Tell Me More About These “Coping Skills” of which You Speak

Ask any kiddo who’s ever been in inpatient or outpatient mental health treatment, especially the ones still in single digit ages, what they should do when they feel (insert unhealthy emotion here), and you’ll get a pretty ubiquitous response: “Use my coping skills!” Well, my little friends, you’d be fantastically right. But, what are coping skills? The youngest ones remember the words but sometimes struggle to actually articulate a useful skill when asked. It is, frankly, adorable.

Coping skills are certainly helpful for youngsters who struggle keeping their hands to themselves and their words in check when upset, but the need for skills doesn’t go away once one graduates high school. Because, while it was inappropriate to bite the girl next to you at your 3rd grade desk clump because you thought she stole your pencil, it’s even worse to do it to your boss when she tells you you’re late to submit a report.

So, young or old(er), in school or working, or whatever your circumstance is, what are helpful ways to deal with the unhappinesses life is certain to throw your way? I’m so glad you asked. As a social worker, it is my deepest joy to explain oh so frequently what coping skills are and why/when you need to use them.

Distraction Techniques
Sometimes, you’re so overwhelmed by the moment, you just want to forget about it for a while until you can come back to it and process it more healthfully. Good call! These are called, “distraction techniques.”

Examples: chat with a friend, watch a tv show, listen to music, knit or crochet, get in the dirt in your garden and dig, straighten up your home, read a book, get on YouTube, Call of Duty, I’m told is a blast. You get the point.

Positives: Distracting yourself gets you away from the issue for a moment. Bring down that heart rate, slow down the mouse on the wheel that is your brain. It’ll get you through the crisis and give you a moment for a quick breather.

Less than positives: This doesn’t actually solve anything. Ignoring a problem for too long is clearly counterproductive. Distraction allows you to calm yourself to a more rational mindset, but totally ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Seeking Your Higher Self
Believe in a Higher Power? Awesome. Don’t? Also fantastic. “Higher Self” doesn’t have to mean spirituality, though it can if you want it to.

Examples: Volunteer, pray, give back, be nice to the check out clerk, help someone, pay for the Starbucks of the person in line behind you in the drive thru, join a cause you’re passionate about, go to your local animal shelter and cuddle with the dogs.

Positives: Seeking your higher self, in whatever capacity you choose, helps us remember the value in everyone and everything in our lives. Everything has a purpose, so take a moment to find it, not matter big or small.

Less than positives: If you’re only focusing on others, when will you make time to focus on you? A number of my clients love to “fix” everyone else’s problems so they can distract themselves from their own issues. Be mindful of how much time you exert on others!

Emotional Release
Examples: Scream it out! Go for a run! Yell into your pillow! Take a cold shower, find your favorite funny show on Hulu and really laugh it out. Allow yourself to get in a good cry. Pop a balloon (not me, I’m afraid of popping balloons), join an exercise class or a Krav Maga gym, dance and sing out loud to the music overhead in Home Depot!

Positives: Useful in letting out anger and fear. In perfect James Brown style, it helps you to try to release that pressure!

Less than positives: Emotional release doesn’t always work in every situation. Some people may feel kind of foolish singing and dancing to overhead music in a public place, and others may give you strange looks.

Grounding
Utilizing your senses and your physical body.

Examples: Smell the roses, pay attention to what your food tastes like, check what color the sky is, walk barefoot in the sand or grass, play with PlayDoh, meditate, hit the gym or go for a run/walk, give yoga a try.

Positives: Helps bring you back from that “out of body experience” feeling, where you feel disconnected from yourself or even that you might be dying. Decreases the physical symptoms of anxiety.

Less than positives: Your body dissociates when you are in severe psychological trouble, like in an abusive situation. This is to protect your mind from what’s happening.

Thought Challenge
Are you sure you’re thinking clearly? Have you weighed all the options using your wise mind?

Examples: Use a thought record to write down your negative thoughts. Pay attention to what evidence you have for and against those thoughts. What would you tell your best friend if he or she was telling you the same problems?

Positives: Practicing using thought records and checking your negative thoughts can actually help to change the way you think in the long run. Practice makes progress! Utilizing a wise mind (rational mind + emotional mind) can help with future reactions, causing a decrease in emotional stress!

Less than positives: It can be so difficult to get yourself into a clear mental space right away, especially if it’s what you’ve grown accustomed to. We revert to what we know in crisis! The stronger the negative emotion, the more difficult it can be to appropriately weigh the truths and falsities.

Love Yourself
Do something good for you! Self-care is important!

Examples: Get a massage, get a manicure or a pedicure, indulge in a modest splurge, take a bubble bath or a long, warm shower, go out or make a nice meal.

Positives: You must love yourself in order to give the best love to others, so practice being kind to yourself! You deserve to be taken care of. As I mentioned in Thought Challenge, what would you encourage your friends to do to take care of themselves? So, why wouldn’t you also deserve that same self-attention?!

Less than positives: Some people truly struggle to focus on themselves. It takes practice to allow yourself to spend money and/or time on yourself.

*It is important to note that, just because I might benefit from challenging my thoughts by reasoning out what might really be going on, that might have absolutely no benefit to you. If you find yourself feeling stumped or unphased by one, mosey along, partner, and try the next!

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