Capacity for Coping

Last week I took my laptop in for a small upgrade and tune-up. I had one of those hunches you get when your computer is about 3 years old:  it’s running a bit slow, it traveled a lot last year, etc. I gave myself a little pat on the back for being somewhat proactive.

My wonderful tech guy estimated an hour or so to pick it up. The first call came at about 45 minutes – the upgrade hadn’t gone as planned. The next call, another 30 minutes – the patient was having trouble breathing. An emergency intervention to save my laptop ensued for the next several hours. 

Are you at risk for a meltdown?

You’ve probably lived this kind of looming crisis yourself … especially in a year like 2020. My laptop was mirroring a psychological and emotional condition I’ve been noticing in myself and others. I call it Capacity for Coping.

This year, we’ve all been called on to manage an astounding disruption to “normal” life. As a coach, I get to help people to stay as elevated and resourceful as possible in this “interesting” time. Nobody is exempt from this strain on coping skills.  Even the people who are generally strong and positive are being impacted with the variety of challenges, and the length of time that we’re dealing with these disruptions. In a year of pandemic, fires, hurricanes, bitter political divisions, protests, tornadoes and murder hornets, not a single one of us has a playbook or experience to lean on to get us through this time. It’s a lot for anyone to deal with! As a friend put it, “it feels like a very bad version of groundhog day.”

How do you know?

As our capacity for coping gets tapped out, what tends to happen? Here are a few of the behaviors I see:

  • Persistent low-level anxiety and/or fatigue, even if there isn’t a specific problem in the moment. That leads to many of the other behaviors below.
  • Misuse of food, alcohol, drugs, or other behaviors as an attempt to feel better, but it only makes us feel worse.
  • Isolation, inability to have a productive conversation with others about what you’re going through. 
  • Distractions such as binge-watching and the new “doomscrolling,” especially when this makes you feel more disconnected, more hopeless, etc.
  • Emotional swings unlike you, because of the build-up of anxiety and the lack of a compelling goal or future.
  • Feeling stuck or hopeless, because, as above, you feel like you don’t have a compelling future.

If you’re noticing any of these, or your own variation of this inability to cope, it’s important to recognize that you’re not alone! This isolation, or not wanting to “bother” others with our challenges is hard on everyone! That’s why it’s so important to take even some small actions to shift that sense of feeling out of control or stuck.  

How can you restore your capacity for coping?

  • When I was in the tech field, we used the term “garbage in, garbage out” to mean that no system can run effectively if the data received is “garbage.” In today’s world, “garbage in” is exposing yourself to social media, news, or people that bring you down, rather than lift you up. If you’re focusing on the worst news or the worst of society, how can you expect to feel and act your best. One of my favorite sayings is, “you can’t get what you want by focusing on what you don’t want.” So be ruthless in choosing ONLY the input that truly serves you to be YOUR best.
  • Similarly, take small, consistent actions to take care of yourself with practices like walking outdoors, meditating, getting enough sleep, and all the other good advice you hear about, but may not be taking to heart. Think about a bucket you’re wanting to fill up. You can’t keep the bucket full if there are holes in the bottom, allowing all the water to drain out. Now, think about your physical, mental, and emotional energy as a bucket. Removing the negative influences above, is like plugging the holes at the bottom. And the practices described here are like adding water to the top of the bucket. It requires consistent and persistent vigilance to keep your bucket full at times like this.
  • Find ways to connect in positive relationships. Whether that connection is virtual or in person, we all need relationships. I love as a starting point to find groups of people with similar interests to your own.  If you have the time, find ways to volunteer, such as food banks or senior support groups.
  • Keep being curious and learning. “If you’re not growing, you’re dying,” is one of Tony Robbins’ favorite sayings. The internet and public library systems make the world’s wisdom available at our finger tips. Learn a language, learn to play an instrument, read the literary classics, explore countries you may want to visit when travel resumes, improve your cooking skills. If you want something more functional, my favorite is Many of their classes are free if you don’t want a certificate of completion.
  • Focus on your strengths. Times like this make us feel weak and out of control. When you’re tapped into your strengths, you feel more empowered and positive. My favorite strengths assessment, currently available for free, is StandOut at
  • Manage the meanings that you give to things and events in your life. The challenges of 2020, as much as they feel like they’re going on forever, will end someday. I looked for my first job in the recession of 1975 (yes, I’m THAT old!). I showed up to apply for a waitstaff position at a burger restaurant, to find that 300 people applied for 2 positions. I remember feeling that I would NEVER find a job. And through the 80’s, the economy was booming again. We humans are smart and resilient, and we will find our way through this. There WILL be better times ahead.

As I finish this post, my laptop’s “restore” is 91% complete. The message says: “Getting files back.”

It’s so important that each one of us makes sure to get ourselves back – back to operating from a strong, resilient, resourceful place. There’s no one who can do it for us. We each have to take charge of our physical, mental, and emotional health. If you need it, please get help! Don’t let pride or resource limitations stop you. For our nation to rebound from 2020, we need all of us as healthy and energetic as possible.

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