What do you do when someone cuts you off in traffic or when your stomach is in knots because of an upcoming test? Do you scream let the cuss words flow, or do you take time to calm yourself down?
When humans experience uncomfortable emotions like helplessness or hopelessness, it is in our nature to do something that we think will make us feel better. These are what are called “coping skills” – which is a term that basically means what someone does to deal with things.
Coping skills can be healthy or unhealthy. An example of an unhealthy coping skill is drug or alcohol use. While yes, it serves the purpose of helping you to feel better, it is not healthy because it causes other problems and does not allow you to deal with what is bothering you.
Other unhealthy things people do to cope are to outright deny the issues or to cause damage to self or property. If these unhealthy skills are something you do, you can learn ways to cope healthily instead – for example, you could tear up junk mail or use a staple remover to damage them.
Healthy coping skills include deep breathing, journaling, exercise, and many others. These are things that provide you the ability to settle yourself and deal with the issue at hand when you are ready. Healthy coping skills allow your body time to calm, get the heart and breathing back to normal, and provide clarity.
There are several different types of coping skills that all serve a different purpose. A good worksheet that can be used to work on and understand coping skills can be found here: https://care.uci.edu/services/Coping%20Skills%20Worksheet.pdf. It is important to remember that what works from some may not work for others.
- Distraction: Do something like reading or watching a movie that causes you to not think about the issue at hand. This is good for short term issues, but does not allow you to deal with the issues at hand
- Grounding: Practice deep breathing or exercise which allows you to do something to get your body to settle down.
- Emotional release: Do something that gets your emotions – like screaming or art or music. This helps you deal with the emotions, but is important to do at appropriate times and locations.
- Self-Care: Do something for you; for some people this is taking a bath or treating yourself in some way.
- Challenging your thoughts: Contradict (challenge) the negative thoughts you may be having. This one can be hard to do when in a highly emotional state.
- Your High Self: This includes things like prayer or helping others, depending on your beliefs. Coping skills are not always easy to use. It can be easy to forget to use them if you are agitated or sad. You can get around this though; you can practice them when you are calm or have a friend remind you to use them. Some people also find it helpful to have them written down somewhere as a reminder. Find coping skills that work for you – ones that are healthy, safe, and not harming others or yourself.
Written by: Heather Barner, RMCHI, MS, CBHC CSU Clinician