“It is what it is. Isn’t that how these things always go? They are what they are. We just get to cope.” — Mira Grant, Feed
Okay, give me a minute. Today I want to get up on my soap box and say “Yay!” to overcoming all adversity, finding the perfect life, and always knowing which way to turn.
It isn’t that easy, is it? Life means coping, but what do we really know about coping skills?
This article discusses coping skills galore, or rather, how to deal with life. First, take the quiz below to find out what you know. Then check your skepticism and pride at the door, and come on a ride with me through coping skills galore.
You’ll find the answers and explanations at the end of the post.
1.Which statement about stress is false?
(a) Feeling stressed is a natural reaction to a difficult situation.
(b) Talk-therapy and self-help techniques can be as effective for dealing with stress as medications.
(c) Feeling stressed is only psychological. The best thing to do is tell yourself you’re over-reacting and just get over it.
(d) Using drugs is considered a coping skill, although a bad one.
2.Which of the following is false?
(a) Coping skills are strategies we use to deal with the difficult emotion, thoughts, and situations in our lives.
(b) Only people with psychiatric illness need coping skills.
(c) There are good and bad coping skills.
(d) Beating somebody up can be considered a coping skill, although a bad one.
3.Which of the following is true?
(a) If you don’t have 100% resolution of anxiety after using a coping skill, you should abandon that skill and try something else.
(b) You only need one coping skill that works for everything.
(c) Coping skills should work instantly and take away all angst on a long-term basis.
(d) Coping skills often improve in effectiveness with practice and time.
4. You’re a teacher having problems with a nasty student. You’re very angry. Good coping skills include all of the following except:
(a) You do the opposite to what you want to do. You want to clout the student but instead treat him with respect.
(b) You can’t take your anger out on the student, so you take it out on the principal. Anyway, he’s the one who put the student in your class.
(c) You purposefully put your anger aside until later, when you have time to deal with it. That evening, you spend 30 minutes boxing out the negative energy.
(d) You pull aside a trusted work friend to help calm you down. You’re much calmer when you next see the student.
5. Anger is an issue for you. Fists fly at a drop of a hat, and you’re trying to figure out which coping skills would be the best for dealing with rage problems. All of the following strategies are good for anger management except:
(a) Meditation and mindfulness exercises are soothing and diminish anger.
(b) Joining an anger-management support group helps you know you aren’t alone.
(c) Punching a pillow as hard as possible can help you relax.
(d) Some medications can help with anger problems.
Coping skills, galore!
It’s been a hard day at work. Your colleagues are piling projects on you, your boss is expecting extra work on top of that, you’re putting in long hours and not sleeping enough, your lover is resentful you’re so devoted to your job, and your favorite plant (that stunning ficus) has died. Home is supposed to be a haven, but tonight you stub your toe on the cabinet, burn your tongue on hot food, and discover your favorite TV show has been cancelled. All hell has broken loose. Between the angst and disappointment and minor injuries, you feel like you’re about to explode. What do you do? What can you do?
Here’s where coping skills make an entrance.
Coping skills are strategies we use to deal with life’s woes – problem thoughts, emotions, situations, relationships, and stressors in general – and we all use them, whether consciously or not. But not all coping skills are perfect. Or helpful. Here’s information about the bads and goods of those life management strategies.
Some coping skills are problematic. Others, downright toxic. You probably know which ones aren’t kosher, but here are examples of strategies that cause more problem than good:
- Intimidation and violence
- Lying, cheating, stealing, and manipulating
- Staying in bed all day when depressed
- Drugs & alcohol abuse
- Passive-aggressive behaviors
- Obsessing about a problem without problem-solving
- Telling yourself to just “get over” the stressor
- Hanging out with nasty people
- Hurting oneself to relieve pressure
- Having temper tantrums
We got the bad ones out of the way. Ready for a list of stress-busting strategies? You’ll find 11+ of these strategies below.
(1) Fix it quickly. Here’s a bunch of simple coping skills you can try right away.
- Distract yourself. Go see a movie, paint your nails, put on fake tattoos, or do something else that’s fun.
- Do something useful, like learn a new language, volunteer, help someone move, mop the floor, or pay your bills
- Let yourself cry
- Drink chamomile or green tea
- Pray or go to church
- Look for funny books, comics, pictures, movies, or stand-up comedy. Use your sense of humor.
- Write a meaningful letter
- Make a list of goals for the future
- Keep a gratitude list. Write down everything you’re happy about and thankful for.
- Attend a support group or 12-step meeting
- Join a community group. Consider hiking, book-reading, knitting, or cooking groups.
- Go for a walk or exercise
- Hold your hands under running water for a few minutes.
- Call a trusted friend, or meet someone at a café.
(2) Listen and talk. Better interpersonal/communication skills include assertiveness (a respectful but self-affirming form of communication), tolerance, and forgiveness. Also, use “I” statements instead of “you” statements. For example, imagine your roommate is angry at you. Instead of walking off and ignoring her, like you usually would, you stay, listen, and try to understand the situation from her perspective. Say “I feel horrible you’re upset” instead of “You make me feel horrible.” Chances are your roommate will be more open to solving the conflict if you listen, try to walk in her shoes, and use “I” statements.
(3) Write it down. Express your thoughts and feelings in a journal. Consider writing everyday. Don’t know what to write? Find quotations, pictures, and excerpts from readings that inspire you and stick them into a notebook. An example: instead of yelling at your daughter, you stop to write about what she did & how bad it made you feel. Eventually you realize you’re really mad at your boss, not your daughter. Now you’re able to talk to her calmly. So, write to blow off steam and organize your thoughts. Sometimes you’ll find your answers here.
“If you can change the way you think in time you will notice a change in your heart and also a change in your life and the way you see things.” –The Prolific Penman
(4) Meditate and be mindful. These two practices involve giving yourself permission to “put aside’ all worries for a while and focus on the present. You can practice mindfulness by relaxing and focusing on a single item in your environment, like the sounds in the room, tiles on the ceiling, or a particularly beautiful painting. Think sensory perception: smell, taste, touch, vision, and hearing. Each time a thought of worry surfaces in front of you, acknowledge it and let it go. Alternatively, consider meditating. Find a calm spot, close your eyes, relax, and focus on your breath. Breathe slow, deep breaths, imagining the stress leaving your body with every exhale. Practice either exercise for fifteen minutes/day and slowly advance the duration. For example, imagine someone is caustic towards you during class. Instead of making a scene or writhing in anger, you decide to use mindfulness and distance yourself from the upset, instead focusing on the sounds in the room as your teacher lectures away. This separates you from the emotion and helps you absorb what needs to be learned.
(5) Relax those muscles. Starting with your right foot, then the left, tense and relax your whole body one part at a time. Click on muscle relaxation for more information.
(6) Attack the problem. Make a list of your stressors and brain-storm possible solutions for each one. Make sure to gather all the facts before reaching a conclusion. Next, choose the best option off your list and make it happen. If option #1 isn’t effective, try option #2 or #3.. Trial-and-error it until you find something that works. If you can’t think of solutions, ask someone you trust to help you look for different perspectives.
If you are faced with a mountain, you have several options. You can climb it and cross to the other side. You can go around it. You can dig under it. You can fly over it. You can blow it up. You can ignore it and pretend it’s not there. You can turn around and go back the way you came. Or you can stay on the mountain and make it your home.” -Vera Nazarian. The Perpetual Calendar of Inspiration.
(7) Reframe your thoughts. Don’t like your point of view? Look at the big picture and search out different perspectives for your situation. What are healthier ways to think about the problem you’re up against? For example, an addict who’s going to rehab leaves her daughter with a neighbor. She feels guilty and worries about giving her daughter a permanent scar for “abandoning” her. With further thought, she reframes her worries: “In truth, my recovery is what will matter the most when she looks back on her childhood. Her upset is short-term. I need to go to rehab.”
(8) Modify bad behaviors. Identify unhealthy things you’re doing that increase stress and stop doing them. Replace them with healthy habits. For example, if you tend to isolate when you get depressed, consider inviting a friend out to the movies. If you’re an alcoholic with a craving to go to the bar, visit a sober friend or go to a bookstore instead.
(9) Boost that creativity and have fun. Draw, do a puzzle, color, write poetry, use positive imagery, remember happy memories, write a blog… what did you used to do with passion? Do more of that. Consider checking out this article about 150+ fun things to do. Sometimes making creativity a habit can jumpstart the muse.
(10) Be positive. Be kind to yourself. Think, “I’ve overcome so much in the past, I can overcome this” or “everything is going to be okay.” Create a positive image of your future. Refer back to this image often. Alternatively, use positive affirmations to remind yourself of your potential. Affirmations can be something you want to believe. For example, every night you stop and consciously cite out loud ten times, “I’m a deeply talented musician with a lot to offer the world.” Positive affirmations may seem corny, but they’re highly effective at influencing the unconscious mind.
“Past mistakes don’t mean you can’t do great things in the future.” –Anonymous
(11) Complain about the burden, then do something about it. When needed, rant and rave. You can write it out on paper or talk to someone you trust, but get it all out. Complain bitterly. We all need to do it sometimes. But when you’re ready, take a deep breath and consider what you can do to improve your situation. Interventions can range from radical acceptance (do nothing and be okay with the dilemma) to major life changes, and a thousand possibilities in between. If you’re having problems brain-storming solutions, talk to others for new perspectives.
Keep in mind there are hundreds of other coping skills not listed here. This is just a start. Thanks for reading, and pleasant coping skills!
Answers to questions:
1. C. Anxiety and stress can be worse in people who invalidate their own emotions. Never tell yourself you don’t have a right to or shouldn’t feel the way you do. It’s what you do with the emotion, your actions, that matter. (Using drugs is considered a negative coping skill.)
2. B. We all use coping skills, not just people with psychiatric conditions. Everyone needs them to deal with normal day-to-day stress. (Beating someone up is considered a negative coping skill.)
3. D. Many coping skills, like mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, communication skills, cognitive restructuring, and others, become more effective the more they’re practiced.
4. B. Taking your anger out on someone less threatening than the original person is called displacement, and it’s considered a bad defense mechanism. It’s best to deal with anger in a healthy way and not “take it out” on anyone.
5. C. Studies have shown that punching pillows makes anger worse, not better. Anger management should involve relaxation/soothing exercises and rewriting negative thought patterns. (There are medications doctors prescribe for anger.)
That’s it! We recommend that, next time you feel stressed, you look up this blog and pick a skill, any skill.