How can I develop coping strategies?
In some situations, despite our best efforts, we still can’t fix the problems we find ourselves in. It can be tempting to stew in those thoughts of perhaps not being good enough or deserving of the things you want in life, but those kinds of thoughts won’t move you forward.
When things don’t go as planned, there are other alternative routes to take. These routes becomes 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.
A good starting place to learning how to cope better:
- 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.
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.
Some ways of doing this are through tapping into the five senses. To practice these mindfully, absorb your attention into everything you’re doing. 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. Check out our article on Mindfulness to learn more.
Using The 5
There are lots of ways you can use your 5 senses to ground yourself when you feel your anxiety heightening or your emotions becoming overwhelming.
One way is called the 5-4-3-2-1 method—5 things you can see, 4 things you can touch, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste.
The great thing about this method is that you can do it anywhere, at anytime, and generally it’s pretty inconspicuous–in case you’re worried about coping while you’re in public.
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)
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
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
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
Enjoy the different scents of your environment, try to figure out the different smells you come across, light a candle or incense
Finding Your Flow
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 relaxation. If you’re unsure what that might be for you, try thinking of things that make you feel fully absorbed in, 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 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
Writing poetry, short stories, fanfiction, 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
YouTube University to the Rescue
Below, you’ll find a selection of different youtube videos geared towards teaching you new things (with a little wholesome content thrown in). Moving your body and breathing are directly related to reducing stress and helping your emotions cycle through your body, instead of getting stuck and feeling like you’re going to explode.
When thinking of coping, think of how your body is feeling and what it needs most. If you’re feeling depressed, it’s likely it could be pretty hard to muster up the energy to do a full-blown workout. Perhaps instead, some gentle yoga or practicing mindfulness as you shower or bathe could be a relaxing way to care for yourself. If your anxiety is running pretty high, you might want to try something that gets you out of your head a little, like going for a walking meditation or foraging, learning a new skill, or something else that’s engaging and can get you out of that state of mind. You already have all the answers to what you need inside of you. You can do this!
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.
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. But 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.
Coping Strategies & 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 resolving 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.
What are some of your favorite ways to cope with the challenges you face in life? Do you have any suggestions for others looking for better coping methods? Share in the comments below!
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)