Coping Skills

When I start working with a new client, one of the first things I do is to consider what coping skills they may have in place or need. We typically all have coping skills that we use when things are difficult. Some work well. Others not so much. And some cause more problems than what they alleviate.

When looking at coping skills we can separate them into adaptive and maladaptive. Adaptive coping skills are effective and support our mental health. Maladaptive coping skills may help with the discomfort one is experiencing, but they’re not typically helpful in the long run and may create more problems. Using alcohol, drugs, sex, shopping, etc., may alleviate the pain you’re going through at the moment, but instead of dealing with the issue you’re probably creating more issues.

We can also categorize coping skills as being solution focused vs. emotion focused. If you’re in a toxic relationship, then we would look at a solution such as how to safely get you out of the relationship. If you’re frustrated with parenting, we would look at adding to your toolbox or look to see what’s going on with your child. On the other hand, if you’re struggling with anxiety or panic attacks and you’re frequently going into fight or flight, we will look at deep breathing, meditation, or starting a mindfulness practice. If you are a survivor of childhood trauma and often find yourself overthinking or overanalyzing (a coping skill learned to keep yourself safe as a child), I may suggest going for a walk, watching comedy, or reading a good book as a distraction while we work on processing the trauma in sessions. Although a distraction can work well for alleviating symptoms, at the same time we want to get to the root problem that’s causing the symptoms.

The coping skills I just suggested can be categorized as either active or avoidant. Active coping skills address the situation at hand whether it be finding a solution for forgetting to the pay the bills (create a to-do list or use a calendar) or managing your emotions such as connecting with a friend when feeling depressed. Avoidant coping skills are used as a distraction such as avoiding the phone call from the bill collector or losing yourself in a book or a movie when you’re feeling depressed. Again, as I said above, a distraction can be useful, but we don’t want to ignore what’s going on that is causing you to be avoidant.

To re-cap, we have adaptive (healthy) and maladaptive (unhealthy) coping skills. There are solution focused coping skills as well as emotion focused. Lastly, we have active coping skills that address the problem and we have avoidant coping skills. Clear as mud? How about some suggestions instead.

Coping skills for symptoms of anxiety and panic:

  • Deep breathing/meditation/mindfulness
  • Gratitude journal
  • Going for a walk

Coping skills for symptoms of depression or feeling down:

  • Connect with friends
  • Comedy
  • Stick to a routine (instead of lying in bed all day)

Coping skills for overthinking:

  • Journaling (you may process some trauma in the process!)
  • Get busy (clean, go for a walk, engage in a hobby)
  • Do something nice for someone

Coping skills for anger management:

  • Take a time out to assess the situation
  • Take a deep breath
  • Go for a hike

Coping skills for self-confidence:

  • Affirmations
  • Journaling
  • Take a break from social media

When you’re struggling with your mental health, there are resources and we can get you to a better place. Not only can we work together to find useful coping skills, we can also work towards healing so the coping skills become less needed. Send me a message through my website and let’s schedule an appointment!



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