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.