Coping Skills

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In a high school, I hear the kids use counsel-y words like “trigger” and “coping skills.” They’re often trying to be funny, which is sort of great because humor is a coping skill!

Coping skills are methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations. Positive coping skills are things like going for a walk, breathing techniques, writing, or serving others. Positive coping skills take practice to develop and use consistently but become second nature over time. More importantly, positive coping skills help us develop resiliency, problem-solving skills, and typically do not negatively interfere with relationships. For two, free extensive lists of positive coping skills, check out 100 Coping Skills for Managing Anger, Anxiety, and More (scroll to the bottom) and 99 Coping Skills.

There are coping skills that can be considered negative. Negative coping skills would be things we turn turn to do deal with stress but tend to cause more harm than good. Things like procrastination, substance use, and over-eating are examples of negative coping skills. When we do these things, we tend to feel guilty afterward, which causes more stress and does not actually help us cope: They act as quick band-aid that increases happy hormones for a brief moment but cause us to crash and burn after the moment is gone. (This can actually lead to addictive behaviors because we’ll continue to chase that good feeling.) Negative coping skills also tend to harm or interfere with relationships we have with our support system. Below is a list of negative coping skills.

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Some coping skills like shopping, sleeping, or watching Netflix can be positive or negative depending on how much the activity controls the life of the person using the skill. For example, when I’m feeling overwhelmed, it’s often because I am actually tired: My brain is not rested enough to process the information around me. I find that an hour nap does me a world a good, and I’m able to wake up a face my issues in a new ways. I have students who take 3 hour naps after school because they are overwhelmed and stressed. This is an issue because a) they are avoiding tackling the work that is causing the stress and b) the long nap interferes with a healthy bedtime. These students will stay up until 3:00 a.m. and do school on only 4 hours of sleep. This isn’t a one-time a month thing for some kids: It’s their typical routine. This is an example how a coping skill can be utilized both positively and negatively.

After looking at some examples, what kind of coping skills do automatically use?  If your skills are more on the negative side, how can you incorporate more positive coping skills into your typical routine? (Hint: When you do something on a regular basis when you’re not stressed, it’s easier to remember to do that thing when you are.)

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