Are You Coping or Thriving?

Thriving feels wonderful.The Oxford English Dictionary defines coping as the ability to deal effectively with something difficult, perhaps maintaining balance or homeostasis in the midst of turmoil. It’s interesting to note that to cope originally meant to meet in battle. And, I must say, coping sometimes does feel like an uphill battle.

Coping is beneficial … and … it takes a lot of energy. Thriving gives you energy and pushes you to the next level of health and happiness. Are you actually thriving or are you just coping?

What is coping?

We might say that coping is to deal with a situation, in the moment, in a satisfactory manner. Basically, you are keeping yourself from feeling too overwhelmed. In the moment, you are staying within the range of what your nervous system can handle. Daniel Siegel, professor of psychiatry at UCLA School of Medicine and Executive Director of the Mindsight Institute, calls this your Window of Tolerance.

Coping strategies allow you to stay within your range of endurance, your Window of Tolerance, most of the time. Having this capacity to stay regulated and present in the moment is important to your overall ability to function in the world, especially in relationships.

When you are coping, you are also making it possible to get from one moment to the next intact. Coping strategies may allow you to express your immediate needs, hold a boundary, or hang on until the storm passes. These strategies, while very important, do not mean you are happy or thriving and it does not mean that the situation won’t keep happening. It means you are okay for now; you have gotten through this phase. That’s a positive step, not to be minimized.

Looking more closely, we see that coping may help you get from here to there, but coping alone may not help you increase your nervous system’s capacity to handle stress. Coping is not generally what helps us take healthy risks, have more satisfying experiences and ultimately feel alive, creative and connected.

Prolonged coping can create stress and take a toll on the body and the mind. This often leads to chronic feelings of burn out, anxiety and/or depression as well as many other physical maladies.

Many of our coping mechanisms or strategies may be useful in the moment but detrimental in the long run. You may be as familiar with some of these as I have been. Things such as using food, substances, drinking alcohol or highly caffeinated beverages, drugs of any kind and/or any form of tobacco are all coping mechanisms. Some of us cope by staying busy, allowing our work to consume our lives, or we spend hours lost in screen time, games or television.

The effects of merely coping and not reaching a level of actual healing can include a lack of energy, sleep disturbances, inability to concentrate, irritability, and of course, continued anxiety and/or varying levels of depression. Some coping mechanisms may help anxiety and/or depression, and that is good. They may not, however, address the underlying cause of the issue so you can eliminate it.

Coping alone can set up cycles of moving forward, feeling better for a short time then falling back, feeling like you are at square one again which often leads to a sense that nothing will ever change.

For those of us who have experienced loss, neglect, abuse or other trauma—and that is as high as 50 percent of the population—coping is important. You are effectively putting a bandage over a wound to help get you through the moment, to help you stay present enough to do what you need to do. You are using some much-needed crutches that certainly help you feel better and accomplish what you need to in the moment. Getting through is a good thing. That does not mean, however, that you are erasing the effects of the earlier experiences so they will not disturb you or return later.

Many of us stay in a coping mode because we don’t know there is anything else. We often feel good about what we are able to do now versus the past. Our coping mechanisms are often a step in the right direction. We just need to keep going and move from coping into thriving.

So what is thriving?

Thriving has often been associated with being successful. Having a thriving business, for example. However, any of us can be successful in our lives – having achieved all the expected things—and yet not be really happy or fulfilled. We may be doing all the right things and have reached to top of the ladder.

I hear this from extremely successful CEO’s, government officials, and accomplished actors: “I’ve reached the top of my game, yet I often feel empty. My relationship isn’t what I’d like it to be and I’m not really happy. I can buy anything… except the deep fulfillment I long for.” That is not thriving.

Thriving means you wake up in the morning, glad to be alive and ready for the challenges of the day. You feel grateful for what you have. You find meaning in what you do.

The following quiz may help you determine if you are simply coping.

____ 1. Do you find you are more tired at the end of the day than you think you should be?

____ 2. Do you find it difficult to consistently get a good night’s sleep? You may have trouble falling asleep, staying asleep and/or not sleeping deeply enough to feel rested.

____ 3. Do you feel that sometimes you are working really hard yet just getting by, just making it day to day?

____ 4. Does it seem like your relationships are going more smoothly now than in the past yet there are still blow-ups, shut downs and/or moments of sarcasm, ridicule and/or shame?

____ 5. Do you find that you are often not present, unavailable, disconnected and/or on auto pilot?

____ 6. Do you find yourself in regular cycles of doing well then getting stuck or hitting bottom, making your way back out, but, inevitably feeling like you are not making the kind of progress you’d like?

____ 7. Are you “doing well,” yet using more substances that you think is healthy (food, alcohol, drugs, tobacco, etc.)?

____ 8. Do you find yourself falling into more and more screen time, not really able to focus and/or carry through on your goals?

____ 9. Do you often neglect your own needs, giving more than you really want to or is healthy for you?

____ 10. When something is amiss, is it difficult for you to accept responsibility for the mishap? Do you tend to blame others for things that go wrong?

If you answered “Yes” to any of these questions you may be coping more than you are thriving. While you may be “doing well” in many aspects of your life, there’s more! And, you deserve to spend less energy coping so that you can use that energy for genuine connection, meaningful work and bringing joy into your life on a regular basis.

Giving you tools to thrive in every aspect of your life is our major goal at Ryzio retreats. Check us out at

Don’t miss the next post where we discuss “How to Move From Coping to Thriving.” We’ll walk you through the three things you need to do to thrive in your life, feel alive and connected.

This article was written by Marti Glenn, Ph.D., Ryzio Clinical Director