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12 Essential Coping Skills For Adults (Necessary For Life)

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According to this study1, the more positive coping strategies a person has, the more likely they are to feel better and the less likely they are to think about suicide. 

Sometimes, life can feel like a rollercoaster with tension-building climbs and gut-dropping plummets, and then suddenly, you’re upside down. 

Coping skills are the tools that help you navigate these hurdles with grace and resilience and find your center. In this article, we’ll explain the different types of coping skills and give you 12 empowering choices the next time you encounter a tough day.

What Are Coping Skills?

Coping skills are essential tools that help us effectively manage stress, emotions, and difficult circumstances. They empower us to adapt, thrive, and maintain our well-being in adversity. 

Some common examples of coping strategies might be:

  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Journaling
  • Talking to a friend
  • Going for a walk
  • Exercising
  • …we have way more creative ideas for coping skills below!

The different types of coping skills

Knowing that researchers have categorized five categories2 of healthy coping skills can be helpful. When you’re experiencing a difficult emotional situation, you can:

  1. Daily Actions: Take action to better your situation
  2. Emotional Expression: Feel, express, and explore your emotions
  3. Spiritual Practice: Connect with a greater spiritual force
  4. Cognitive Reframe: Reframe your situation to create more meaning and empowerment
  5. Social Support: Seek support from a loved one.

There are a few more buckets, including creative expression, rest, and fun. But you can think about the categories in whatever way serves your self-care.

Why is Coping Important?

In our fast-paced world, knowing how to use coping skills is essential. 

Coping skills help us:

  • Manage stress
  • Build resilience
  • Foster mental health
  • Show up more fully to our relationships

13 Coping Strategies to Try

Let’s go over some coping strategies for you to either try now or put in your pocket for a later time.

  1. Detox

One of the best coping strategies is to know what to remove and simplify in your life. Try a 7-day detox: 

  • Cut out toxic people. This week, do not hang out with, text, or email anyone who is a dreamkiller.

Watch our video below to learn the two different kinds of people in the world (dream killers vs. dream builders), and which one you are!

  • Get off social media (or unfollow people who don’t bring you joy). Spending excessive time scrolling through Facebook or TikTok can lead to increased feelings of inadequacy, FOMO, and reduced self-esteem3 While the dopamine from social media can be enjoyable, these platforms are highly addictive and can quickly become too much. I know that when I lose myself in too much social media, I tend to feel numb and emotionally bloated afterward.
  • Limit screen time. Consistently turning to video games, Netflix, or recreational substances to cope with stress or challenging emotions can lead to addiction. This coping strategy provides temporary relief but often exacerbates the underlying issues. 
  • Cut out processed food. Spend 7 days eating only whole foods – fruits, vegetables, and protein.
  1. Spend Time in Nature

Studies4 show that if you spend 120 minutes in nature each week, it will improve your well-being. Those two hours can come all in one go or in small chunks daily. And usually, the more time in nature, the better, until about 300 minutes per week, at which point the benefits peter off.

Time in nature has profound positive impacts across the board. It is known to improve cognitive5 functions like attention span and memory. Time with nature is also linked to happiness6 and a sense of purpose.

Action Step: Plan a 20-minute walk in nature sometime today. That could be in the woods, by the water, or in a green park.

If you feel up for it, see if you can schedule 120 minutes of nature time over the next seven days.

And if you’re feeling extra ambitious, consider planning a camping weekend soon. If you choose that route, you could try Hipcamp, like Airbnb for camping/glamping.

  1. Box breathing

Deep breathing techniques7 reduce stress and anxiety by stimulating the vagal nerve and activating the parasympathetic nervous system.

Box breathing is one diaphragmatic breathing type (deep breathing techniques that open your diaphragm). It’s pretty simple. Here are the steps if you’d like to give it a shot.

Action Step: Try five rounds of box breathing. 

With this method, you simply: 

  • inhale for four counts
  • hold your breath for four counts
  • exhale for four counts
  • hold your breath for four counts
  • repeat

If you’d like to try this method with some guidance, here is a helpful video.

  1. Reframe your situation

Dr. Martin Seligman (the “father” of positive psychology) wrote a famous psychology book in 1990 called Learned Optimism. In it, he provided a guide for reframing our setbacks to live a more empowered life.

Reframing your situations doesn’t just help you feel more empowered; studies suggest that living optimistically boosts nearly all aspects of your life, from a longer life span8 to greater career success9 to healthier social relationships9

It’s normal to have negative thoughts come up. But you’ll be in great shape if you can actively bring an optimistic lens to your current situation.

Action Step: Go through the following steps with pen and paper.

  1. What was a negative experience or event you went through recently?
  2. List three negative interpretations of the experience that automatically arose in your mind.
  3. Then, list five new ways that you could reinterpret the event in a more optimistic and empowering reframe
  4. Take a moment and sit with the feelings from each of the eight interpretations.

As an example, I’ll share about a recent “negative” experience I had.

My partner and I were on vacation, and I was looking forward to some spacious, stress-free days where we could cuddle, kiss, and deepen our intimacy.

But my partner, who has dozens of food allergies, had an allergic reaction on our trip, and we didn’t get as much intimate time as I wanted.

I felt upset, and here were my three negative kneejerk interpretations I had of the situation:

  1. My partner’s stupid food reactions ruined our trip!
  2. I always try to set up good relationship experiences, and my partner’s health challenges always ruin them.
  3. I want my partner to be different to make things easier for me

Now, when I step back, here are five more empowering reflections on the situation:

  1. I want to be a fully accepting partner, and I don’t currently accept all of my partner’s body challenges. I want to learn to be more accepting.
  2. If I ever choose to have kids, it will require much more patience than a speedbump on vacation, so this is an excellent opportunity to develop my patience and acceptance further.
  3. I have the opportunity to love and accept my partner’s body challenges in a way that no one ever has and in a way that they struggle to. This could provide them with some beautiful healing.
  4. Through that relational dynamic, I can act as a caretaker and show my love.
  5. This situation allowed me to communicate my disappointment and frustrations in our relationship, which gave rise to more honesty and, ultimately, more intimacy.

As you might guess, I feel bitter, disempowered, and like a victim when I embody the first three reactions. But I feel far more empowered when I sit with the last five interpretations. 

Now it’s your turn to give it a try. What’s a recent negative experience, and how can you reframe it?

  1. Lean on a friend

Studies suggest10 that social support can help mitigate the negative effects of stress. 

This wisdom is nothing new. Here’s a quote from the Ancient Roman philosopher Cicero:

“Friendship improves happiness and abates misery by doubling our joy and dividing our grief.” 

When you share your pain with a friend, somehow, your burden lightens.

It can be pretty vulnerable to share our pains with another. But taking that leap is a huge gift to yourself.

I was on a Zoom call with a friend last week. He opened up to me that he had been feeling depressed because he had let his day job overtake his passions as a pianist. 

I then shared with him that I’ve felt socially depressed since I’ve been traveling for the past several months. 

I felt glad to receive his pain. And after sharing mine, I felt noticeably better. We both entered the conversation feeling heavy and left feeling lighter. 

Action Step: Text a friend or family member to ask if they want to meet this week.

Once you meet up, it can help to share the depths of your pain with your loved one if they have the capacity and desire to hold space for you. If you need more time, you can ask! “Hey, I have a few things I’m struggling with. Would you be open to listening for a few minutes?” 

But if that feels too vulnerable or outside the norms of your relationship, then enjoying quality time together can provide its kind of support.

These two kids understand the power of friendship!

  1. Unique Journal

Writing out your thoughts and feelings can help improve your mood11 and process your situation. 

Journaling can be a powerful and therapeutic practice. But it’s not for everyone. Give it a shot and see how it works for you.

There are also many ways to journal, but we’ll go over two primary approaches below.

Action Step: Try out journaling! You can do it with a pen and a piece of paper or in Google Docs. That’s up to you. Here are two approaches:

Option 1: The Artist’s Way style. This is a famous workbook that helps people unblock their creativity. In this book, Julia Cameron advises the following: 

  • Write three pages 
  • Write stream-of-consciousness 
  • Write in the morning immediately after waking up.

In this approach, you don’t filter. Don’t try to make it look nice. And never stop writing until you’re done. If you don’t know what to write, simply write, “I don’t know what to write right now.” Let your thoughts go wherever they want to.

Option 2: Expressive Writing style. This is an approach offered by psychologist James Pennebaker. He advises:

  • Write for 15-20 minutes
  • Write for yourself. Don’t worry about grammar or style.
  • Write about something painful or traumatic. What’s the emotional pain you’re carrying?
  • Dig into your deepest emotions and beliefs about the event
  • If it gets too intense, pump the breaks and seek help from a professional.
  1. Break your tasks into bite-sized chunks.

Sometimes, you might feel overwhelmed, distressed, or anxious because you have too much on your plate.

In these situations, it can help to use breathing techniques or find ways to relax. But often, when we’re overwhelmed, the best coping mechanism is to get tactical with our tasks.

Action Step: If there is a large task you need to take on (a work project, moving houses, planning a trip, etc.), try the following steps: 

  • write out all of the smaller tasks that make up the big project
  • write out the steps required to complete each smaller task
  • rank the tasks so that you’d like to complete them based on urgency and importance

For example, let’s say you are leaving your house and feeling overwhelmed. The tasks on hand might be to pack your bags, call the movers, clean the house, and move items into a storage unit. You could then break each of those tasks into smaller parts. Then, rank which tasks to accomplish in which order.

  1. Take action to improve your situation

Mindfulness meditation has a classic conundrum of whether to scratch your knee when it itches.

This seems like a silly situation for anyone to put deep thought into. I mean, if your knee itches, then scratch it, right? But if we look a little deeper, we’ll see there is a profound contemplation here.

While there are many types of meditation, mindfulness meditation is observing your experience. As a meditator, you try to avoid getting hooked on your thoughts. Instead, you try to observe your body sensations, feelings, and thinking as if you were a little person zoomed outside of yourself watching it all on a movie screen (and, of course, a mindfulness meditator would also aim to observe the little movie screen person, too).

But then, what should the meditator do when their knee itches? To scratch the itch would be to engage in their sensations and impulses and to break the practice of watching all that occurs. But to let the itch go rampant would be self-torture!

Herein lies a deep paradox at the heart of all personal growth: how do we unconditionally accept all of ourselves and our experience (don’t scratch the knee, accept the sensation of the itch) while also taking action to make our experience better (scratch the knee for Pete’s sake!). 

It’s, of course, up to you to know when to lean toward acceptance and when to lean toward taking the initiative to make a change. 

But let’s zoom in on the latter for now to add more tools to your toolbelt.

Action Step: Reflect on this question: What would it be if you could take only one action to improve your circumstances?

If you’re feeling pain because of some intense feedback your boss gave you, instead of digging into your feelings of “not good enough,” you might initiate a meeting with your boss to learn more clearly how to improve.

Or if you’re feeling social anxiety kick in because you’re going to a party this weekend, instead of accepting or healing your anxiety, you could learn tips on how to stir up successful conversations.

  1. Break a sweat

This tip is admittedly low-hanging fruit, but it’s too important to leave it out. It’s best to exercise when your world is full of gray skies!

Studies repeatedly show12 that neglecting exercise leads to just about every health condition you could imagine (including cancer!). And that engaging in exercise helps boost your mood and lift your energy. 

And those are just the long-term effects. Immediately after you exercise, it can reduce your anxiety13 and clarify your thinking.

Exercise gets your heart pumping, puts you in your body, releases stuck emotions, and gives you a sense of control and empowerment over your body.

Action Step: If you’re feeling gloomy, angsty, or irritated, spend 20 minutes exercising! Whether it’s a walk, a run, or lifting some weights.

A bonus if you can manage your exercise in nature, as studies show14 that while walking helps with anxiety and stress, those positive impacts are increased when done in nature.

  1. Plan a mini-vacation (or staycation)

Often, the stresses of life come about because there is so much to do for so many people. We need to be good parents, good friends, good employees, and good partners.

But then, when it’s time to go to sleep, many of us have neglected to be a good companion to one key person in our lives…ourselves!

There are many strategies to remedy this challenging situation, from setting boundaries to prioritizing self-care.

But here’s one great tip: plan a mini solo vacation!

Action Step: How much time can you afford to give yourself? Put it in your calendar, whether it’s an entire weekend, a single day, or a 3-hour chunk.

When your mini-vacation comes around, spend it exclusively on what YOU want. That might mean hours of bowling, or it might mean a day at the spa. Whatever you want, give it to yourself!

If burnout is a struggle for you, you might enjoy this free training:

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  1. Self-care pillars

When life starts moving fast, losing track of our self-care can be easy. And often, the self-care acts that we lose track of first are those we need to survive. 

Sleep, water, and food. 

We’ll perish if we don’t do one of those three things.

And if we do those things poorly, we’ll feel sluggish, irritable, and stressed.

Action Step: Reflect on each of these wellness buckets.

  • Sleep. How much sleep do you need per night to feel fully restored? Be honest! Most adults need at least seven hours15

How much sleep do you normally give yourself? Can you commit to getting your ideal amount of sleep tonight?

  • Water. Drink enough water so your pee never turns yellow! For more specific guidance, check out this hydration calculator.

If you’d like help gauging how much water there is in a day, try the Water Tracker app.

  • Food. Everyone has a different food philosophy. However, it’s generally considered good practice to eat home cooked meals (with as few processed ingredients as possible) with a balance of macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) and to avoid overeating. 

Do you feel like your food habits have been supporting your self-care recently? If so, woohoo! If not, what can you do to shift that this week?

  1. Tidy up

“The objective of cleaning is not just to clean, but to feel happiness living within that environment,” said cleaning guru Marie Kondo16

And research supports this. One clever study17 recorded individuals who gave tours of their houses and analyzed the homeowners’ use of language. Homeowners who described their space with words suggesting clutter or unfinishedness tended to have more cortisol in their system than others. Simply put—when people are proud of the state of their homes, they experience less stress.

Aside from the benefits of a pretty space, cleaning can also give a sense of control and order.

Action Step: Spend 15 minutes cleaning and ordering your space. You can make it fun by cleaning while listening to a playlist or a podcast episode.

  1. Seek support from a therapist

If your difficult emotions feel unmanageable, sometimes the best route to take is to seek professional support. This is especially true if you have unresolved trauma that you could use to help healing. 

If that’s the case for you, you could try Psychology Today, an extensive repository of therapists.

Again, all coping mechanisms have their place. But if you notice yourself slipping exclusively into any of these unhealthy coping mechanisms, consider seeking additional support from a professional.

Frequently Asked Questions About Coping Skills

What are some good coping skills?

Good coping skills include regular physical activity and exercise, practicing mindfulness and relaxation techniques, seeking social support from loved ones, and engaging in hobbies or activities that bring joy and fulfillment.

Why are coping skills important?

Coping skills are important because they help individuals manage stress, navigate challenging situations, and maintain emotional well-being. Healthy coping strategies provide sustainable ways to cope with difficult emotions, reduce the risk of harmful behaviors, and promote resilience.

How do you develop coping skills?

To develop coping skills, start by identifying and acknowledging your emotions, then explore techniques such as deep breathing exercises, journaling, or seeking therapy to build emotional regulation and problem-solving abilities.

How do we improve coping skills?

To improve coping skills, practice self-care, maintain a balanced lifestyle, and regularly evaluate and adjust your coping strategies. It can also help to seek professional help through therapy or counseling.

Takeaways About Coping Skills

Life can be tough! There’s no way around it. But the more tools you have to navigate life’s wild turns, the more balanced you’ll feel and the better decisions you’ll make.

Here are twelve tips to keep in mind to take care of yourself when you’re feeling down.

  1. Spend time in nature. Especially try to aim for 120 minutes a week.
  2. Box breathing. Five minutes of long, deep breaths will help relax your nervous system.
  3. Reframe your situation. How can you reinterpret your “negative” situation to see it as a growth opportunity?
  4. Lean on a friend. Make plans with a friend and share your struggles.
  5. Journal. Write for 20 minutes straight about whatever is stressing you out.
  6. Break your tasks into bite-sized chunks. If you’re overwhelmed, break your big task into little ones.
  7. Improve your situation. What’s the one action you could take to help improve your circumstances?
  8. Exercise. Even for just 20 minutes! It’s linked to every health benefit imaginable.
  9. Plan a mini-vacation, even if it’s just a few hours. Carve out a block of YOU time.
  10. Self-care pillars. Water, sleep, and food. Try to drink a little more, sleep the amount you need, and eat healthily.
  11. Clean. Just 15 minutes of tidying your space can soothe your mind.
  12. Seek support from a therapist. Working with a therapist can be a game-changer.

Best of luck on your self-care journey and in developing your coping methods! If you’d like to go a little deeper and find that the thing you struggle with most is feeling easily frustrated, you might enjoy this guide.

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