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  • Writer's pictureLiz Morrison, LCSW

Keep Calm and Cope This Way: How and When To Use your Coping Strategies

Coping Strategies

In a busy, and sometimes stressful, life we all need positive coping strategies like taking a walk in nature, scheduling breaks, listening to music, taking a deep breath, practicing mindfulness meditation, engaging creativity, talking to a good friend, or taking a bath.

But which strategy is right for which kind of situation?

How effective is it if you mostly have short term, emergency coping strategies? Or do you really need to transform your behaviors more in deeper and long term ways?

Assess the situation

This is the foundation of all coping strategies and a valuable coping skill in itself.

Ask yourself what is really going on for you right now. Of all the things that stress you, what bothers you the most? Just thinking that way, gives you some distance and puts you back in charge.

Depending on what it is that bothers you the most, you can choose the most appropriate coping strategy.

What worked in the past

Has a stressful situation like this happened to you before?

What makes it similar? What are your feelings about that? Again, it is empowering to reflect that way – you are no longer so overwhelmed, and you are the one making a choice.

Once you identify the situation, you can try a coping strategy that worked before.This means you already have resources. You are not helpless. You are someone who can cope.

From there, you can go ahead and apply the techniques you taught yourself in the past.

What hasn’t worked in the past

You will probably also remember coping strategies you tried that didn’t work out.

Try not to engage that too much – and certainly do not to criticize yourself for having ‘failed’ to cope. Instead, look at it all as a learning curve of trial and error. What you really need is a good match between crisis and coping skills.

Make a mental note of what you realize won’t work, then choose the coping strategy that feels most comfortable in the moment.

The emergency brake

Removing yourself from the situation is always a useful coping strategy when you can’t think of anything else. Or when you simply can’t think.

A time-out can be as short or long as you wish to make it, and help you remember that you have options.

Try a new strategy

Once the crisis is over (even if only temporarily), a different kind of coping strategy can really help. Take some time to review what happened, and evaluate the usefulness of your methods. Again, this is not about making negative judgments, but about finding out what works.

Ask yourself what you actually want from a coping strategy. Distance? Relaxation? Connection with other people? Or a long term constructive solution to the problem?

Once you know what you want, try to look online for a strategy that fits your needs. Ask your friends. Or perhaps this is a good moment to see a professional counselor who can open your mind to new perspectives and suggest new ideas that you haven’t tried yet.

On-demand coping skills

Most of our coping skills address an intolerable situation in the moment. It is always useful to refine what we can do to turn stress triggers around.

But ultimately, it’s not enough.

Long term coping skills

The best coping strategy is not needing a coping strategy.

So how can that happen?

When you start to deal with your own long term issues so that you become less vulnerable to stress triggers. When you manage to create a better environment to thrive in. And when you start to practice daily relaxation techniques, like mindfulness meditation, and pursue a lifestyle that is beneficial to your physical and mental health.

The more you learn about yourself, the more you shape your own life, and the fewer ‘emergency brakes’ you will need.

After-coping care

In a busy and stressful life, coping techniques can quite exhausting too! So, don’t forget to use the ultimate relaxation technique: a good night’s sleep as often as you can.

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