Developing Coping Strategies
A closer look at developing coping skills that work for you
Sometimes life can really hit us the wrong way. Having a go-to way of dealing with the stress and triggers in your life helps make things more manageable. Coping strategies can be many different things, and it’s all unique to the person. One of the most important things to consider, however, is how healthy that coping method is for you.
Maybe when things are rough it’s easy to curl up with some food and binge watch Netflix. Inherently, there’s nothing wrong with this, but if you’re consistently using comfort food to handle your stress, you could have a higher risk of developing binge eating disorder. Similarly, using drugs or alcohol only numbs you or helps you avoid the actual feelings you’re going through rather than confronting them and letting them go.
When finding a coping method that works for you, ask yourself if it benefits you in the long-term to use, and if you’re using it to gloss over the uncomfortable feelings or to transmute those feelings into something productive. Learning how to cope is a skill, but a worthwhile one to have.
How can I develop coping strategies?
In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. 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.
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. If you’d prefer talking with someone in person, regularly working with a mental health professional can help you learn to manage your emotions, communicate more effectively, and feel supported when you can’t turn to anyone else.
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 where your attention was fully absorbed in that activity, perhaps even losing track of time. 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
Meditating (Try guided meditation!)
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. Part of letting go can be creating a distraction for yourself, and another part is acknowledging your feelings.
Recognize that what ever it is you’re feeling; it is valid. YOU are valid. Ask yourself why you’re feeling the way you are and how to prevent feeling that way the next time. 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
Working out (try different at-home workouts on YouTube or Instagram)
Learning a new skill that keeps you active (rock climbing, foraging, yoga, hula hooping, etc)
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
Coping Through Movement & Breath
Moving your body is a great way to distract yourself, connect further with your body, and to use movement in combination with breath to move through the emotions you’re feeling. There are a lot of apps, games, YouTube videos and things you can do with friends to help you literally move through stress.
One fun app is called Zombies, Run! As you walk, jog or run (even on a treadmill or elliptical machine) you are being walked through a story via your headphones. Imagine existing in a zombie apocalypse and you’re a designated runner that needs to pick up supplies for the base. As you’re running, people in the radio tower will talk to you and you’ll even hear the zombies catch up to you, making you feel like you need to run a little faster. Once you’re done, you can take all the items you collected on your run and build up your base to help survive the zombie apocalypse. It’s a fun way to workout while also indulging in a little role playing and video gaming.
If you feel like you need exert some serious energy from whatever has you worked up, try some challenging workouts! Not only is working out a great way to blow some steam, but it’s beneficial to your body and mind. There’s a lot of different ways to work out at home, at the gym, or out in nature. Really anywhere you are, you can incorporate exercise. Just remember to do your research or talk to your doctor before diving too deep. It’s important you find a routine that works for you, but one that you’re also doing correctly so you don’t accidentally injure yourself. Google is your best friend here.
Some people find bodyweight exercises to be challenging and fun by using your body’s weight as a tool for strengthening. Calisthenics are a type of gymnastic workout that also incorporates a lot of bodyweight exercises. Although yoga seems relaxing (in which it can be), there are also faster paced routines where you rely on balance and leg & core strength to complete the sequences—making it a little more challenging. If you’re on Instagram, you can also browse tags like #bicepworkout, #legworkout, or #upperbodyworkout to help you find examples of exercises you can do with the equipment (or lack thereof) you have access to. Always double check how to perform specific workouts correctly (in good form) if you’re unsure; it’s better to know than hurt yourself trying.
Qigong is a Chinese medicine practice that consists of mindful breathing and movement to help with balancing the mind and body. It has helped people overcome anxiety and stress and to become more in tune with their bodies. See the video below to learn more.
Dance is a great way to express your feelings or to release some built up stress! If you don’t like dancing in front of others, spend sometime in front of your mirror or in your room dancing it out. If you don’t mind sharing your dancing skills with others, try a dancing challenge on TikTok or going to an ecstatic dance event. If you’ve never heard of it, ecstatic dance events are held to give people a safe space to dance and express themselves, no matter their age, abilities, or gender. There’s no talking on the dance floor, just a space for you to move freely and enjoy the music.
Check out the videos below for some suggestions on moving your body & breathing techniques for stress relief:
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? Our article on Gratitude, Forgiveness, and Happiness is also a good place to start changing your perspective on what’s going on in your life.
Remember that problems are a normal part of life and 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