A closer look at developing coping skills that work for you
How can I develop coping strategies?
In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. For example, if you didn’t get into your dream college it’s natural to feel upset and disappointed. It may trigger thoughts of not being good enough or asking yourself why that happened to you. If your dream college rejects you, don’t feel discouraged. You’re able to talk to your friends about what they’ve done when a college rejected them or you can talk to a school counselor to see what your other options are. If you spend all your time thinking about why you didn’t get in then you lose time looking at other colleges that you may like just as much as your dream college.
When things don’t go as planned, there are other alternative routes to take. These routes become easier to identify once you find the right coping strategy. If you’ve tried a number of problem-solving strategies and none of them have worked, it might be time to focus on developing skills to help you cope with your problem.
Coping strategies can help you learn to accept situations that are beyond your control and find ways to help you feel better even if the problem still exists. When you develop coping strategies, you’re able to build resilience. You’re able to see things in a better perspective and you’ll feel much better about how you handled a certain situation. Being able to cope with things makes you a stronger person.
To develop coping strategies, try taking the following actions:
Challenge negative self-talk. Try and focus more on positives about yourself rather than the negatives. The less you bring yourself down, the better you feel about yourself. Check out our article here for more information.
Talk to people who can support you. Opening up, whether it’s to a best friend, a close family member, or a counselor, can be helpful. They may offer a new perspective or just a comforting response to help you through. If you feel uncomfortable talking to someone in person, you can also call a helpline anonymously. There is always someone there to listen to you.
Relax. Breath. A little relief can go a long way towards helping you reflect on your situation and what can you do for yourself. You may want to try deep breaths, a long walk or something else that you find soothing.
Distract yourself. Try not to spend all your time and energy thinking about your problem. Keep yourself occupied. Keeping busy can help lift your mood and may even offer opportunities to channel your emotions into positive outlets.
Get involved. Make time for enjoyable activities so that you don’t focus exclusively on your problem. Volunteering in areas that interest you may also help.
Different coping strategies
There are numerous ways we can use coping skills to deal with the circumstances and emotional states we find ourselves in. Sometimes our emotions are so intense that relaxing in the moment is out of the question. In order to come to a centered place, we need to get out of our minds and bring ourselves to the present moment. When we are grounded, we are more capable of handling our emotions in an effective way.
Some ways of doing this are through tapping into the five senses. To practice these mindfully, absorb your attention into everything you do. If you’re eating, notice the textures, the different flavors, and the temperature of the food. Really try to be with the moment as much as possible. If you find your mind wandering off, be gentle with yourself and come back to the present moment. It can take a lot of practice to be fully present, so go easy on yourself.
Coping strategies through the five senses:
Touch. Wrap yourself in a soft blanket, walk in the grass with bare feet, hold a warm mug of tea, hold your best friend’s hand, explore nearby textures, notice the feeling of your clothes on your skin and the quality it holds (heavy, soft, scratchy, loose, etc)
Sight. Notice the textures around you, name the colors you see, look at photos you’ve taken when you were at peace or happy, identify plants or animals on a walk
Hearing. Listen to all the small sounds happening around you, hear your breath as you breathe in deeply, try to identify all the instruments used in some soft music, listen to a guided meditation
Taste. Notice the texture of the food or drink, identify the different flavors, let food melt in your mouth as you explore its qualities, drink something refreshing
Smell. Enjoy the different scents of your environment, try to figure out the different smells you come across, light a candle or incense
Once you find yourself in a space where you’re capable of relaxing and soothing yourself, explore using your current strengths or talents as a form of self-care. If you’re unsure what that might be for you, try thinking of things that make you feel fully absorbed, perhaps losing track of time from how involved you are with this activity. This sensation is called “being in flow”. You’re partaking in something that naturally speaks to you and allows you to transform your feelings by channeling them into something that makes you feel good. If you’re having a hard time thinking of what that might look like for you, try exploring some of the possibilities below.
Coping skills for self-care & relaxation:
Listening to your favorite music (or songs you can sing along to)
Taking a hot bath or shower
Going on a walk
Putting yourself out in nature
Reading a book
Studying something that interests you
Painting or drawing
Having someone play with your hair
Our feelings often act as a sort of internal communication with ourselves. Pay attention to the feelings you have, but don’t become absorbed by them. They’re trying to tell us something about ourselves. Maybe it means we need to set better boundaries for ourselves, or perhaps, telling us how much we care. Although it’s important we sit with our feelings at times, it’s equally important to let those feelings pass and move on. This isn’t the same as avoiding our problems—it’s creating space to let things go.
Writing poetry, short stories, fan-fiction, or exploring creative writing prompts
Playing or learning an instrument
Doing something creative like painting, sculpting, woodworking, or building things
Playing video games
Watching a movie
Calling a friend
Watching funny videos online
Browsing wholesome content on social media
Experimenting with makeup
Learning a new language
Cleaning up your room
Taking care of your pets or plants
Cooking a nice meal
When you’re faced with a difficult situation, an important question to ask is: “What’s the best thing I can do to resolve this problem?” If there’s anything you can do, it’s important to work through the options one step at a time. Writing out your options and then weighing them with a pros and cons list may be a helpful way of narrowing down the best resolution. However, sometimes you might find yourself in a situation that you can’t change, no matter how much you would like things to be different.
There’s not much you can do about your height, your age, most of your physical features or the family you were born into. There are also things that have happened in the past that you can’t change. What has happened has happened, and we can’t change the past, but you can still change the way you deal with a situation in the future.
The best way to deal with situations you can’t change is to practice acceptance. This means accepting the way things are without insisting that they should be different, and deciding to get on with life in spite of the situation. Accepting how things are or happened and letting go of the attachment you have to more favorable outcomes will reduce the amount of suffering you put on yourself. Sometimes, accepting things as they are and removing expectations (from yourself AND others) can remove the pressure for things to be perfect or to always go well, and can better allow you to heal.
Coping Strategies and Resolutions
Is there a situation that you don’t like? If you can change it, try working through the eight steps in the Problem Solving article to find a solution to your problem. If not, see how you feel after trying to accept the situation. What can you say to yourself to accept the situation? What sorts of things can you do to get on with your life in a positive way, in spite of the problem?
Remember that problems are a normal part of life, and that we usually feel better when we do something to resolve them rather than just dwell on them. But, if you can’t solve the problem, it’s helpful to change the way you think about it. Practice acceptance and move on with life in a positive way.
Information for this article was provided by:
Taking Charge! A Guide for Teenagers: Practical Ways to Overcome Stress, Hassles and Upsetting Emotions by Dr. Sarah Edelman and Louise Rémond, Foundation for Life Sciences (2005)
Acknowledgements: This article was partially developed by youth and staff for us.ReachOut.com