Coping Skills

Human beings face a variety of stressors every day. Experiencing stressful situations is a given, what matters the most is how you handle and respond to these negative experiences. Coping skills are mechanisms that help you to get through the hard stuff by providing ways to manage and relieve stress. In this article, we explore various coping skills and how they can be used to effectively manage stress and negative experiences.

What Are Coping Skills Anyway?

Coping skills are the responses, emotions, behaviors, and thoughts that people use to manage painful emotions during stressful and traumatic situations. These mechanisms help people to adjust to difficult situations while helping them preserve their emotional health and well-being.  Coping skills can be used to cope with anger, loneliness, anxiety, depression, and stress.

Stress Management

Stress manifests both physically and emotionally. It’s an internal response to external circumstances. A lot of things, even events that are classified as positive such as getting married, moving into a new house or having a baby can cause significant stress. Stress can affect the health both physically and emotionally and it’s important to find effective ways to manage and relieve stress. Over time, people develop methods for coping with stress. Some of these coping tools are healthy ways of coping with stress.

Coping styles can be solution-focused or emotion-focused. Solution-focused coping strategies typically involve taking active steps to deal with the problem in order to reduce stress. For example, creating a to-do list to gain clarity when overwhelmed with tasks. Emotion-focused mechanisms, on the other hand, involve managing perception of the situation and any feelings of distress that result. For example, consciously taking an optimistic outlook and maintaining a sense of humor by using strategies like journaling and meditation.

Symptom Management

When stress manifests physically, it results in physical symptoms such as migraines, chronic pain, and insomnia. Calming coping strategies such as meditation and breathing exercises can help you to manage the physical symptoms of stress. A therapist can also help you to come up with ways to minimize your stress such as self-care, exercise, and proper sleep.

Positive vs Negative Coping Strategies

Coping mechanisms can be categorized as active or avoidant. Active coping strategies involve being aware of the stressor and making conscious attempts to reduce the negative outcome of stress. Avoidant coping strategies are characterized by ignoring the issue at hand and indulging in activities that encourage denial of the problem such as excessive drinking, illicit drug use, and isolation. These avoidant coping strategies may work for a while, however, they aren’t effective in the long run. These ineffective coping strategies are known as ‘maladaptive coping’ and usually have negative consequences. Examples include:

  • Isolation
  • Binge drinking/eating.
  • Gambling
  • Self-harm.
  • Illicit drug use.

Maladaptive coping strategies can be really unhealthy. Therapy can help you detect unhealthy coping mechanisms that you may be indulging in, and replace them with healthy ways.

7 Common Coping Skills

Positive Affirmations- Positive affirmations are expressions that are repeated to impress positive thoughts upon the subconscious mind and provide confidence and motivation. Positive affirmations can help you change your perspective of a situation, heal and achieve peace of mind. They are a great tool to help rewire your unconscious mind from negative thinking to positive. By repeating positive statements that you desire to manifest in your life, they influence your thinking and how you see the world.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation- Progressive Muscle Relaxation was discovered by Edmund Jacobson in the 1920s.  According to him, progressive muscle relaxation is based on the premise that mental calmness is a natural result of physical relaxation.

When you’re stressed or anxious, one of the ways the body responds is with muscle tension. Progressive muscle relaxation is a strategy for stress relief that creates a state of deep relaxation that involves alternate tensing and relaxing of muscles (Sundram et al.,2016). It consists of focusing on a muscle group, tensing that muscle group and then relaxing that muscle group. The process is repeated throughout the entire body. Here’s a short guide:

  • Find a quiet place to sit or lie down
  • Inhale deeply through your nose and slowly exhale through the mouth. Repeat three to five times.
  • Tighten and release the muscles in your feet. Clench your toes and press your heels toward the ground for a few moments, then release. Next, flex your feet in and point your toes upward. Hold for a few seconds and release.
  • Work your way up your body in this order: legs, glutes, abdomen, back, hands, arms, shoulders, neck and face. Tighten each muscle group for a few moments and then release.
  • End by taking a few more deep breaths.

Goal Setting- Goal setting is an important coping skill. It helps to provide clarity in the moments when you feel overwhelmed by various tasks, it helps you create a solid plan to help you achieve the things that you desire and provides much-needed motivation and a map to reach the destination of your dreams. Set goals that are SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely to reduce stress. You should also consider the things that give you personal pleasure to help you reduce stress. For example, if you love to read fiction as a form of stress relief, you can schedule a time to do it. Setting a SMART goal that ensures that you schedule time in your life to read helps you become more intentional about reducing stress in your life.

Mindfulness- Mindfulness is the practice of being aware of what’s happening in any given moment. It helps you to be aware of how you feel at any given point and process the emotions in a healthy manner. Studies show that mindfulness not only reduces stress but also builds inner strength that prevents future stressors from having a huge impact on our happiness and physical well-being. The STOP technique is an easy way to practice being mindful in a stressful situation. When you feel stressed, do the following:

  • Slow down.
  • Take a deep breath.
  • Observe how you’re feeling and thinking.
  • Proceed, considering multiple opportunities.

Meditation- Meditation is an ancient practice that involves the mind and body. Research shows that it has stress-relieving psychological and physical benefits. Meditation helps to relieve stress and give you calm and inner peace.  During the practice of meditation, you focus your attention on your breathing and eliminate the thoughts crowding your mind that may be causing stress.

Journaling- Journaling is another great coping skill. It involves keeping a diary or journal that allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings about different events in your life.  Journaling enables you to sort through and clarify your thoughts and emotions. It also helps you reflect on your feelings and emotions in order to understand them better. The best part is that it provides a safe outlet for expressing difficult emotions. There are numerous studies that demonstrate the effectiveness of journaling for health, happiness, and stress management.

Deep breathing exercises- Deep breathing exercises can provide immediate stress relief. The best part is that you can do them anytime and anywhere. Here’s how to do deep breathing exercises.

  • Sit in a comfortable chair with your feet firmly placed on the ground. Place one hand on your belly and close your eyes.
  • Breathe deeply in and out while paying attention to the rise and fall of your belly.
  • Inhale slowly to the count of three and exhale slowly to the count of three.
  • Make sure you stay focused on the movement of your hand on your belly
  • Relax

When To Get More Help

Coping skills usually helps to improve your mental and emotional well-being. People who navigate and adjust to stressful situations with effective coping mechanisms are less likely to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns that result from challenging or traumatic events. If you find that you rely on maladaptive coping mechanisms such as consuming alcohol excessively, or you have a hard time coping with anxiety or stress, you should see a therapist. Mental health professionals usually provide support and relevant information about coping skills. They also help you to improve your coping skills. Therapy is usually a safe way to explore the coping skills you rely on and learn how they either help or hinder you.

Always remember that the best coping skill is the one that works best for you. There’s no ‘one size fits all’ guide for coping skills. Find what works best for you and use it.

author avatar
Angel Rivera
I am a Bilingual (Spanish) Psychiatrist with a mixture of strong clinical skills including Emergency Psychiatry, Consultation Liaison, Forensic Psychiatry, Telepsychiatry and Geriatric Psychiatry training in treatment of the elderly. I have training in EMR records thus very comfortable in working with computers. I served the difficult to treat patients in challenging environments in outpatient and inpatient settings

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