Dealing with difficult situations

Social Living
Key Points

  • Certain situations can be emotionally challenging.
  • A strategy of gradual exposure can help you build confidence in your ability to cope with those situations.
When trying to conceive, it can be emotionally challenging to deal with certain trigger situations, like pregnancy announcements, baby showers or seeing other women pregnant. Certain questions, like ‘do you have children?’ or certain times of the year (Christmas or family celebrations) can also be particularly stressful.
A common strategy to cope with difficult situations, tends to be avoidance. However, avoidance is a maladaptive coping mechanism. The more we try to avoid situations that might trigger distress, the more similar situations begin to trigger those feelings.

1) Recognize that avoidance doesn't work.
Avoidance behaviours may work short term, in situations that are predictable. However, there are several situations that are outside of our control, and we won’t be able to avoid them. In fact, we are more likely to face triggering situations that happen when we least expect, leading to anxiety and distress.

2) Recognize the costs of avoidance as a coping strategy.
Ask yourself, “What has avoidance coping cost me? How has it impacted my mental health? How has it affected my relationships?”. Do you feel stronger or more resilient as a result of avoiding challenging situations?

3) Learn to tolerate uncomfortable emotions.
To develop better coping strategies, you need to learn how to tolerate unpleasant emotions, that maybe you’d rather not experience. Know that these emotions are temporary, and they will pass. Being prepared to experience distress, will ultimately lead to less distress.

A strategy that can help you tolerate difficult situations is called gradual exposure. Start by identifying and writing down social situations that are challenging. Identify the level of emotional distress triggered by those situations: low, medium or high.

Create a table like the one below. How confident, from 0 to 10, are you in your ability to tolerate the emotional distress caused by each of the situations? With time, plan ahead and start gradually exposing yourself to situations that cause you a low level of distress. You may notice that you were able to cope with the situation and your level of distress was not as severe as expected. You may also notice that you feel more confident to face similar situations. As you build your confidence levels, you can gradually expose yourself to situations that are a bit more challenging.

Gradual Exposure Table
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