Coping skills may not always be the magic solution to your problems. Sometimes your emotions are so intense that the most you can hope for is to delay the pain. If coping skills aren't working for you, it may be that you're simply not using the right ones!
Maybe you've tried some of the activities on our 99 Coping Skills list and they just aren't working this time with this problem. Maybe nothing seems to give you the same result as some unhealthy ways you've used before (cutting, drugs, alcohol, etc.).
There is not necessarily one "right" coping strategy for any particular situation, and of course, different things will work for different people. The key is to figure out which coping skills to use, and when to use them.
So, how do you decide which coping skills to choose? The best way is to ask yourself: "What do I need right now?" People turn to coping skills for a lot of different reasons. We've listed some of the most common of those reasons below.
What do you need?
To release emotion – This is probably the most common reason why people need coping skills. There's just so much anger or sadness or worry built up that you need to do something to let some of the steam out. Coping skills that help to release emotions fall into two categories: physical or non-physical. When you need a physical release, try exercising, tearing up paper, or punching a pillow. If you aren't looking for a physical outlet try journaling, talking to a friend, or creating art or music.
To make emotions visible or concrete – Unlike a physical wound, emotional pain can be hard to see or explain. When you need to show how you are feeling in some visible or tangible way, try drawing/painting/scribbling (especially with colors that match your mood), writing poetry or stories. You can also write words on yourself, or put band aids on your body to symbolize the pain.
To gain control – When emotions are in a frenzy, it can feel like life is out of control. Sometimes you have no control over the situation and you just have to wait it out. When that happens, try something that helps you to feel like you're in control. Making lists, cleaning and organizing are great activities. Doing an activity that you're good at might also help you to feel competent and in control.
To stop feeling – Sometimes feelings become too much. You want to take a break from them so you don't have to feel any more. One option is to try soothing or relaxing activities like taking a hot shower, lighting a scented candle, taking a short nap, or focusing on deep breathing. Another option is to use distractions: watch a movie, play a game, read a book, listen to music.
To feel something – Some people get so overwhelmed with their situation that they feel nothing. While being numb to your feelings might be nice initially, most people eventually want to feel something. So, use coping skills that focus on sensations. Hold an ice cube, splash cold water on your face, lightly snap a rubber band on your wrist, tense and relax your muscles, or watch something that will make you laugh.
To punish yourself – If you are struggling with self-esteem issues, your tendency might be to blame yourself. You might even feel like you need to punish yourself in order to feel better. Try doing the opposite instead. Build yourself up by making a list of things that you do well, or things that you like about yourself. Treat yourself to something special, or use our list of 101 Positive Things to Say to Myself for a daily boost.
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.