Coping mechanisms are interesting, conceptually. You take the stress from something negative and you turn it into energy for something positive. It’s like taking heat from a forest fire and harnessing it to fuel a machine that sprays water on the fire to put it out. Everything balances out in the end, and often, you wind up with something more positive than what you had in the beginning. In the metaphor of the forest fire, the positive outcome is the innovation of the machine—the new ideas and actualizations due to creative force.
Running is my coping mechanism. During the school year, I still find a way to get out and run at least twice a week, even in the off-season for cross country and track, even if I’m busy, even if I’m doing a winter sport (I usually do springboard diving; I did not last winter, but that’s a different story).
The start of my forest fire is disorganization. I have a tendency to be slightly less organized than I need to be, and as a result everything else looks and feels messy. When it all feels messy, I get stressed out, and that makes me stress out about everything else too. This is a big problem for me during the school year, and one that I am trying to rectify come this fall. But it is also a problem that pervades my daily life. I work in the summer. I always have something going on that can lead to the same kind of stress. And I think that that is why running, my coping mechanism, has become so important to me.
The payoff, the ‘water machine’ of running, is that it fuels creativity for me. When I run, it’s just my feet, the trail, and my thoughts. And those thoughts are the only things not directly interacting with everything else, so I end up with a sort of mind-body-disassociation. I don’t really know how it works. What I do know is that when I head out for a run, I am usually worried, angry, or frustrated about something. When I come back, I have some kind of cathartic peace rattling around between my ears instead. And in between the frustration and the catharsis is creativity. My whole run long, I have thoughts popping up in my head, usually related to writing.
I have written whole chapters of stories this way. I have developed characters, found snippets of dialogue, and visualized scenery on long runs.
And by the time I return home, the fire is out.
Everyone has some form of coping mechanism, no matter where the stress is coming from. For some people, it is a garden. For others, it’s painting, or photography. For me, it’s running.
We all should find ours, because life seems much easier to manage with it. Easier to manage means less messy and disorganized, which means that the main cause of my own stress is gone. And that is, for me, the equivalent of putting out the fire.
Stress generates energy. You can either spend that energy pulling out your own hair and throwing heavy objects, or you can find a little bit of peace. Spend the energy propelling your feet, or moving your hand with a paintbrush or a camera or a watering can, and create something beautiful while you sweat the stress away.
It’s up to all of us to figure out which path to choose, but I can honestly say that I like the path with more creativity and reduced frustration—The path of putting out the fire instead of letting it burn down everything around my ears.