The ways that we deal with stress may help us in the moment, but harm us later. These are generally regarded as unhealthy coping skills. Coping skills can also be healthy, so let's learn how you can replace unhealthy coping skills with healthy ones.
What Are Coping Skills?
Coping skills, also known as coping mechanisms or coping strategies, are conscious efforts designed to reduce or overcome stress. They are actions that we take in hopes that we can either handle a conflict or reduce our emotional response to stressful situations around us.
This differs from defense mechanisms, which largely happen in the unconscious mind. A defense mechanism may be repressing or denying that a situation is making you stressed. A coping mechanism requires that you recognize your stress, and then do something about it.
Examples of Coping Skills
When you’re stressed out about something, what do you do?
Maybe you play video games. Or you clean the house. Maybe you smoke some pot. Or you journal. There are many ways to deal with stress, but they all have one goal: to deal with your stress.
Of course, smoking pot and journaling are two very different actions. You might say that one works better than another. You might also say that one works better for short-term stress relief, while the other one works better for long-term stress relief.
Different Types of Coping Skills
We use coping mechanisms to deal with stress. But the goal is not always to reduce or remove stress from our lives. Through coping skills, we may seek:
- Support and validation from others
- A solution to the problems causing us stress
- A more relaxed state of mind
- A different perspective
There are healthy and unhealthy ways to accomplish these goals. For example, a person may feel insecure about themselves, and this insecurity becomes stressful. To alleviate the stress and feel validated, they go to a bar, get drunk, and hook up with someone they’ve never met. Doing this once or twice may not cause any harm and it might alleviate the stress for the time being. But this pattern may have consequences, especially if the person is not being safe. It also fails to address the root causes of the person’s insecurity or stress.
When you are stressed, you might want to take the quickest road to relief. Getting high “works” faster than doing a Yin Yoga class. Sleeping all day is much easier than sticking to a workout routine. But will these things help to prevent stress from affecting you in the future? Do they solve any problems? Not really.
So let’s talk about healthy coping skills that can help to alleviate stress long-term.
What Are Healthy Coping Skills Anxiety?
We’ll start with coping skills that help to solve problems.
Setting boundaries. Are you overwhelmed by a busy schedule? Do not feel as though you can live up to someone’s high expectations? Are you expected to do something you do not want to do? Set boundaries. Reflect on what you will and will not accept in your life, and communicate that to others.
Delegating tasks. Do not try to take on the responsibilities of others. If you need assistance, or a job is better suited for someone else in your life, ask them to take over. This will allow you to focus on bettering yourself or other high-priority tasks that need attention immediately.
Creating a to-do list, schedule, or goal board. It might help you to see your daily tasks written down. Writing has been proven to reduce our emotional responses. Make a list of what you have to do today. This will also help you determine whether you need extra assistance or to set additional boundaries.
What Are Healthy Coping Skills for Stress?
Just want to hear that you’re on the right track? There are many ways to seek support and maintain healthy relationships with friends, family, or even strangers.
Attending a support group. Dealing with stress from addiction, overeating, or other vices? Experiencing grief? Find a support group. Attending a meeting will allow you to share what is going on in your life and hear from other people who have experienced similar situations.
Reaching out to a friend. Sometimes, it just feels good to vent. Write or talk out your emotions with a friend. (Make sure they are in the right headspace to listen, though!)
Affirmations. Support doesn’t have to come from another person. You can also find it within yourself through affirmations. This, like many healthy coping skills, requires work and dedication. Repeating a single positive affirmation a few times in one day might feel uncomfortable. But if you spend time breaking down your negative beliefs and replacing them with positive ones, you will be able to avoid stress and feel more confident taking on challenges.
Seeking professional help. A therapist can help you solve problems while providing support and validation that you may not accept from friends or family. They can also suggest healthy coping skills that address the type of stress that you are going through.
Practical Coping Skills to Address Emotions
Maybe you can’t point to one thing that is stressing you out. Work seems more boring than usual, the state of the world seems more bleak, and you don’t feel so hot and healthy. These coping skills can help to lift the stress that might be weighing down on your mental and physical well-being.
Journaling. Write it out! Put your thoughts on a page and “vent” to your journal. You may find yourself turning your stress into art, or just letting off some steam before heading back to a stressful project.
Meditation. Taking 15 minutes to regain your focus can also give you a new perspective. Try apps like Insight Timer or Headspace for clarity and stress relief.
Yoga. Yoga combines the mental clarity that comes from meditation with the physical benefits of moving your body. Try a vinyasa or power class if you want a workout. If you want something more relaxing, try a Yin or Restorative class.
Exercise. Want that runner’s high? You’ll need to run. Get out and get moving for at least 30 minutes. When you come back to your house, your desk, or your office, you’ll find yourself more energized and less stressed.
Bubble bath or spa day. Okay, you don’t have to move to feel less stressed. Put together a little day or evening to treat yourself. Run a bath with calming essential oils. Wear a face mask. Paint your nails. Go to the barber. Spending just a little time to unwind and spruce up your outside can help you feel better on the inside. Plus, it’s more healthy than drinking, drugs, or other vices.