Coping Mechanisms for Anticipated and Recurring Situations

Robert F. Mullen, PhD

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This is a draft of Chapter Twenty-One – “Coping Mechanisms for Anticipated and Recurring Situations” in ReChanneling’s upcoming book on moderating social anxiety disorder and its comorbidities. We present this as an opportunity for readers to share their ideas and constructive criticism – suggestions gratefully considered and evaluated as we work to ensure the most beneficial product to those with emotional malfunction (which is all of us to some degree). Please forward your comments in the form provided below.

Coping Mechanisms for Anticipated and Recurring Situations

“You were born to win, but to be a winner,
you must plan to win, prepare to win, and expect to win.”
―  Zig Ziglar

Chapter Nineteen presented coping mechanisms for unexpected situationsThis chapter focuses on those mechanisms that help us cope with anticipated and recurring ones. The distinction is clear. When we are thrust, without warning, into a feared situation, we do not have the wherewithal to create a focused strategy. That’s why we have our emergency preparedness kit. When dealing with a scheduled event or one that meets regularly, we have the opportunity to plan accordingly. We have a clear picture of the logistics or what Sun Tzu identifies as terrain and personal. We know when and where it takes place, the agenda, the genre of the audience – even the suggested attire. That provides opportunities for new coping mechanisms that we can use in conjunction with the ones we have already in our arsenal. 

The keystone of British military operations is clearly identifying the single, unambiguous aim or goal in combat. Why these continued combat analogies? To reinforce the fact that social anxiety disorder is a formidable adversary that cannot be taken lightly. It has relentlessly attacked our emotional well-being since adolescence. Recovery is not a sport or casual diversion, it is serious business. SAD is our enemy and treating it otherwise will not get the necessary results. 

Our strategy must be clear and concise because SAD is clever and manipulative. If we stray off course, SAD will sense the weakness in our flank and ambush us with mechanisms that will send us to the trenches. Our resolution must be firm and unwavering. Here is our predicament. Emotional malfunction adversely impacts our short-term memory and concentration, making it difficult to formulate a succinct and focused strategy. We are already worried about saying or doing something embarrassing that will lead to criticism and ridicule. Our fear and anxiety-provoking hormones rage throughout our nervous system, and we anticipate the worst possible situational outcome. Small wonder we have difficulty paying attention to anything. We must remain mindful of this single overarching goal of our recovery: the moderation of our fears and anxieties. By familiarizing ourselves with the coping strategies and mechanisms designed to make that happen, we weed out extraneous ambitions, allowing us to focus on the goal. The British call these mechanisms the Concentration of Force.

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We are now ready to create our battle blueprint using our Plan for Feared Situations, which is our template for moderating our anxiety and stress. The first six criteria are established for both unexpected and anticipated and recurring situations. To recap, we:

1. Identify Our Feared-Situation
2. Identify Our Associated Fears
3. Unmask Our Corresponding ANT(s)
4. Examine and Analyze Our Fears and Corresponding ANT(s)
5. Generate Rational Responses
6. Reconstruct our Thought Patterns
7. Devise a Structured Plan for Our Feared-Situation
8. Practice the Plan in Non-Threatening Simulated Situations
9. Expose Ourselves to the Feard-Situation

Line item #7 is where we outline our Concentration of Force. Earlier, we compared unexpected situations to guerilla warfare. We assembled an emergency preparedness kit to compensate for the circumstantial lack of Concentration of Force because we are dealing with surprise. Remember, in guerilla warfare, SAD resorts to devious, underhanded, and manipulative tactics to keep us in check including ambushes, sabotage, raids, petty warfare, and hit-and-run tactics. In Chapter Nineteen we presented the following coping mechanisms to respond to unexpected feared situations

  • Controlled Breathing
  • Distractions and Diversions
  • Positive Personal Affirmations
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Rational Response
  • Slow Talk
  • Small Talk

The availability of Distractions and Diversions is increased, and Rational Response is more concrete in anticipated and recurring situations because we can correlate them to known information. These coping mechanisms, incorporated in Our Concentration of Force for anticipated and recurring situations, are augmented by the following: 

  • Affirmative Visualization 
  • Character Focus 
  • Persona 
  • Projected Positive Outcomes 
  • Purpose 
  • Strategy
  • SUDS Rating and Projected SUDS Rating

Affirmative Visualizations are positive outcome scenarios that we mentally recreate by imagining or visualizing them. We label the process Affirmative to emphasize the positivity of the visualizations to counteract our natural negative bias and our predisposition to set negative outcome scenarios due to our unyielding negative self-beliefs and images. Chapter Twenty-Five breaks down the scientific confirmation of the effectiveness of affirmation visualization.

Character Focus. While other branches of psychology prioritize malfunction and abnormal behavior, positive psychology emphasizes our character strengths and positive behaviors that underscore our value and significance. A primary objective of the recovery process is becoming mindful of the healthy aspects of our person that have been subverted by the negative self-beliefs that sustain our social anxiety disorder. The adverse impact on our self-esteem is due to our negative core and immediate beliefs generated by childhood disturbance and the onset of SAD. Rediscovering our character strengths, virtues, and attributes and recognizing our achievements helps us moderate our fears and anxieties and regenerate our self-esteem. The self-appreciation of our value and significance subverts our negative self-beliefs and image.

Strategy is our structured plan of action to achieve our goal – that of moderating our fears and anxieties. Objectives are the measurable steps or actions we take to achieve our goal. Strategies and alterable to fit the situation; our primary goal is inflexible. Our strategy is the blueprint of what we anticipate and have determined will happen during our feared-situation. It is a compilation of our coping mechanisms and other skills we have acquired in recovery. It is our script and we are the producers, actors, and technicians. In Chapter Twenty-Three we will chart each of the coping mechanisms we utilize, and create a narrative strategy as our master blueprint.

Persona. Sixty percent of communication is represented by our body language. Our Persona helps establish our body language. Persona is the social face we present to our situation, designed to make a positive impression while concealing our social anxiety. It determines how we carry ourselves, the timbre of our voice, the shoes we wear (boots, sneakers, high heels), and the attitude we present. Personas are not other-selves but various aspects of our personality. We have multiple Personas subject to our mood, temperament, and circumstance. We present ourselves differently depending upon the context of the situation, e.g., a sports event versus an interview for a job or a family dinner versus a sorority bash. Deliberately choosing a Persona dramatically alters our perspective, attitude, and presentation.

The development of a viable social Persona is a vital part of preparing for and adapting to our multiple situations. A static or single Persona (i.e., our SAD persona) inhibits psychological development. A strong sense of self-esteem relates to the outside world through flexible personas adaptable to different situations.

For example, our physical cadence is a combination of our walk, posture, and attitude. It reflects our mood and circumstance. Deliberately creating a cadence for a situation can dramatically alter our perspective and emotional state. A walk of rejection is different from one of exuberance. Our cadence at a funeral is different from that at a rock concert. One method to change our walk and posture to correspond to a deliberate attitude is to attach an imaginary string to different parts of our body. The physical and emotional contrast between propelling ourselves with our chest versus our knees or chin is significant. As part of our strategy, we can predefine our attitude, establish a cadence, and incorporate them into our Persona. It is a fun and powerful alternative mindset.

Projected Positive Outcome. Because our negative thoughts and behaviors are irrational expressions of our self-beliefs, we tend to set unreasonable expectations. The key to recovery is progress, not perfection. We already know the projected negative outcome if we capitulate to our fears. What is the positive outcome we choose to design for ourselves? What would we like to achieve, and what would satisfy our objectives? What would leave us with a sense of pride and accomplishment? Setting moderate expectations can better guarantee a positive outcome. Our Projected Positive Outcome should be rational, possible, and unconditional. We set reasonable expectations to ensure the probability of success. 

Purpose. The motivation(s) behind our exposure to a situation. Our overarching purpose in recovery is to moderate our fears and anxieties. We rarely expose ourselves to situations, however, for the sole purpose of challenging our social anxiety. We have alternative or secondary motivations. Why are we in this situation? What do we seek or hope to accomplish? If our situation is the barbershop or beauty salon (not uncommon sources of anxiety) then it is reasonable to conclude that our purpose or secondary goal is to get our hair cut or styled. If it is a social event, we might consider multiple secondary goals, e.g., to network, make friends, or seek an intimate relationship. It is important to predefine our purpose(s). We have enough things to consider without riddling our angst with imprudence. It is advisable, however, to limit ourselves to a single secondary purpose because it strengthens and reinforces our focus and resolve. Additionally, our Purpose ostensibly becomes a part of our Projected Positive Outcome – achieving it becomes a benchmark for a successful experience. For example, if our Purpose is to network, handing out a business card could lend itself to a successful conclusion. (Remember, our Projected Positive Outcome is subjective.) Conversely, maintaining two Purposes such as networking and seeking a sexual liaison, significantly reduces the probability of a successful venture, leading to disappointment and self-recrimination. There’s an old Russian proverb, If you chase two rabbits, you will not catch either one.

SUDS Rating and Projected SUDS Rating.  The Subjective Units of Distress Scale is a scale ranging from 0 to 100 that measures the severity of our fears and anxieties in a situation. It allows us to set reasonable expectations of success when challenging them. It is a subjective exercise designed to generate a positive response to a perceptually negative situation. The key word is subjective; it is our evaluation of what level we anticipate our stress will be (SUDS Rating) during a situation, and what we project it will be upon its successful completion (Projected SUDS Rating). Like most things in recovery, moderation is essential. Over-evaluating our anxiety before exposing ourselves to the situation may be self-fulfilling prophecy. The universal law of attraction often mirrors our beliefs – thus the adage, be careful what you wish for. Notwithstanding our SUDS evaluation before the situation happens, it is even more important to moderate our expectations. We tend to set unreasonable ones to compensate for our years of self-disappointment and, if our expectations are not met, we justify our irrational negative self-beliefs and image. A moderate Projected SUDS Rating will present the probability of a successful venture. Remember, all of this is subjective, which means we control the process from anticipation to result. If we evaluate our initial SUDs Rating at 70, a reasonable and attainable Projected SUDS Rating might be 65 or 60. Ostensibly, we can achieve that just by showing up. No matter what occurs, we come out ahead. 

Here is more good news. Unlike other interminable conflicts beset by losses and retreats and having to retake the same hill over and over again, once something is gained in recovery, it cannot be lost or repossessed by the enemy. Our DRNI has reconfigured our neural network, so there is no going back. We have begun to understand and accept the irrationality of our SAD-induced negative thoughts and behaviors and responded accordingly. That awareness cannot be rescinded. By rediscovering our character strengths and attributes, and reaffirming our achievements, we have begun the process of self-esteem regeneration. Recovery and transformation are processes of evolution that cannot be turned back upon themselves.

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