Upgrading Your Coping Skills

Stressed man.jpg

Did you know coping skills are not always healthy? Yes, that’s right. Usually, when we hear the word “cope” the assumption is usually bent towards a positive interpretation.  Because of that, we may not know some of our coping skills need to be upgraded. In this article, I teach you a simple way to evaluate whether your coping skills are working for you or against you.

First, make a list of all the ways you cope. If you are not exactly sure what are your coping skills, ask yourself questions like ‘What do I do to feel better when I’m stressed? How do I occupy my mind when I’m worried? Where do I go when I’m overwhelmed?’  Let’s say I have identified these coping skills: exercising, drinking, prayer.   

Next, evaluate whether the coping skills you’re using are effective.  In other words, what is the immediate and long-term impact on your mood and well-being?  Let’s look at a few examples below:

a) DRINKING:  Helps me fall asleep, takes my mind off the problem so I feel better (NOW); Wake up in the middle of the night, mind returns to problem, now I feel worse (LATER)  

b) EXERCISING: Helps to distract me from my worries and I feel good (NOW); Feel pleased with my progress towards healthier lifestyle; I can think clearer about my problems and decide a plan of action; I feel inspired (LATER)

c) PRAYER: I can talk to God about all my problems right now and I feel better (NOW); I sit and wait for God to “fix” everything I told Him about and when I don’t see anything happening, I feel discouraged, frustrated, and confused (LATER)

Now that I’ve taken a look at my list, I can see what is working for me and what coping skills I need to keep, upgrade, or toss.

a) DRINKING: Excessive drinking doesn’t seem to help me all that much so, I can decide to upgrade this skill by drinking only in moderation and not use it to deal with problems. However, I may decide to cut this skill altogether.

b) EXERCISING: This coping tool appears to be an all-around benefit because I feel better immediately and although my problem hasn’t magically gone away after exercise, I can better cope with it (and I may look good while doing it J ). Looks like this is one I need to keep.

c) PRAYER: I realize my way of praying is passive, which means I’m putting all the responsibility on God. I’m not only down about my problem, but now I’m frustrated with God. This way of coping doesn’t seem to be helping me in the way it should. Maybe I can decide to upgrade this coping skill by learning to pray actively, which means I will talk to God about my problems and put some actions with my faith. I may not see the immediate results I’d like, but I feel encouraged now that I am an active participant in my faith journey.

As you review your list, it’s okay if you realize some of your tools worked in the past but they are no longer working. Brainstorm more effective ways to help you deal with daily stress. Remember that coping skills may fall in different categories (mental, physical, emotional, spiritual) and there are different types of coping skills like self-soothing, distraction, self-love, creative expression, thought-challenging, etc.  Try to identify a variety of skills in different categories so you can have them readily available in your toolkit when you need them.

To help you get started, I've included a free simple worksheet here.