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How to Build and Maintain Healthy Coping Skills

The Nystrom & Associates provider consulted for this article is Susan Clough, MA, MFT, Psychotherapist/DBT Group Therapist. Learning how to build and maintain healthy coping skills is central to handling life's difficult situations in a way that has positive, long-term effects.   When life stresses you out, what habits do you rely on to feel better? While some people go for a run or read a book, others may lean towards behaviors like excessive sleeping or substance use. How you cope with hardship in life can bring you closer or further away from the person you want to be.

What Are Coping Skills?

Coping skills are tools and techniques you can use whenever you’re struggling with difficult emotions. Typically, those emotions are triggered by life stressors that require coping skills to get through tough times. Life stressors can be caused by negative or positive events such as losing a job, giving birth, moving, or getting a divorce. Essentially, coping skills are the behaviors, thoughts, and emotions you implement to adapt to the changes in your life. Coping skills can be healthy and bring a positive outcome, or unhealthy and bring a negative outcome.

Coping Skills to Avoid

Unhealthy coping skills to avoid are:
  • Avoidance/procrastination: Not addressing problems within your control will cause issues to continue or worsen.
  • Overspending/overeating/oversleeping: These coping skills can lead to habits with harmful effects.
  • Substance use: Overconsumption of substances can lead to addiction or make feelings worse.
  • Self-criticism/excessive worrying: Negative self-talk will only further negative thoughts.
If you recognize any of these behaviors in your coping skills, it may be tough to break those patterns. However, there are proactive coping skills out there that will help you address issues in a way that works for you. The goal is to build coping skills that allow you to work through your emotions while dealing with the problem, rather than escaping it.

How to Build Coping Skills

Coping skills will differ based on the issue at hand. Issues at work will most likely involve a problem-solving coping skill like talking to your boss and making a plan to improve the predicament. Emotion-based coping skills come in handy if, for example, you have a newborn and haven't had time for yourself. Reaching out to a family member or friend to ask for support and engaging in relaxing activities are a couple of constructive coping skills. If worrying or being self-critical is your default coping mechanism, the power of positive thinking is on your side - if you put in some effort to change your thought pattern.
Through repetitive positive thoughts, our brains can rewire themselves to stimulate positive feelings. {…} First is observing that a negative thought has crept in, then telling ourselves to stop the thought, and finally, rethink how we positively have navigated the concern in the past and offer self-encouragement. We literally have the power to help our brains build new neurotransmitters and short circuit the old thought pattern.
-Susan Clough, Psychotherapist/DBT Group Therapist at Nystrom & Associates. In short, you can change the way you think if you stop negative thoughts in their tracks and give yourself compassion. Break negative thought patterns with positive thoughts, and positive feelings will prevail. Here are a few more examples of healthy coping skills:
  • Write in a journal
  • Engage in self-care (take a bath, read a book)
  • Create a to-do list
  • Establish healthy boundaries
  • Work on time-management
  • Enjoy a hobby
Check out this article for coping skills that focus on improving your mood.

How to Maintain Coping Skills

Building coping skills is half of the battle, the goal is to maintain them long term. The ability to retain healthy coping skills is the key to leading a balanced life. Additionally, it provides a way to deal with life's many ups and downs in a healthy and growth-oriented manner. Consider the big picture – if you find yourself turning to an old habit, ask yourself these questions:
  • Does this coping skill have a positive or negative long-term effect?
  • Is this activity an appropriate outlet for me to process what’s happened? (Rather than avoiding it.)
  • Is this an outlet I can afford both with my time and financially?
  • Am I putting myself or others at risk?
Coping skills are outlets you will use throughout your life, therefore it’s worth putting in the effort to analyze if your go-to tools are effective. To help support you through your problems, keep a running list of the coping skills that worked, so you can turn to it when needed.

A Word From Nystrom & Associates

Sometimes coping is hard to manage on your own, and that’s okay. Therapy provides a wonderful outlet to help you build and maintain healthy coping skills. Reach out to us here if you’d like to request an appointment with one of our professional providers.

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