Why Learning How to Cope with Stress is Confusing
Learning how to cope with stress can be very confusing, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s confusing primarily because we don’t become interested in learning until we are in the middle of stressful situations. Who wants to learn about how to cope with stress if stress is not a problem?
So it goes. We humans only want to learn how to cope with stress when we
- Become overwhelmed with stress
- We don’t have time to learn something new
- When the stress makes it difficult to concentrate
Do you see a problem here? The lesson here is to take some time when you are not in crisis to learn a few things about how to cope with stress effectively.
How to Cope with Stress: The Two Layer Framework
But here you are reading this article. So I assume you would like to learn how to cope with stress or at least pick up a few tips on how to manage stress more effectively.
One of the problems with stress tips is they are often presented without any unifying perspective or framework. This omission makes many tips for reducing stress less practical.
Here is where the Two Layer Approach comes in.
What is Layer 1 Stress?
Layer 1 stress involves challenges, problems, conficts, people, and annoyances that you have no power to change. If your boss is a jerk you can’t fire him. That’s Layer 1 stress. Everyone has Layer 1 stress. Life is messy and we all have stress and pressures that we cannot avoid.
What is Layer 2 Stress?
Layer 2 stress is the real pressure and strain that comes from how you are dealing with Layer 1 and how you are interpreting it’s meaning inside your head.
Your coffee spills all over your car on the way to work. That’s a little example of Layer 1 stress. A larger example of Layer 1 stress would be an earthquake or the electricity going out in your house.
Now Layer 2 stress is how you interpret the event. When your coffee spills do you think, “Figures. This day already sucks!” That thought in your head is Layer 2 stress: it doesn’t have to be there. You are inflicting it on yourself. It’s a dysfunctional reaction that makes you suffer (and anyone else who is riding in the car with you!).
Layer 1 stress is what an event or circumstance or person does to you. Layer 2 stress is what you do to the situation to make it worse. The kicker here is that we often go through stressful situations completely clueless about how we ourselves are feeding the monster. In fact, many of the the problems we face in our personal lives are primarily Layer 2 stress!
So the very first tip for how to cope with stress is to take some time to learn when you can actually concentrate and have time to think about it. The second tip for how to cope with stress is to learn to distinguish between the layers stress in your life. At first, it seems impossible. Layer 1 and 2 seem completely mixed up together. They are. But if you keep at it, you can start to see where Layer 1 stress leaves off (“the coffee has spilled”) and Layer 2 begins (“This is another example of how screwed up my life is right now!”).
This layered framework for how to cope with stress can help you see the big picture of stress management and not beome bogged down in 100’s of tips for how to manage stress.
How to Cope with Stress: Two Steps for Getting Started
Step 1: Ask Yourself Questions about the Layers of Each Stressful Situation
One way to get started learning how to cope with stress and using this framework is to begin asking yourself a few question each time you feel stressed. Here are some examples:
- Which parts of this situation are under my control and which ones do I just need to accept?
- How much of my negative emotion is due to how I am spinning this event in my head?
- What are observable facts of the situation that anyone watching would agree to?
- What interpretations of the facts am I injecting into the situation because I feel angry, tired, confused, or wronged?
Step 2: Learn to Laugh at Yourself
Finally, it’s also good to to start learning how to laugh at your own bogus interpretations of what just happened: “Yes, the entire universe has conspired to make my coffee spill all over my car!”
Once you see the two layers of a challenge you can start conserving your energy. Instead of needlessly straining to roll a gigantic boulder up a steep hill, you are free to focus on getting help, tools, and applying your efforts on things that are changeable.