Blake has worked in the mental health field since 2002 educating and inspiring hope on the journey toward recovery.
What Are Coping Skills and Strategies?
Coping strategies and skills are the reactions and behaviors one adopts to deal with difficult situations. Coping strategies come in many forms. Some are helpful and others are hurtful.
Humans tend to learn coping strategies from those they come into contact with while growing up. When a person learns and develops habits of negative coping skills, stressors become catastrophes, and confidence in one's ability to cope is diminished.
Use this list of positive coping skills to identify new strategies to become more resilient in the face of challenges. Then look at the list of negative coping strategies to look for items to replace with more positive coping skills.
Positive Coping Skills
Here's a list of coping skills that will help you when you are feeling strong emotions such as anger, anxiety, or depression. These activities are not likely to create more stress or problems, so these help you be more resilient and stress tolerant.
- Write, draw, paint, photography
- Play an instrument, sing, dance, act
- Take a shower or a bath
- Take a walk, or go for a drive
- Watch television or a movie
- Watch cute kitten videos on YouTube
- Play a game
- Go shopping
- Clean or organize your environment
- Take a break or vacation
Social/Interpersonal (with others)
- Talk to someone you trust
- Set boundaries and say "no"
- Write a note to someone you care about
- Be assertive
- Use humor
- Spend time with friends and/or family
- Serve someone in need
- Care for or play with a pet
- Role-play challenging situations with others
- Encourage others
Cognitive (Of the Mind)
- Make a gratitude list
- Brainstorm solutions
- Lower your expectations of the situation
- Keep an inspirational quote with you
- Be flexible
- Write a list of goals
- Take a class
- Act opposite of negative feelings
- Write a list of pros and cons for decisions
- Reward or pamper yourself when successful
- Write a list of strengths
- Accept a challenge with a positive attitude
- Exercise or play sports
- Catharsis (yelling in the bathroom, punching a punching bag)
- Get enough sleep
- Eat healthy foods
- Get into a good routine
- Eat a little chocolate
- Limit caffeine
- Deep/slow breathing
- Pray or meditate
- Enjoy nature
- Get involved in a worthy cause
- Drop some involvement
- Prioritize important tasks
- Use assertive communication
- Schedule time for yourself
How Each Category of Coping Skills Helps
Diversions are those coping skills that allow you to stop thinking about the stress inducing situation. Diversions aren't meant to be the final solution, but each can be useful in the basic goal of remaining safe.
As time goes on, move away from diversions and toward those skills that will build resiliency to the challenges that continue. Diversions are only useful if one can recognize warning signs when feeling overwhelming emotions.
Social or interpersonal coping strategies involve interactions with others. Scientific studies have proven the benefits of social support to counteract the effects of stress on DNA. Social supports can be useful for recognizing warning signs and providing assistance in difficult times.
Cognitive coping skills are those that involve using the mind and thought processes to influence the way one feels and behaves. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a type of treatment that helps people find ways of thinking that improve their mental responses to situations.
Learning to think in more rational ways can be done by recognizing and changing irrational thoughts. Ultimately, a person can become much more stress tolerant and ultimately improve behavioral outcomes.
Tension releasing or cathartic coping strategies involve acting on strong emotions in ways that are safe for oneself and others. Punching a pillow could be a way to release tensions in a safe way.
Be careful with cathartic responses because these tend to become habit forming and may translate to real life scenarios, so the child who practices punching a pillow may envision a person's face and end up actually punching that person's face when angry.
Physical process are directly tied to mental and emotional processes. A person's breathing rate can illicit a response from the sympathetic nervous system. Raising your voice can send signals to your brain that you are angry. In the same way, acting calmly in the face of difficulty can help send signals to your brain that everything is o.k.
Exercise is another thing that can help by producing endorphins, which are naturally occurring drugs that can create a calm or euphoric feeling.
Praying, meditating, enjoying nature, or taking up a worthy cause can affect a person on a spiritual level. Satisfying the need to feel worthwhile, connected, and at peace improve well-being at the core of a person. Spiritual well-being then exudes out of a person in attitudes and actions that are self-actualized. According to Maslow's hierarchy of needs, we all need to feel a sense of purpose, but not everyone reaches that level.
Limit setting is a preventative measure to protect against overwhelming stress created by doing too much of something. Limits can be set for one's self or others. An example of setting a limit with others is learning to say "no" when you know you are too busy to help someone. Setting a limit for yourself could include dropping involvement in work activities that are not a good fit for your skills and focusing on those that you are efficient doing, which may mean having to be assertive with your boss about how you can help the most.
Negative Coping Skills
Here's a list of coping strategies that will cost you in the long run. These do more harm than good in most cases and can make life more stressful.
- Abusing drugs or alcohol
- Wasting time on unimportant tasks
Interpersonal (With Others)
- Mean or hostile joking
- Criticizing others
- Manipulating others
- Refusing help from others
- Lying to others
- Sabotaging plans
- Being late to appointments
- Provoking violence from others
- Enabling others to take advantage of you
Cognitive (of the Mind)
- Denying any problem
- All or nothing/black or white thinking
- Throwing things at people
- Hitting people
- Yelling at others
- Destroying property
- Speeding or driving recklessly
- Developing illnesses
- Making fun of yourself
- Self-sabotaging behaviors
- Blaming yourself
- Spending too much
- Eating too much
- Setting dangerous fires
- Continually crying
- Stress Management: How to Reduce, Prevent, and Cope with Stress
Powerful strategies for managing stress and bringing your life into balance. This is a comprehensive discussion of ways to cope.
- List Of Coping Skills For Depression | LIVESTRONG.COM
List Of Coping Skills For Depression.
- Positive and Negative Coping Skills
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.
Finn from Barstow on November 24, 2017:
Yes there are some good coping skills I hope to implement and I also realized that some of the activities I've been using to pass the time are unhealthy ways of coping.
Marti litwiller on August 31, 2017:
This gave me some new coping skills. Thanks
Kierrstyn on August 06, 2017:
Does eney one have a good idea if u are upset about school
LennyBaby from CT on March 22, 2017:
Very Good list!
Mike on January 09, 2017:
NANDINI SETT on August 23, 2016:
Anger, Anxiety, Depression are symptoms due to chemical imbalance of serotonin and dopamine. Doctors like to term mental illness and there is pharmaceutical medicines to control very difficult situation for which a person having these symptoms lose interest in life completely.
Life is beautiful and must be enjoyed. Travel and see nature through lens, exercise to increment serotonin. Already people have mentioned everything I have written. Hence before I finish I would like to add meditation common to each religion in the World is also an excellent method to stay away from anger, anxiety, and depression..... Cheer up. All the best
Esther Strong from UK on January 04, 2016:
This is a VERY useful and practical resource to keep at hand and action.
Jean Bakula from New Jersey on November 23, 2015:
This is a very well thought out and thorough list of coping strategies and ideas for dealing with depression and anxiety, Blake. My husband of 34 years died a year and half ago, and my son has been accused of a serious crime he did not commit, and although I know I will survive, some days are so overwhelming. Sometimes it's not about getting through the day, it's about getting through the hour. I make small lists with a few of the activities you mention here, and refer to it every time I feel overwhelmed. Artistic things seem to work for me, also reading, meditation, and aromatherapy. Shopping is nice too, but as you point out, can be expensive and become a problem in itself.
Sheilamarie from British Columbia on May 04, 2015:
Stress can do a job on us. These are some good strategies.
Blake Flannery (author) from United States on April 10, 2015:
Writing in a journal is a great way to gain insight, get your thoughts organized, and vent. I'm glad it worked well for you. Looking back at a journal years later can help you see the progress you've made over time. I hope you have a better year this year!
McKenna Meyers on April 10, 2015:
Thanks for the list of coping skills. It's always good to try new ones. I had an especially trying year and could not have survived without journaling each day. It kept me sane.
Blake Flannery (author) from United States on April 09, 2015:
I mention in my list that overindulging in just about anything can be costly. Shopping is just one of those things. Every coping skill has costs and benefits. Although jogging has physical and emotional benefits, it may also lead to worn out shoes, more dirty laundry, soreness, and injury. These costs are all more likely to happen the more time you spend jogging. At some point the benefits are out-weighed by the costs. The point is, we humans need a diverse set of coping strategies to help us be more resilient. Shopping, even for just the necessities, can be a nice reason to get out of the house, do a little walking, and hang out with a friend (or have some alone time).
Katelyn Weel from Ontario, Canada on April 09, 2015:
Great ideas, it's nice that you have branched out beyond the usual vague suggestions like "get more exercise" "start a journal" etc.
I would hesitate to include shopping in that list though, since consumerism is not known to actually make people happier and while "retail therapy" might give a short term good feeling (it feels good to bring home new clothes once in a while) I think it could contribute less positively overall, and might lead to a downward spiral. I also think that putting yourself in an environment where you are being hammered by advertisements telling you that your life will be better if you purchase this or that might be counterproductive in fighting off depression.
Tim Mitchell from Escondido, CA on February 24, 2015:
Thank you for sharing! They hit home today and have energized me to use what you have shared. Voted up and shared.
subatomiclex from Oceanus Procellarum on January 12, 2015:
Local support groups would also be useful for some, but overall a very comprehensive and thoughtful list from positive to negative.
Amanda Glass from Arkansas on November 02, 2014:
Very informative, useful article.
Janis Leslie Evans from Washington, DC on October 15, 2014:
Hi Blake, very comprehensive list of coping skills for stress, anxiety, and depression. I think many could benefit from having this at their fingertips for when they become overwhelmed and forget what works. I've had that problem with my clients who struggle to remember their go-to lists of coping skills. I've bookmarked this article to share. Excellent job, voted up and useful.
Tony on October 03, 2013:
I've been having a hard time but I believe this will help.
Tanuka Bhattacharjee from Cupertino on May 24, 2012:
All of us go through this ups and downs. Your suggestions are well researched and very helpul. thanks
sadie423 from North Carolina on May 24, 2012:
That is a great list of positive skills!