6 Amazing Coping Skills to Try Right Now
Coping skills are one of my favorite skills to teach because it’s seriously life changing. So, what exactly are coping skills, anyway? Simply put, coping skills are the things we do to deal with unpleasant feelings. Some coping skills are healthy (like running and journaling) and some are not so healthy (I’ll take one in every color, thanks!) So, how can you tell if it’s a healthy or unhealthy coping skill? Basically, healthy coping skills improve your quality of life. Unhealthy coping skills lower your quality of life. Most of us have only a few coping skills at our disposal. Because none of them work perfectly, having only a few coping skills pretty much guarantees they’ll fail at some point. To avoid this, I like my clients to have 10-15, with at least 1 in each of the following categories.
Most people have this one down. Distraction is effective. It’s quick. And it’s easy. Sadly, it doesn’t work forever and it doesn’t solve our problems, but it’s a great place to start. Pick a few things you like to do that take your mind off your problems and enjoy the break. Some popular examples are listening to music, reading, or binging on Netflix. Bonus points for enrichment activities like learning a language, working out, or crafting.
2. Emotional Release
Some people are cool with this one and some aren’t. In my professional opinion, it’s necessary. Holding your feelings in honestly feels much worse than letting them out. Also, when you allow yourself to express your feelings in an appropriate way, you run less risk of exploding at the wrong time (say, at work or on public transit). You might feel crazy doing these things, but I promise you’ll feel better after. Some ideas to try: Go somewhere you can be alone and scream or cry, journal or write a letter, or go hit the batting cages.
3. Self Care
This is one of my favorites. Like Tom and Donna say on Parks and Recreation, “Treat yo self!” You deserve to be taken care of when you’re having a hard time, so do it! Taken to an extreme, of course, this could venture off into unhealthy territory. But as long as it’s done in moderation, give yourself a pass and enjoy it guilt-free. So break out the bath bomb, get some new nail art, or take a mental health day if you need it. Taking care of yourself today means you’ll have the energy to tackle the problem tomorrow.
4. Thought Challenge
This is my favorite coping skill. Challenging negative thoughts can actually change your feelings so that they’re more manageable. The only downside is that people sometimes misuse it to avoid their feelings. As long as you acknowledge your negative thoughts and feelings first, this one is gold. Thought challenging takes a little bit of practice, but anyone can learn how to do it.
Step 1: Purge
Write down the thoughts that are making you upset. No censuring allowed. Turn off your brain, and let ‘em fly. Ex: I can’t handle this anymore, I’m going to get fired, I am such a loser.
Step 2: Feel
Read back those thoughts and name the feelings that pop up. Ex: Scared, anxious, inadequate, ashamed
Step 3: Edit
Look at each thought you wrote down. Turn off your feelings for a minute and be purely logical. Ask yourself if these thoughts are 100% true all of the time. If they aren’t (Spoiler alert: they aren’t), change them so they are more accurate. Ex: I’m feeling stressed and overwhelmed, but I am handling it so far. I’ve dealt with stress like this before and there’s no reason I can’t do it again. I probably won’t get fired, but if I do, I will be able to find another job, maybe even one that’s less stressful. I’m feeling inadequate right now, but I’m actually doing pretty great. I have a great job, a great apartment, and great friends.
Step 4: Enjoy
Read back your revised thoughts and name the feelings that pop up from that list. Ex: Calm, strong, motivated
That’s it! Better, right? The more you practice, the more automatic this becomes.
Mindfulness is kind of trending now, and for good reason. So, uh, what is it? Mindfulness really just means living in the moment. Instead of feeling angry or guilty about something that happened in the past. Instead of being anxious about something that could happen in the future. Just being in this moment happening right now, which actually feels amazingly peaceful. Like thought challenging, it takes a little practice. You won’t necessarily be able to say “I’m going to be so mindful right now!” and have it work right away. To start out, learn some breathing exercises, listen to a guided meditation, or try a yoga class. Over time, you’ll be able to practice mindfulness any time you want, whether you’re in a meeting or class, hanging out with your family, or enjoying a meal.
6. Higher Self
This one is all about reaching up and reaching out. Looking beyond ourselves reminds us that we all have value and purpose. It also gives us some perspective with our problems. Just make sure you don’t use this as an excuse to avoid working on those problems! Ideas that have worked for others are: praying, reading a devotional, volunteering for a cause you’re passionate about, or even just doing some random acts of kindness.
Literally create a list of 10-15 coping skills you think could work for you. Make sure you have at least 1 from every category. When we’re overwhelmed, it’s hard to think of ways to deal, so we usually fall back on old habits. Having a list handy makes it more likely you’ll remember to try something new. Which ones are you going to try today?