By Monique Hassan
What do drugs, exercise, deep breathing, overeating, journaling and chocolate cake all have in common?
These are all examples of coping skills, albeit they are not all healthy coping skills (I do not condone some of those), but none the less they are all utilized by people as coping skills. What are coping skills you may be thinking, I am glad you asked!
A coworker at a behavioral health hospital once told me the difference between us (the staff) and the patients was one critical element, our coping skills.
A coping skill is essentially a method an individual employs to affectively minimize, control and handle stressful situations (or triggers, see more information on those here). You utilize coping skills without even realizing it, but to truly hone in on our coping skills enables us to have strategies to control our behavioral and psychological reactions to events. As my Mother likes to say, “it is not what happens to you that matters, it is how you react to it”.
We have all seen the clique movie scene where the heartbroken person listens to sad, depressing music and eats a pint of ice cream. This my friends is not a healthy coping skill, however, there are much worse that people utilize. Many drug addicts began abusing drugs to numb their pain instead of handling it. A young girl cuts herself in an effort to try and make her chaotic emotions manifest physically and signal to the world “I need help”. A man becomes aggressive at the stranger who accidentally bumped into him and wants to fight him, all because he had a bad day at work. A woman drinks herself into a drunken stupor to cope with the fight she just had with her husband. These are all examples of people using very negative and destructive coping strategies.
Maladaptive coping skills are not only dangerous to the individual, they can be dangerous to those around them, add stress to relationships, deepen emotional pain alongside guilt and create worse situations which lead to more negative coping skills.
An affective coping skill for me may not be as beneficial for you. We must identify our unique coping skills that suit our needs. During a stressful situation or trigger, the first step is to recognize and validate your emotions. It is okay to feel sad or angry, what is not okay is to lash out at others or yourself. Remove yourself from the situation if possible, take deep breaths and feel your emotions instead of running from them.
Look at what is upsetting you and try to see the bigger picture. Sure, it is upsetting for your car to be totaled in a car accident, but if you are alive then you have something to be thankful for. It is difficult to deal with a divorce, but this may open the door to a better marriage in the future and saved you from more heartbreak. If an exam comes back with a bad grade, look at the weakest subject areas and determine a better studying plan for next time.
Do you see the pattern here, look for the positives and focus on optimistic thinking. Become a master of positive self-talk and combat those irrational, negative thoughts with positive self-affirmations (hitting on cognitive behavioral therapy here).
After the immediate need to stabilize emotions and essentially self soothe, a variety of coping skills can come into play. This is a list of many positive coping skills, try to find a few in this list that can be beneficial for you or come up with 2 more of your own.
- Read a book
- Walking in a park
- Listening to Quranic Recitation or Biblical quotes
- Working with one’s hands on a DIY project
- Deep breathing and/or meditation
- Looking at pictures of favorite memories
- Drawing flowers
- Go for a drive somewhere scenic
- Hug a friend
- Perform a random act of kindness for someone else
Let me know in the comments below what coping skills work best for you.