How Using Time-Labeled Coping Strategies Can Help Us Manage Daily Stressors

Two nights ago, our children came with us to my husband’s school for a meeting. Afterward, they escaped to his classroom per usual to draw on the dry erase board and occupy themselves while we wrapped up with parents, cleaned up, etc.

They had been gone less than ten minutes when the door to the hallway flung open and they all ran out, yelling over one another and pointing, “EYES! WATER! THE SCHOOL IS FLOODING!” I had no idea what they were talking about, but every one of us could hear the dull roar of rushing water that was clearly not coming from your average faucet.

Turns out, these kiddos had experienced a “moment of curiosity” and wandered into the science classroom next door with one of those pull-the-lever “eye wash” stations. Apparently, it was too tempting. And, apparently it worked.

As I stood looking at the new, indoor lake, it was one of those moments as a parent where I could feel the thin line between keeping my cool and losing it because all of the threatening emotions were looming. Things like embarrassment in front of the other parents, annoyance at the huge mess, frustration at our kiddos, inadequacy because we weren’t sure how to clean it up, and tiredness because well, it was 9:00pm.

This situation, while both minor and fixable, is a good reflection of the “mini-crises” that accompany our everyday lives. All of us have mornings that start with spills, unexpected traffic or delays that make us late, and moments with our children or spouse where the event is fairly minor but the emotional reaction threatens to run high.

For these moments, we need a stop-gap. An emotion-pausing buffer that can help us think through the actual severity of the situation and respond appropriately. Enter time-labeled coping strategies.

I’ve seen versions of this strategy called a lot of things over the years, most commonly the 5×5 rule. People use it in a few different ways and I’m not sure the number really matters. Just choose one you are likely to remember. Then, when you are in a stressful situation that is threatening to overwhelm your emotions ask, “Will this matter in five minutes? Will this matter in five months? Will this matter in five years?”

The way you answer these questions then leads you to the other important number, how long it’s worth thinking/worrying about. If it’s not going to matter in five minutes, then it’s easier to let it go in no time at all. But, if its going to matter in five months or five years, then you have thoughtfully validated it’s importance and can intentionally think about it more.

In this ridiculous, wet, late-night “mini-crisis” we could have easily moved into shame or criticism of our kiddos or short tempers with one another. Sadly, we’ve taken that road many times. But, thankfully, this time around we remembered the 5-5-5 rule and it helped us create a memory rather than a wound. Here’s to utilizing time-labeled coping strategies to pause on the thin line between peace and panic. May it help us love one another better as we navigate the many “mini-crises” of life.

Photo by Eternal Seconds on Unsplash, used with permission

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