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Coping Skills 101

Learning how to cope with stressful or difficult situations and how to manage your emotions in a healthy productive manner can increase your overall mental and physical health and quality of life. To cope means to tolerate difficult or stressful situations while maintaining a positive self-image and balanced emotions. Coping skills are the tools that a person uses during these stressful situations or when emotions begin to feel overwhelming or consuming. The trick is learning when to use coping skills and which skills work best for a particular emotion or situation.

Learning how and when to use coping skills is to first identify the problem and what you are feeling. The more connected you are to your body and how your body reacts to each emotion, the easier it is to manage that emotion. For example, if you notice that when you begin to feel angry you start to clench your fists and your face gets hot, then you can use a coping skill to manage that anger before it turns to fury or aggression. It is also important to catch the emotion as early as possible because it is extremely difficult to remember to utilize a coping skill when you are in the midst of strong emotions such as an anxiety attack or fury.
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Learning coping strategies to handle stressful situations can greatly improve mental, physical and emotional health.

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Sometimes stopping to "smell the flowers" is an appropriate way to handle a stressful situation.

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Playing can also be a relaxing activity to diffuse stress.

Once you have identified the emotion or situation you need to manage, the next step is identifying a coping skill that will help to manage what you are feeling and experiencing. This differs from person to person, and the strategy you need for one emotion might be different from what you might use for another emotion. For instance, when you are feeling overwhelmed or anxious, you might benefit from watching a comedy or listening to music and when you are angry you might benefit from taking some deep breaths and going for a long walk.

One myth about coping skills is that it is all about meditation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Although these things can be extremely helpful, a coping skill can be anything that works for you as an individual to manage what you are feeling. There are coping skills that may feel helpful in the moment, but are unhealthy in nature. Avoidance, using alcohol or drugs, overeating, overspending, and overexercising are all examples of unhealthy coping and can cause more harm long term.
It is important to practice skills that are both helpful and healthy for you. It is also helpful to come up with skills that can be used in different areas of your life. A skill that you use at home might not be something you can utilize at school, at work, or out in the community. It is helpful to try out multiple skills and come up with things you can do in all aspects of your life.

So, what are some of these skills you might ask? If you internet search “coping skills”, you can find lists upon lists of different ideas to try. I suggest that once you try some of these options, separate the ones you like into different emotion categories to remember what is helpful when experiencing certain emotions.

See the following table as a possible example:
Emotion Coping Skills
Anger Take Space, go for a walk, take 3 deep breaths, Listen to some calming music
Anxiety Use a fidget, use a weighted blanket, Practice the 5 senses activity, Drink water, Watch a funny movie
Sadness Talk to a friend or family member, Get dressed up, go out with friends, Do some art work, Exercise
As you work through this process, remember to be patient and kind to yourself. It takes time to build up a coping skills tool box that truly works for you. Keep trying new things, ask for help, and do not give up. Once you have some good coping skills in place you will find managing emotions becomes a lot easier.
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Kathy Peters, LICSW
Program Director/Mental Health Professional at Stable Connections and has over 20 years of experience working in the mental health field.
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