By DLC Children’s Outreach Specialist Jessica Liria
Sadness, anger, anxiety—these are normal human emotions that everyone feels. So why do some of us have a harder time managing them than others? While the answer is not an easy one, considering the variety of internal and external factors that affect each one of us, it is safe to say that we are all capable of improving our skills to manage these feelings.
By now you may have heard the term “coping skill” or “coping strategy.” As mental health continues to be a hot topic, these terms have become more common. To put it simply, a coping strategy is a way we manage emotions. It is what we turn to when we are experiencing those not-so-comfortable feelings. When I have a stressful day, what I do to relax and relieve the tension is my coping strategy. As I practice this strategy over time, it becomes a skill—meaning my brain has identified and accepted it as a means to cope, and my brain will then seek out that same skill when I need to manage that emotion again.
The goal of a coping skill is to assist your brain and body in returning to a balanced, calm state of mind so you can more appropriately address the situation that caused you to feel upset. When emotions are not properly managed, they can manifest in the body as tension and physical aches and pains. We may continue to feel these emotions so intensely that it will affect other areas of our life, such as relationships and academic or work performance.
It is possible that you already have coping skills, but it is important to ensure that these are healthy. Taking a walk, practicing breathing techniques, drawing, journaling, and listening to music are all examples of healthy coping skills. Identify a few techniques that can be used depending on your setting. If you are working at the office you may not be able to head out for a jog, but you can take a few minutes to regulate your breathing and do some light stretches.
Using substances, acting violently, or engaging in self-injury are examples of unhealthy coping strategies, which will cause harm to you or others. These strategies should be avoided. As they are practiced, our brains will develop them as “skills.” This may lead to addiction, legal problems, and long-term health issues.
Children and adolescents develop skills quicker and easier than adults, so assisting them in identifying a healthy coping skill early on is beneficial for lifelong emotional wellness. Help them explore several options and encourage them to choose a healthy strategy they have been practicing when you notice they are upset.
To get started, check out these 99 ideas and create your own list of coping trategies: https://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/pages/tip-99-coping-skills.aspx