Our lives are essentially just a series of daily events strung together to equate to one life lived. While many people understand and expect that these events will not all be joyful, not everyone is equipped to handle the ones that are not. These are the times that highlight how essential healthy coping skills are for everyday life.
Even outside the center of a crisis, it is essential to have tools for when the unexpected presents itself. Waiting until these challenging moments to recognize the importance of a solid set of coping strategies is doing yourself a disservice. Even if you had to learn this fact the hard way, do your best to set yourself up for success in the future in terms of how to troubleshoot and grow past life’s trickiest times. So, why coping skills are important?
What are coping skills?
Coping mechanisms are tools that we reach for, sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally, when we need to offset or balance negative emotions or unsettling feelings. These coping methods will help you manage stress, alleviate anxiety, and reduce emotional uneasiness.
They are important because these situations, even when incredibly infrequent, are unavoidable. It is not realistic to plan for a life without ups and downs, so instead, make plans on how you will handle them and create a coping strategy. Concerning your mental health, doing everything you can to protect it should be high on your list of priorities. Since we cannot eliminate painful or difficult emotions from entering into our lives, the best defense is figuring out your own unique remedy to handle them.
Times you might need to use coping skills
Preparation for the ups and downs of life will make them more bearable. Below are a few examples of common life events where having a pre-learned set of healthy coping skills would greatly benefit.
- Loss of a loved one
- Betrayal from a romantic partner
- Sudden loss of job or home
- Financial hardship
- Chronic illness or terminal diagnosis
These examples are all common, but they don’t happen every day. Here are some more examples that people might experience on more of a day-to-day basis.
- Pivots or last-minute changes to your personal or professional schedule
- Heavy traffic patterns or an accident
- Extreme weather
- An interaction with an unpleasant person
- Job stress
- When someone you were counting on drops the ball
As you can see, many events can lead you to reach for healthy coping skills.
In general, think about emotions like being angry, anxious, sad, stressed, and overwhelmed as indicators of a time when positive coping skills are needed.
Four types of healthy coping strategies
While you can create your arsenal of tools to combat negativity, any tools you use will be rooted in one of the following four general types.
This type refers to a method in which an individual makes an effort to modify their thinking during stressful times. They attempt to reframe how they view stress as a way to avoid and cope with it.
There is an element of practicality within problem-focused coping strategies. In this example, you would target the problem and isolate it, then form a healthy coping mechanism around it that has specific regard to problem elimination.
As assumed, this style is emotion forward. Rather than using practicality or critical thinking, users of this coping strategy identify an emotional response to a trigger and develop a set of skills designed to remove or eliminate specific emotional responses.
Coping skills related to an occupational-focused approach can be multi-layered because you are tying your profession into your coping mechanisms. When individuals reach for this style, they recognize that their occupation does not suit their mental health and change it so that it will.
Examples of healthy coping strategies
When you are trying to determine if the coping skills you are reaching for will show you healthy and positive ways to get through a life experience, pay attention to their origin and how you would employ them.
Examples of unhealthy coping skills
The reason you use a coping skill is to ward off negativity, so be sure you’re using your mindful that your coping mechanisms are not rooted in negativity; if so, they are probably not ideal.
Things like critical self-talk, aggression, nervous behaviors like nail-biting or foot tapping, and eating too much or too little are all unhealthy coping skills that will push you further away from peace instead of bringing you closer to it.
Reaching for self-harm behaviors, including but not limited to substance abuse and binge drinking, is more common than you might realize. Still, they will only mask your original issues and eventually exacerbate them or create new ones. These are certainly not ways to navigate uncomfortable emotions indefinitely.
If you feel you are in the habit of using any of the negative coping skills above and struggling to cope, seeking out professional help can help you get onto a better path.
Side effects of learning coping skills
As you develop healthy coping mechanisms, you will likely be challenged in ways that are new to you. Since you are not yet familiar with the skills themselves, you should also expect a learning curve concerning the side effects.
Asking for help is a big one. Sometimes extreme self-reliance can be a trauma response and a coping skill that we think is in our best interest, but that is not always exclusively true. Asking for help can provide stress relief and encourage you to tie in coping skills with external trust.
In some cases, unhealthy coping skills stem from unhealthy relationships, either with ourselves or people within our networks. In these cases, certain coping styles may require you to lower your expectations regarding what these outsiders can provide you in terms of support.
You should also expect discomfort, not all the time and certainly not every time. Still, as you begin your journey towards developing your coping skills, you will also have to learn how to be comfortable being uncomfortable.
Benefits of learning coping mechanisms
Even when the learning curve comes with levels of uncertainty or discomfort, the benefits far outweigh the risks. Certain coping strategies will provide you with additional benefits than just being a coping measure.
You can expect your resilience levels to increase overall. Through your use of coping mechanisms, you will strengthen your overall ability to face adversity and overcome stressful situations. Prevention and cures go hand in hand in terms of dealing with mental health struggles. When you have an increased ability to persevere through struggle, you are actively working to prevent the next hiccup from compromising your overall mental health as well.
Your self-confidence and self-esteem will most definitely show improvements when you learn different coping skills and use them repeatedly. Since self-esteem and self-worth impact essentially every area of your life, the higher, the better.
Self-discovery, one of the best ways to learn about yourself, is through a series of events that grow and change you. As you practice relaxation exercises that allow you to think clearly during difficult times, your eyes will open to be able to notice new things that potentially you had previously had not seen before.
How to practice your coping mechanisms
One of the most important things to note is that becoming comfortable reaching for your selected coping mechanisms will take time and practice. Not all coping skills will work the same in each scenario either; this is why it is important to develop and practice a range of skills. You can do things like create to-do lists, prioritize adequate sleep nightly, establish healthy boundaries, and always move in the direction of your chosen goals as ways to practice the skills you have already acknowledged.
If you are so inclined, you can also keep a journal about times where you have had to employ these methods, the circumstances that led you there, how you handled it, and the overall outcome. This can serve as a personalized reference guide for the next time you find yourself in a tricky spot. You can go to something tangible to help you choose how to move forward based on what did and did not work for you before.
Subjectivity is important within the conversation about a coping mechanism, how to develop one, and when to use it. Since not every person, place, or scenario can be the same, the one constant you can count on is yourself. As you work to identify which strategies do and do not, work always keep in mind that they are important regardless. Your mental and emotional stability will be disrupted from time to time, that is life, but developing healthy coping skills can help you deal with these stressful times and lead you to live a healthier and overall better life.