut out your loved ones when they talk to you.

Alternatively, you might cope by seeking support from friends and family: calling them to chit-chat, meeting them for kopi, or simply exchanging inside jokes on your group chat.

That’s good! Reaching out to your loved ones can help you de-stress, so do more of that.

Move Over, Stress!

When we’re stressed, exercise might be the first to go — we are just too tired to move.

That’s a pity, because regular physical activity can reduce stress and help us feel better. Those of us who choose exercise to deal with stress are on the right track!

The next time you feel anxious and stressed out, take a walk in the park or jog around the HDB estate to clear your head.

Lighting Up doesn’t Lighten the Load

Another coping pattern could be “drowning your sorrows” in drink or smoke — this is, again, unhelpful.

We might feel better or forget our stress for a short while, but smoking or binge-drinking will not help in the long run: they’re not the solution to our problems.

What else can we do to cope with stress? Next week, we’ll look at some good stress-busters to turn to when we’re feeling too kan cheong and worried to function.