Strategies For Coping With Stress

Continuing with our lecture on Stress, here are two broad strategies to cope with stress:

download (12)

  • Changing the situation:

This is a task-oriented strategy, involving direct action to change the situation. This in itself includes 3 separate responses, each affecting the relationship between the person and the stressor which can be understood as the challenging situation.

Attack – confront the stressor, solve the “problem” by developing new resources, maintaining flexibility and sometimes seeking external support.

Withdrawal – when attack is not possible or feasible, exit the challenging situation and look for new opportunities.

Compromise – rather than attack or withdraw completely, replace the difficult goal with an easier, or more realistic objective or decide to fulfill part of the original difficult goal. The former is called substitution and the latter is called accommodation.


  • Changing the personal response

This covers all those strategies which you can use to change the way you personally react to a stressor. Muscle relaxation techniques, regular exercise, positive approach, enjoyable hobby, motivation, nurturing supportive relationships etc all fall in this category. Though these don’t diminish the stressor, they build your ability to cope.

According to some expert this approach also  includes certain Freudian psychological defence mechanisms like denial, reaction formation, displacement, projection, repression, regression and sublimation. These of course have their own problems when taken recourse to, too frequently. So it is better to cultivate positive, conscious practices of changing personal response to stressful situations.


Achievement and Success

The other day I attended part of a very interesting workshop on Personal Happiness. And one of the warm-up activities had the question: if you had to choose between happiness and success, which would you choose and why?


This question got me thinking on what is happiness for me and what is success? And I realized that for me, both were inextricably tied at a core level. I shared my confusion with the expert and she elaborated that success would mean achievement with a degree of recognition from others.

This has in fact set me thinking on another line – why is achievement so important to some people. They have a name, actually – achievement driven personality, characterised by innate sense of their abilities, self-driven, goal-oriented, intensely focused on succeeding and ambitious.


There is another side however to the achievement-driven personality – anxiety, need to prove self-worth and if not given enough opportunities, a dangerous slide of self-confidence.

Such people are known to be driven by achievement motivation –a powerful desire to do something important which would result to a feeling of personal accomplishment. And the bigger the task, the better. You may have noticed something interesting – money, material benefits or even mere power over others does not drive this personality – he or she is driven to do something difficult and only that gives a sense of true accomplishment.

Restlessness and insecurity might be the nails of the cross that these people bear but then again they are likelier to be the visionaries and game-changers of our society.


Passing By…

“Leaving already?”

I asked, almost knocking over my glass of wine. Here we were – just getting to know each other, learning to anticipate those myriad moods and emotions that determine the texture of a relationship.


“Yes, it’s time, I think”, came the reply. I was not a little annoyed. Was that all my visitor had to give me? No more? What about the many plans and promises we had made at the beginning of our association? After all, it was only natural to have some expectations.

“How is that mental balance sheet coming along?”

The question jolted me back to the present. Yes, it was true – I was indeed doing a rough totalling of all that I had got and given – hoping to God that my Credit column was longer than my Debit.

Those steady eyes waited patiently for my answer. I began feeling a little hot and bothered – after all why should I be embarrassed – isn’t this what everybody is doing right now?

I half expected some tired old cliche about remembering to count my blessings, carelessly dropped my way in parting. But then the door opened and I rushed to get up. The voice though was serene, “Look at that sky – glistening like a velvet carpet in midnight blue…don’t forget to include this moment in your credits!”

“So…is that it?” I willed my plaintive voice to stretch that moment a little longer, “After all that we went through together, shared with each other? Were…were you just passing by?”

“So are you,” whispered the Year through the chilly breeze, “My dear, So are you!”


3 Lessons Tiffany Taught Me…

“They also serve, who only stand and wait”

Wrote famous Reformation poet John Milton after he became blind at the prime of his life and even before he had written the epic poem Paradise Lost for which he is largely known now.

Stand and wait? No, not Tiffany.
image courtesy:

Tiffany Brar is a disability rights activist, motivational speaker, trainer AND the architect of an NGO named, Jyothirgamaya Foundation whose mission is to empower visually challenged people to live with dignity and be part of the mainstream. She also conducts sensitization programmes so that society, its institutions and people realize the need to be more inclusive. She has been awarded the National Award for the Best Role Model by President of India. And oh, did I forget to mention she is just 30?!

Last week, Tiffany was at the Defence Services Staff College, Wellington, Tamil Nadu to speak about her journey thus far – and here were my 3 takeaways:

# 1. You can help in more ways than one – Financial help is always welcome when through the bog of apathy, one has to drive an a NGO forward to help people with special abilities. But if you are reading this and are telling yourself, I cannot afford to give donations right now, bear in mind that you help in other ways – donate supplies, your time, your skill at Jyothirgamaya. And she adds, why just here, when you see people less advantaged or privileged around you, ask yourself what you can do. May be you can help a teenager who cannot afford tuition with Maths lessons. Or invite your domestic help to share your meals when you know she needs money for other things.

tiffany brar.jpg
Tiffany getting the National Award for Best Role Model from President of India

#2. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude – despite all the wrongs done to you, the setbacks that have happened to you, be thankful. Of what you still have – maybe family, a sustenance, your health or just the fact that you wake up each day, alive.

#3. Realize your own dreams – After I told her I was a writer, she asked what books had I written. I replied, mainly biographies for young adults. She asked mischievously, “what about love, romance, your own life?” I tried to hold back the bitterness in my half-laugh, “But who will read that, publish it?” She didn’t answer directly, instead she shared, “I am writing an autobiography now, do you know?  I don’t know when I can get it published, but I feel this need to write my own story – so I do”.

Thanks Tiffany for teaching me not to keep putting off my dreams; if something is important to give meaning to your life, get on with it!

Attitude – Explicit vs. Implicit

I was rather unhappy with the way we had to rush through our discussions on Explicit vs. Implicit Attitude. Let us revise:

Attitude in psychology refers to a set of emotions, beliefs and behaviours toward a particular object, person, thing, or event.

Attitude can be explicit or implicit. Explicit attitudes are those that we are consciously aware of and that clearly influence our behaviours and beliefs. Implicit attitudes are unconscious but still have an effect on our beliefs and behaviours


Now let us understand the differences better:

Remember, we had taken the attitude towards a contentious subject as death penalty. Based on “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” principle, I probably hold the attitude of support for death penalty – believing that the most heinous crimes deserve death for the perpetrator. It is also likely some implicit attitudes are charging my emotional attitude subconsciously. So if most perpetrators seem to belong to a caste, religion or community that I dislike, such implicit attitudes strengthen my explicit attitude.

Implicit and explicit attitude can also come into conflict.

When despite our progressive outlook, we are placed in a situation of sharing table or sofa with a maid or domestic help – resulting in discomfort. Here explicit attitudes of equality are in conflict with implicit class-discriminatory attitude.

One of the most common contexts for the playing out of implicit attitude is a party or a social gathering where most guests are strangers to begin with. Who gets talking to whom, what draws certain people close, leads to exchange of phone numbers and seeking out company even days after the party will have a lot to do with implicit attitudes. Consciously we may interact better with those who share our own opinions, background, social mores ( explicit attitude) but sometimes subconsciously we tend to gravitate to people who mirror certain positive or nurturing models from our past or feel repulsed by those mirroring negative characters from our past. That’s implicit attitude at work.

Hope this helped 🙂

Thoughts on turning 42…

Woman at Writing Desk, 1898, Lesser Ury

More grey in your hair,

the lines on your skin

slight thickening of waist

this nagging within.

Do you have a penny to your name?

Four walls to hide your shame

A beating heart to call your own

Or do you exist unloved, unknown?

Now that I really think, perhaps not

since I have scratched and fought

with Life to let me hold on –

to let me taste its blood.

Perhaps I am but a shadow

whose grasp is half light, half air

but there is something more, I know

each breath, every pulse is rare.



My Worst Team Experience – and what it taught me

My most difficult experience as part of a team goes back to the time I was the senior English faculty in a school. Within six months of my joining, I was tasked by the Principal to bring out the school magazine in two months. The editorial team was made up of language teachers, art teachers and students from different classes. However because of lack of commitment from some faculty members, article submissions could not meet their deadline while the Principal’s insistence on a highly unprofessional publisher resulted in a final copy full of errors. The experience taught me some tough lessons:

download (15)

#1 Trust actions, not words

#2 Be polite, but firm

#3 As the team leader, get the job done – identify hurdles, present and prospective. And then see how they can overcome. But also learn to let go of the things not within your control.