If you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious, or just plain exhausted from life lately, we get it. We’ve been there too.
Life can be tricky. Sometimes, you think you’re going to make it through the day, but then something happens, and all of a sudden, everything is upside down.
We all have to deal with things that are not ideal, and it’s easy to get discouraged when facing a difficult situation. It can be tempting to give up or let your emotions take over. So what do you do about them? Do you just wait for them to go away on their own, or is there some way to deal with them so they don’t take over your life?
Coping strategies are essential to develop resilience to deal with any situation or circumstance that comes your way. And are tools and techniques you can use to help you handle difficult emotions, decrease stress, and establish or maintain a sense of internal order.
When a person learns and develops negative coping skills, stressors become catastrophes, and confidence in one’s ability to cope diminishes.
But I am happy to tell you there are ways to cope with whatever comes along, even if it seems like nothing will help at first.
You just have to look for them and put in the effort. The more work you put into your coping strategies, the better off you’ll be when dealing with the next issue that pops up in your life.
Read on for some strategies for how to cope no matter what comes along…
What are coping skills?
Coping skills are tools and techniques you can use to help you handle difficult emotions, decrease stress, and establish or maintain a sense of internal order.
Whereas coping mechanisms are learned to replace negative stress responses and improve moods. Coping strategies and skills are the reactions and behaviors one adopts to deal with difficult situations.
Coping skills are associated more with cognitive processes (thoughts), whereas coping mechanisms tend to be about emotions and behaviors.
Are there different types of coping skills?
Yes, there are different types of coping skills. And can consist of physical coping skills, emotional coping skills, cognitive (thinking) coping skills, and social coping skills.
Physical Coping Skills
Involve moving the body in some way to help us manage uncomfortable physical sensations. Some examples might be: taking a walk, stretching, or doing breathing exercises.
Physical coping skills allow us to release tension, making it easier for us to control our emotions.
Coping strategies that involve moving the body in some way can help a person release a lot of this pent-up anxiety and tension from difficult events.
Exercise is one type of physical coping strategy if done correctly. This type of strategy is typically used as a stress-reduction technique. It also releases endorphins within the body, which make you feel better and improves your mood.
The benefits of exercise often outweigh the effort needed for those who already have an active lifestyle or those who just don’t push themselves hard enough physically to achieve health benefits.
Regular exercise has long been linked to reduced levels of stress and anxiety, which are important in coping with stressors.
Emotional Coping Skills
Address our emotions and involve managing difficult feelings so they don’t overwhelm us.
Emotion-focused coping skills are one of the many coping skills that can help us get through our day.
And may include communication skills, problem-solving techniques, self-soothing activities, and restructuring destructive thought patterns.
Coping skills that involve emotions such as anger or fear can be very effective if they are used properly.
Coping strategies that deal with emotions and difficult feelings tend to be more readily available to people than those that involve behaviors because we often feel better after venting or talking these things through with someone we trust.
Cognitive Coping Skills
Deal with how we think about things and use our thinking to help us manage challenging circumstances.
These coping strategies usually come from a cognitive-behavioral approach and may include challenging unhelpful thoughts, learning problem-solving techniques, or changing the meaning behind something.
Challenging Unhelpful Thoughts
Coping skills that deal with our thoughts include identifying the unhelpful ones, challenging them, and replacing them with helpful ones. These unhelpful thoughts are also known as cognitive distortions and can wreak havoc in your life.
Learning problem-solving techniques
These skills can include things like identifying triggers or ways to avoid triggers. This coping strategy also entails challenging unhelpful thoughts that keep you stuck.
Changing the meaning behind something
Coping skills can also involve:
- Thinking about an event differently.
- Understanding the meaning behind it.
- Changing how we perceive it.
Because it is easy to get discouraged when facing a difficult situation, and it can be tempting to give up and let your thoughts take over. But can you find one good thing that has come out of a difficult situation? Even if it’s only an opportunity to challenge yourself and grow in new ways?
Social Coping Skills
Coping skills that emerge from our connections with other people.
Relationships often provide a sense of support and validation and can help us cope with difficult times. Connections can also provide a sense of comfort and reassurance when we feel unsure or afraid.
And sometimes, we draw on our relationships during difficult times to get the social support we need and, in turn, help other people through their struggles.
Relationship-based coping strategies may include:
- Sharing our feelings with others (for example, through talking or writing).
- Offering and accepting support.
- Doing something nice for someone else.
- Just spending time together.
And can be helpful in dealing with a stressful situation.
Pets can be another way to use social coping strategies because they provide companionship and calmness and is another form of coping skill. For example, when petting or stroking a pet can help you feel calmer and less stressed.
What are bad coping skills?
Not all the ways that we cope with stress are healthy. And sometimes, we use unhealthy coping skills to manage stress, anxiety, or depression.
Coping strategies that are unhealthy or maladaptive typically start out as a way to avoid feeling bad, but instead, they end up making things worse.
Coping skills that are harmful include:
- Addictive behaviors such as drinking too much or taking mind-altering drugs
- Watching endless hours of TV
- Withdrawing from friends or partners or, conversely jumping into a chaotic social life to avoid facing problems
- Overeating or weight gain
- Undereating or weight loss
- Sleeping too much
- Drinking too much alcohol
- Lashing out at others in emotionally or physically violent outbursts
- Taking up smoking or smoking more than usual
- Using prescription or over-the-counter drugs that promise some form of relief, such as sleeping pills, muscle relaxants, or anti-anxiety pills
- Taking illegal or unsafe drugs
- Cutting and burning oneself
- Eating disorders such as restriction, binging, purging, or eating too much
- Harming yourself in other ways such as punching walls or picking at your skin until it bleeds
- Blocking out difficult feelings with blackout drinking or excessive sleeping
- Preoccupation with food, alcohol, drugs, and sexual activity to the exclusion of all else
- Taking unnecessary risks like driving too fast or getting into physical fights
- Inability to take care of yourself when you are sick or injured
- Irritability and hostility instead of feelings like sadness, fear, and anxiety
- Dwelling on past events, mistakes, or bad luck, especially when there’s nothing you could have done to change things
Being overly controlling is an unhealthy coping skill in almost any situation because it often leads to feeling out of control when you don’t get your way.
Guilt makes people feel bad about themselves, which can lead to more stress. And cause you to make negative predictions about the future based on your worst fears coming true.
As you can see, many unhealthy coping strategies can cause your mental health to suffer. This is why it is so important to know and use healthy coping skills instead.
The importance of healthy coping skills
People who can cope with difficult circumstances in the long term tend to have a sense of faith or trust in themselves and others and an acceptance that things don’t always go their way.
Instead of avoiding the feeling and getting rid of it, people who cope effectively take a step back from their feelings so that they can think about what’s happened.
Coping is just as much about calming yourself down after you’ve found yourself in trouble as it is about being able to avoid problems in the first place.
The more comfortable you are with your feelings, the more likely you will cope well in difficult circumstances. Accepting your situation is also a very important coping skill because it makes you feel less stressed and overwhelmed about things.
The word coping comes from the Latin word “cope,” which means “I endure.” And is a person’s ability to withstand and manage stress or difficult situations.
Coping with difficult circumstances is tough. And coping skills are the tools and techniques you need to help you handle emotions, decrease stress, and establish or maintain a sense of internal order.
Coping mechanisms are learned reactions that replace negative responses to stressful events.
People turn many unhealthy coping skills into habits when they feel overwhelmed by their situation; these include addictive behaviors such as drinking too much or taking mind-altering drugs.
Coping strategies should be used in the long term so that people have an acceptance for whatever may come their way instead of avoiding it completely, which most often leads to more problems than not addressing the issue at all.
Harvard Health Publishing: Watchout for unhealthy responses to stress (Aug. 2012). Retrieved from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/watch-out-for-unhealthy-responses-to-stress