Coping Skills: The Basics

Once we’ve mad that choice to keep going and to begin our journey of recovery we open ourselves up to hope yet there are many challenges. These are different for everyone and all of us can learn to handle whatever is thrown our way. We do this through various coping skills. But what are Coping Skills?

Coping mechanisms are an array of things that you use to diffuse stress, anger, or anything you perceive as negative so it doesn’t no longer impacts you negatively. Think of them like protective or defense mechanisms.

If you start to look at what you do when something doesn’t go the way you wanted it you can start to identify what some of your coping mechanisms are. Now one thing that we all need to understand is that we all have positive and negative coping skills. Both can be effective for us but negative coping skills are generally ineffective over the long term or bad for our health.

A simplified example would be if we don’t have enough money to pay a particular bill. It may start with denial and flat our ignoring the issue which doesn’t go away just because we refuse to open the mail or throw the bill away. Then instead of calling and trying to work something out to pay the portion we can afford we rationalize not paying it at all. Maybe no matter what we’ll get a late fee so forget it until next month. It still bothers us so maybe we take that money and go out and have a few drinks instead. Then the spiral downward continues…

If that sounds familiar it’s ok. I think most people have made similar mistakes and gotten through it. The difference between using positive and negative coping skills is more of a habit. Habits are hard to establish and bad habits are even harder to break.

You may be sitting there reading this and mentally going through all of those negative coping skills that you use almost automatically. I have to ask you to stop doing that. In essence, I’m asking you to use a negative coping skill for just a moment, use denial to ignore those negatives. I don’t want you to focus on your ball of negativity right now. Put that ball of negativity up on a shelf, be positive, and to start practicing some of those positive skills.

It’s easier than you think and this is how you start establishing that habit. Some small things you can do almost immediate are things like taking a deep breath, going for a short walk, stretch, think of something that makes you smile.

There’s also a difference between what I call passive coping and active cping.

Passive coping are those things you do daily to stay well even if you’re feeling great. Active coping skills are things you do when you are immediately struggling, being triggered, or experiencing symptoms. Active coping skills are harder to apply but are usually easier to get into the habit of using. Passive coping skills are a little harder to get into the habit of doing but have a greater impact on your general well-being.

Referring back to Where it Starts, there are some things in there you can start doing for yourself that are great passive coping skills. Drink more water, cut back or stop drinking alcohol or other drugs, exercise three times a week, and do whatever possible to get 6 to 8 hours of sleep a night.

Start small. It’s easier to achieve. Achievement gives you a sense of accomplishment and success. Those are positive feelings and will boost your commitment. So if you don’t drink any water throughout the day now it may seem impossible to drink 32-48 ounces of water a day. So start with having an 8 oz glass in the morning and an 8 oz glass in the evening. Then expand from there.

Here are some other passive coping skills you can add in that I’ve used in the past and some I still use today…

  • Journaling
  • Walking/Stretching when I get stressed
  • Positive Affirmations (Daily on my Mirror with a dry erase marker)
  • Being Thankful for what I have no matter how small
  • Deep Breathing
  • Progressive Muscle Relaxation
  • Meditation (Every night before bed)
  • Talking it out/Venting
  • Focusing my energy on something good
    • Like this blog or volunteering
    • A constructive hobby
    • Art/Coloring
  • Avoiding the Negative
    • Unplugging from Social Media or the news
    • Not spending as much time with negative people
  • Self Reflection
  • Giving myself Credit when I do well
  • Forgive myself when I struggle

This list could go on for a while. Adding these things in gives us better overall well being which makes any active coping skills more effective and sometimes not needed as often.

All of this is a basic explanation and different things work for different people so always be open to trying something new. We’ll get a little more involved in some of these and discuss applying active coping skills in the future.