Coping skills: what does that even mean?

Coping skills. We hear the term all the time but what does it even mean? It’s usually followed up by a list that always includes yoga and drinking tea and even I roll my eyes at myself when I make these suggestions to my clients.

But the fault is not in the strategies themselves, but in the lack of conceptualization of why it’s important.

So let’s build some understanding…

When life happens to us we do something called “coping”. Sounds pretty weird. Let’s walk it back a bit and try to explain it using something we are all familiar with.

A conversation.

When someone is standing in front of you and they talk to you, your response is called “replying”. You do this because you take in what this person said, you process what those words mean by thinking about them, and then in return you say something back. This interaction happens constantly throughout our day and we don’t give it a second thought.

Now, coping is no different.

When life is happening all around you, and throws a situation at you, your response is called “coping”. You do this because you take in what has just happened/is happening to you, you process what that is, and in return, your thought/feeling and/or action is called “coping”.

We do this automatically because our minds are in a constant mode of self-protection and self-preservation. And since this is an automatic response we will often times go towards those quick and cheap ways to cope because they are easy – but they can also be harmful.

Some of these shortcuts to coping when a stressful life event happens include: anger outbursts, arguing, shutting down, avoiding, indulging a thought spiral, overthinking, over analyzing, co-dependence, blaming, alcohol, food, shopping etc.

So when we (therapists) shout about and try and push coping skills on you, it’s because we want to provide alternatives to the above list. What we are suggesting is healthy coping skills to replace the negative ones you may be going to in the moment.

So what can we do:

-Yoga! (I had to.)

-Reframing the thought in your mind into a visual form (this takes creativity)

-Drawing what you are feeling

-Expressing the situation as you interpret it into a journal, letter, a text, or an email to yourself

-Tell your problem to your pet (sounds silly, still try it)

-Go outside for gentle physical activity and imagine leaving the problem at home, and say you’ll return to it when you get back.

-Finding something in your home to organize or clean

-Ask a partner or a friend if they are in a good mental state to be a listening ear for you (this respects their inner life, as well as your own)

This is just a short list. Think on your life. What else can you add to it?