Do you find yourself constantly worrying about every possible scenario that could go wrong? You’re not alone. Constant worrying, overthinking, and feeling out of control can take a big toll on your mental health and well-being. This makes it incredibly difficult to focus on daily tasks or enjoy life to its fullest. But there is a solution: Coping Ahead is an effective technique from Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) that helps you prepare for stress and manage emotions ahead of time.
When I was 19 years old I learned to pilot gliders (airplanes without engines, also called sailplanes). Before each flight, we would always go through our pre-flight checks, even if the aircraft had just landed from a previous flight. We would make sure all of the controls worked as expected, the instruments were reading correctly, and of other important things worth double-checking when you’re propelling yourself two thousand feet into the sky!
The very last step of every pre-flight check was to review “eventualities.”
Though it’s been many years now since I last flew, I still remember vividly what I would say out loud to myself at this step, time and time again:
“If a wing drops on the launch and I cannot recover, I will release the launch cable and land ahead. At a safe height and speed I will start to climb. In the event of a launch failure, I will release the cable and lower the nose to a recovery attitude, and gain sufficient speed before maneuvering. I will land ahead if possible. Otherwise, I will turn downwind, which today is [left or right] and complete an abbreviated circuit or find a safe landing solution. The wind today is ___ knots which means my minimum approach speed is ___ knots.”
Coping Ahead saves time and effort.
The reason for talking through these eventualities in so much detail on the ground is that you’ve already made all of your decisions in the event of an emergency. In an unlikely situation where the pressure is on and seconds count, you don’t need to waste precious time or mental effort deciding what to do. You’ve already thought it through, and simply must follow your plan.
And this skill isn’t just for pilots! In DBT, coping ahead is an emotion regulation skill that can help you rehearse strategies ahead of time to better handle stressful situations or uncomfortable emotions. By visualizing and planning out how you will cope with challenging situations in advance, you start to feel more confident in your ability to face them, boosting your self-esteem and reducing stress.
What’s the difference between Coping Ahead and overthinking?
Overthinking is a common response to stress that can be counterproductive. It is also a common feature of anxiety that involves dwelling on worst-case scenarios, often leading to a cycle of negative thoughts and emotions. It can be triggered by a wide range of every-day stressors or perceived threats.
On the other hand, rather than going in circles about problems, Coping Ahead involves thinking about solutions. It is a deliberate and proactive skill, rather than a reactive response that actually impairs your problem-solving abilities.
How do I learn to Cope Ahead?
If you want to learn how to Cope Ahead, there are some practical tips you can try.
- Identify potential stressors in your life, such as upcoming deadlines or social events.
- Plan coping strategies that work for you, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or seeking support from friends.
- Rehearse your coping strategies in your mind, visualizing yourself using them and picturing how they will help.
- Lastly, remember to take some time to relax and ground yourself. Well done!
If you are struggling with…
- Low self-confidence
- A sense of low control in your life
- Borderline personality disorder (BPD)
- Other conditions that cause intense emotional reactions to common life stressors
…then consider seeking support from a mental health professional. Coping Ahead is a skill that can be learned and practiced, and therapy can provide a safe and supportive environment for developing this skill. Contact our clinic to learn more about how we can help.
My family and I have been watching the reincarnation of American Idol recently, and the finale was this week. Much to Meg’s great pleasure, Maddie Poppe won. As usual, the show was full of twists and turns, silliness, and some incredible musicianship. I’ve enjoyed the fact that they’re allowing contestants to use musical instruments in this go ‘round – and I personally loved the resurgence of classic rock through the contestant, Cade Foehner. As I sat there watching the finale last night I reflected on the season and something struck me, and it was rather surprising.
See, the title of this blog isn’t just clickbait. The three judges this year on American Idol were Lionel Ritchie, Katy Perry, and Luke Bryan. While each of these musicians and artists are icons in their own right, particularly Lionel, I noticed something that made me pause. I’d previously grown tired of American Idol because it was overly negative, Simon Cowell was rather irritating to me, and I didn’t like the absence of instruments. This season, the judges were very positive, the personalities of the judges clicked well, and there were musical instruments involved. What I noticed, however, is that it was overly positive. Granted, each of the final 24 contestants was very talented, there weren’t an abundance of critiques.
My belief is the constructive criticism is crucial to personal and professional growth. These contestants are on the show because they’ve “made it,” and know it all; they’re there to learn and, hopefully, make it as a professional musician and artist. Much to my surprise, I found Katy Perry to be the most helpful judge and the one who offered the most useful feedback to the contestants. I’ll admit, this took me by surprise – before this when I thought of Katy Perry I thought of teen pop anthems, and some weird looking sharks roaming the stage. So as the season finished last night, my thoughts went to wondering, “what can we learn about life from Katy Perry?”
I’ve picked three things that stood out to me that we can learn from the quirky being that is Katy Perry.
One thing that we learn pretty quickly in watching Katy Perry in her live shows, or on American Idol, is that she is an odd duck. She’s quirky, she marches to the beat of a different drum, and let’s face it, she’s downright odd sometimes. But, she’s unique and there’s nobody else like her. She knows who she is at the moment, and she embodies that with all that she has.
Our wellbeing depends on our acceptance of self. Now, I have no idea how accepting of herself Katy Perry actually is because I’ve never even had a conversation with her. From outward appearance, however, she seems to own her own quirkiness and oddities and has a clear idea of who she is at the moment. If we can do just this – accept ourselves and own who we are at the moment, it will have a positive effect on our wellbeing.
Tell the truth
Contrary to some of the other judges, I found that Katy was pretty up-front in her truth-telling with contestants. If they nailed the performance, she told them; if the performance stunk, she wasn’t afraid to speak the truth. Knowing where we stand in relationships, in our work environments, and in our pursuit of dreams requires honest, open feedback from those around us. In return, those around us depend on the same.
If we can surround ourselves with people who we can speak truth to, and who will do the same for us in return, we can grow and move forward in life and have confidence in where we stand in our progression. How do we do speak the truth when it’s difficult though?
Encourage others as a matter of practice
As constructive and critical as Katy Perry was this season, she has coupled the criticism with encouragement. It was clear in her feedback that she was giving it so that the contestant could grow and get better at their craft. If we can provide constructive criticism along with encouragement, we will encourage growth in others. If we surround ourselves with those that can do this for us, we’ll get the same in return.
Sometimes it’s hard to learn who we are and accept ourselves; sometimes we aren’t sure how, to tell the truth to others or to ourselves; sometimes we have a hard time being encouraging because we’re stressed out; sometimes we don’t have a community around us that encourages us. This is where a registered clinical counsellor can be helpful sometimes. Sometimes we need that outside perspective on some of these issues or some guidance and encouragement on how to organize our lives so we have what we need to grow. If this is you, we’d love to help. Feel free to contact us.