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Developing Healthy Coping Skills

Developing healthy coping skills is essential to good mental health in today's environment. Whether you've had a rough day at the office or have relationship issues, having healthy coping skills can be vital in getting through tough times. Coping skills help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations in life. Managing your stress well can help you feel better physically and psychologically, and it can impact your ability to perform your best.

But not all coping skills are created equal. Sometimes, it's tempting to engage in strategies that will give quick relief but might create more significant problems for you down the road. It's essential to establish healthy coping skills to help you reduce your emotional distress or rid yourself of the stressful situations you face.

Problem-Based vs. Emotion-Based

There are two main types of coping skills: problem-based coping and emotion-based coping. Understanding how they differ can help you determine the best coping strategy for you.

  • Problem-based coping is helpful when you need to change your situation, perhaps by removing a stressful thing from your life. For example, if you're in an unhealthy relationship, your anxiety and sadness might be best resolved by ending the relationship (instead of soothing your emotions).

  • Emotion-based coping is helpful when you need to take care of your feelings when you either don't want to change your situation or when circumstances are out of your control. For example, if you are grieving the loss of a loved one, it'd be important to take care of your feelings in a healthy way (since you can't change the circumstance).

There isn't always one best way to proceed. Instead, it's up to you to decide which type of coping skill is likely to work best for you in your circumstance. The following are examples of stressful situations and how each approach could be used.

Getting Your Performance Review

You open your email to find your annual performance review. The review states that you are below average in several areas, and you're surprised because you thought you were performing well. You feel anxious and frustrated.

  • Problem-focused coping: You go to the boss and talk about what you can do to improve your performance. You develop a clear plan that will help you do better, and you start to feel more confident about your ability to succeed.

  • Emotion-focused coping: You spend your lunch break reading a book to distract yourself from catastrophic predictions that you will be fired. After work, you exercise and clean the house to help you feel better to think about the situation more clearly.

Getting a Teenager to Clean

You have told your teenager he needs to clean his bedroom. But it's been a week, and clothes and trash seem to be piling up. Before heading out the door in the morning, you told him he must clean his room after school "or else." You arrive home from work to find him playing videos in his messy room.

  • Problem-focused coping: You sit your teenager down and tell him that he will be grounded until his room is clean. You take away his electronics and put him on restriction. In the meantime, you shut the door to his space, so you don't have to look at the mess.

  • Emotion-focused coping: You decide to run some bathwater because a hot bath always helps you feel better. You know a bath will help you calm down, so you don't yell at him or overreact.

Giving a Presentation

You've been invited to give a presentation in front of a large group. You were so flattered and surprised by the invitation that you agreed to do it. But as the event approaches, your anxiety skyrockets because you hate public speaking.

  • Problem-focused coping: You decide to hire a public speaking coach to help you learn how to write a good speech and deliver it confidently. You practice giving your address in front of a few friends and family members so you will feel better prepared to step on stage.

  • Emotion-focused coping: You tell yourself that you can do this. You practice relaxation exercises whenever you start to panic. And you remind yourself that even if you're nervous, no one else is even likely to notice.

Healthy Emotion-Focused Coping Skills

Whether you're feeling lonely, nervous, sad, or angry, emotion-focused coping skills can help you healthily deal with your feelings. Healthy coping strategies may soothe you, temporarily distract you, or help you tolerate your distress.

Sometimes it's helpful to face your emotions head-on. For example, feeling sad after the death of a loved one can help you honor your loss.

So while it would be essential to use coping skills to help relieve some of your distress, coping strategies shouldn't be about constantly distracting you from reality.

Other times, coping skills may help you change your mood. If you've had a bad day at work, playing with your kids or watching a funny movie might cheer you up. Or, if you're angry about something someone said, a healthy coping strategy might help you calm down before you say something you might regret. Here are some examples of healthy emotion-focused coping skills:

  • Care for yourself: Put on lotion that smells good, spend time in nature, take a bath, drink tea, or take care of your body in a way that makes you feel good such as painting your nails, doing your hair, putting on a face mask.

  • Engage in a hobby: Do something you enjoy, such as coloring, drawing, or listening to music.

  • Exercise: Do yoga, walk, take a hike, or engage in a recreational sport.

  • Focus on a task: Clean the house (or a closet, drawer, or area), cook a meal, garden, or read a book.

  • Practice mindfulness: List the things you feel grateful for, meditate, picture your "happy place," or look at pictures to remind you of the people, places, and something that brings joy.

  • Use relaxation strategies: Play with a pet, practice breathing exercises, squeeze a stress ball, use a relaxation app, enjoy some aromatherapy, try progressive muscle relaxation, or write in a journal.

We will be addressing coping skill development in additional blogs. They are a critical tool in your well-being and happiness.


Text Courtesy of A Very Well Mind

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