Image Credit: Doug Savage

Often times I am asked by clients, “Can you just give me some tips on basic coping skills?” So, I thought I would post some here.

What are coping skills?

Before give tips on coping skills, I want to answer, “What are coping skills?” A coping skill is a tool that we use to offset or over come adversity, disadvantage, or disability. Essentially, it is the tools we use to deal with tough situations. So, if you’re one of the people who goes on a run when stressed out, exercise would be your coping skill, or mechanism. If you drink to unwind from a stressful day, drinking would be your coping skill.

Good vs. Bad Coping Skills

Coping skills are important, as they allow us to handle tough situations. If we did not have coping skills, we would likely become burdened by everyday activities. However, there are good and bad coping skills. Before going into the good ones, let’s review some of the less healthy ways of coping with a situation…

  • Drinking too much caffeine: Often stressful situations makes sleep difficult, and everyone is guilty of drinking too much caffeine here and there on days you need help staying awake. However, it’s when consuming too much caffeine becomes a problem. Keep in mind, Caffeine Addiction and Caffeine Overdose are actually diagnosable problems.
  • Drinking too much Alcohol: Drinking to cope with a situation is never healthy. Most adults do drink alcohol  but what is important to keep in mind is the reason behind your drinking. If a glass of wine sounds good with dinner, or you’re at a gathering drinking with friends, then that is not a problem (as long as you drink in moderation). However, if you drink to unwind from a stressful day, or to cope with anxiety, it can be helpful to learn healthier ways of coping.
  • Compulsive Spending: Often you hear of someone saying they went to buy a new piece of clothing or treated them to something they’ve wanted. Again, it is no problem to treat yourself; however, spending can become a problem when you compulsively spend money in attempts to make you feel good about yourself, or to relieve stress.

These are some basic examples of unhealthy coping skills. Other similar ones are isolating from others, compulsive eating, drug use, negative self-talk, self harm, ignoring problems (also denial), becoming aggressive towards yourself or other people, becoming obsessed with something in particular, etc.

Switching to Healthy Coping Skills

Obviously, at some point we have all used unhealthy coping skills, so don’t beat yourself up if you recognise that you use one of the skills listed above. However, if you have identified one, remember that you can change, it just takes time and practise. The next time you find yourself in a tough situation, try using one of the healthier Coping Skills listed below…

  • Try using a balanced perspective: It’s easy for our emotions to change how we see a situation. For example, if we’re feeling a bit lonely, we are more likely to interpret an unanswered call or email as someone not wanting to talk to us. Try reminding yourself of other possible explanations for the situation. I often recommend that my clients use thought record sheets for help with this.
  • Relaxation: When we are stressed, relaxation is a good tool to help calm us down, and is especially helpful with anger and anxiety. Make note of what you find relaxing, whether it’s deep breathing, going for a walk, or taking a long bath.
  • Exercise: Feeling down or depressed is correlated with lower levels of dopamine and serotonin (the “feel good” chemicals in the brain). When we exercise, we begin to feel more energised, our levels of dopamine and serotonin increase, and it often serves as a good distraction from what is bothering us. Exercise does not have to mean going to the gym and lifting loads of weights, or running for miles and miles. Exercise can be taking a brisk walk, playing a sport with friends, or going for a bike ride.
  • Call a friend: Call someone you feel close to and talk to them about what is going on. Sometimes it’s good to get an outside perspective on what we’re going through.
  • Journal: Even though not everyone likes writing, I suggest everyone try it at least once. When thoughts are going through our mind, especially while worrying, they tend to spiral around up there quite quickly. When we write things down, it allows us to process our thoughts better, and it forces your brain to slow down long enough to write what you’re thinking down. And let’s be honest, we usually think a lot faster than we write.
  • Do something else enjoyable: When you’re going through a tough time, you don’t have to only focus on the thing causing you distress. Give yourself a time out and go do something else you enjoy to distract you. While yes, it’s not healthy to avoid the problem completely, remember that it’s not healthy to mull it over in your head twenty-four hours a day either.
  • Remind yourself the feeling is temporary: We usually turn to unhealthy coping skills when we feel we have no other way to make us feel better. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of emotions that surround distressing events. However, remember that the only thing constant in this world is change. What you are feeling will pass, and it will not always be so hard.

Don’t stop there

There are loads of other coping skills, good and bad, so think of this as just a short list to get you started. Check out the links below for more tips on coping skills. Are there other coping skills that you have found quite helpful, or unhelpful? Please share below!

Related Links

Coping Skills for Adults

How to Feel Happier (UK NHS)

Nicole Paulie is a Counselling Psychologist, and co-author of “How to be Happy and Healthy – The seven natural elements of mental health.” She provides therapy in the Dublin city area. Contact us to learn more or to book an appointment.

Coping Skills: The good and the Bad

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