Coping Skills are what we use to manage stressful situations, tolerate overwhelming emotions, and manage everyday feelings.
Sometimes coping skills are also referred to as coping mechanisms or coping strategies. Therapy is most often aimed at creating and strengthening positive coping skills and reducing negative ones. These skills can be both ‘positive/healthy’ OR ‘negative/unhealthy’ and can be seen as on a scale from healthy to unhealthy.
The first step to making positive change with the use of coping skills is to look at your current coping skills.
You want to make sure to keep your healthy coping skills and even use them more to help with other stressful situations. You also want to identify which coping skills you believe are unhealthy, because those are the ones we want to start to change.
The first task is just to notice:
The first steps to making positive changes and managing stress is to identify what coping skills you are using and how helpful or unhelpful they are for you. I suggest you journal your coping skills, either throughout your day or in the evening, write down some of the coping skills you use to get through the day and reflect if you think they are ‘positive/healthy’ or ‘negative/unhealthy’. Where do you think these coping skills fall on the scale? (Very Healthy, Healthy, Average, Unhealthy, Very Unhealthy)
I like to use the example of yoga. Many would agree that yoga is a great coping skill to reduce stress, help focus the mind and exercise the body. However, if I am missing work because I am doing yoga for 6 hours a day, yoga would no longer be a healthy coping skill as it is impairing my ability to work.
It can be hard to think of unhealthy coping skills because you don’t often identify things like smoking, avoiding your problems, excessive sleep or running away as coping skills. Unhealthy coping skills have benefited you in the past to survive a difficult situation or are helping you now; however, the cost of those unhealthy coping skills often outweigh the benefits in the end.
Monica McNeeley is a licensed therapist, LCSW, provides online therapy in the state of California. She has been providing therapy services since 2011.
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