The path to your best mental health life starts with Conscious Coping

When was the last time you asked yourself how am I coping? Coping, in this case, refers to how we manage, care for, and deal with our mental health and everything connected to it. Coping is not a small thing, yet it is something that we don't often pay meaningful attention to. A small thing that seems inconsequential, but the impacts of which ripple beyond ourselves and our relationships, but to our greater community as well. Coping is essential; it is key to taking care of our mental health.

I used to think of coping as if I were on a tightrope. You are either on or off. But coping is not so binary. Coping is active. Coping is more like a seesaw. It takes energy to balance actively. Coping is about the act of balancing, not absolute balance. It is about constant adaptability, and most importantly, it's about your confidence in your ability to do so. Coping is a constant; life continually gives us challenges, and we must constantly cope with them. We cope with so many things in life; when we do not manage our coping proactively, we can set ourselves up for a long and painful process. The goal is to untie the knot as soon as we notice it is tightened, not to wait until one knot transforms into a mega knot with no clear start or end.

That's where effective coping comes in. We can either cope in ways that are more healthy and helpful to our mental health or in ways that are, in the long-term, unhealthy or unhelpful to us. For example, when you are angry, you can take a walk to cope, care for your body, recharge your energy, and release your anger. Or you can punch the wall and break your hand, resulting in a trip to the hospital, medical bills, rehab, and more challenges to your mental health. Which path do you think was more effective? Which one do you think your brain would be more apt to choose if you were triggered and angry?

Many of us disregard our coping because we don't know how to cope effectively. Or we are overwhelmed by the potential of having to learn new ways to cope with all the varied challenges our mental health and life present. The reality is that effective coping is profoundly personal and dynamic; it is a skill that requires your ongoing attention, insight, and effort to develop. Most importantly, it is a skill that you can learn. Indeed, it is an abstract process to learn about yourself in this way, so many of us just seek to avoid it. Or we erroneously look for the "quick-fix" and "one size fits all" options, or even more problematic, the "perfect" solution. All these things do is keep us from seeing the individualized reality of effective coping. Since many of us miss out on the journey of learning to cope effectively, our best mental health life remains elusive. Still, it is possible and realistic to achieve if you pay attention to how you are coping.

Your best mental health life isn't emblematic of the glossy image you portray on social media or that cheesy "good vibes only" sign you picked up from TJMaxx. Why? Because your best mental health life isn't perfect, and it isn't static. It is as messy, chaotic, and uncertain as your worst mental health life; the difference is that in your best life, you take action to learn more compelling ways to cope with these all things. It's a dynamic mix of challenges and opportunities, made fluid by your ability to effectively manage the highs and the lows and all the transitions between them.

Your best mental health life is about taking what you have and using the alchemy of your unique brand of effective coping to transform it into that which propels your life forward. The first step towards engaging the effective coping is to ask yourself how are you coping? And then, here is the magic, listen to yourself for the answer. You are the only one who can answer that question fully. Each answer is an opportunity to learn more about yourself, your mental health, and how you cope with it. And all of these opportunities put together add up to the path to your best mental health life. So next time you face a challenging situation before you cope automatically, without paying attention, take a moment to think about how you can cope most effectively.

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