[Trigger warning for non-graphic mentions of self-harm and eating disorders]
If you’ve ever been in a crisis, no matter the type, you might have heard of coping strategies. Basically, coping strategies are ways of dealing with stress or depression, ways of calming you down and hopefully helping you to feel better. There are healthy coping skills – such as meditation, exercise, or listening to music – and unhealthy ones, such as drinking alcohol, taking drugs, or self-harming. For the purposes of this post I’ll be talking about the healthy type of coping skills, since those tend to last longer, as well as taking less of a toll on your general health.
People are all different, and therefore you might have a completely different set of coping skills. However, here are a few ideas that have worked for me, my friends, or other people I’ve talked to. Although they might not be a perfect fit, they’re a good jumping-off point to figuring out what will work best for you. These are in no particular order of importance or universal usefulness – you might like one of them, or all of them. You don’t even have to like any of them. You might think they’re silly or “woo-woo”. However, if you have frequent stress in your life it’s probably a good idea to think about what kind of coping skills do work for you.
(Note: For some people, certain coping skills can actually trigger them further. For example, exercise can be triggering for someone with certain eating disorders, or it can trigger a fight-or-flight response. When using any coping strategies, try to exercise self-awareness, and if it doesn’t feel right, stop, because chances are it isn’t right for you)
This is one of the coping methods that is a really good alternative if you are already involved in unhealthy coping methods such as drugs or self-harm. Both of those things stimulate a chemical reaction in your brain, releasing endorphins, which are hormones that make you feel good – in the case of self-harm, it’s a reaction to help you deal with pain, and will also happen if you hurt yourself accidentally.
Exercise also releases endorphins, leading to phenomena like the “runner’s high”. Simply put, exercise can make you feel good. In addition, many people (myself included) like the feeling of becoming stronger, faster, able to exercise longer, et cetera. And, of course, it’s good for you too, as long as you aren’t doing too much of it.0
Any form of exercise will work, but usually it’s good to use a mix of cardio and strength training, if you can. I won’t describe different types of exercises, simply because there are so many, but you can Google different kinds of exercise for your specific situation. (for example, if you’re a college student, there are sites about types of exercise you can do in a dorm room, or if you have a disability, you can find something suited for your abilities)
This is a tricky one. Certain songs might be soothing and uplifting, whereas others might be extremely upsetting to you. To make matters worse, sometimes a song will be helpful at one time, and unhelpful at another. Simply knowing yourself, your thoughts, what type of situation you’re in, and how you have responded so far can help you to choose the right playlist to help your mood. For example, after a breakup, some people might find it helpful to listen to angry “breakup songs”, whereas other people find that it makes their mood worse. Just be self-aware and careful – and if you find music helps you, you might even want to make a playlist of the specific songs you like best for stressful situations.
Meditation and Breathing exercises
Although this one may seem partucilarly silly or “out there”, it can be a really helpful way of grounding yourself. Here is a method I find particularly useful for calming down.
1. Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Sit or lie in a comfortable postion. If you are sitting, make sure your back is straight and your shoulders are back. Good posture is important where breathing is concerned.
2. Concentrate on controlling your breathing. Try to breath in for 4 seconds, hold for a second, and then breathe out for 4 seconds. (As you practice this method more, your lung capacity will increase and you can try breathing for more than 4 seconds, but 4 is a good place to start from) Try to breathe into your abdomen more than your shoulders.
3. As you continue this, try to focus only on your breathing, leaving negative thoughts out of your mind. If you would like, you can imagine your negative thoughts and emotions as a dark cloud within you, and with every breath, let them out of you, breathing in only positive thoughts and emotions.
You might feel a little dizzy or weird during this. This is usually because you are taking in more oxygen than you typically do, and isn’t a bad thing. However, if you feel faint, you should probably stop.
Whether it’s in a paper journal, a Word document, or a blog, writing out the way you feel can often help sort out your feelings, and even bring up new ones you didn’t know were in the mix. It’s also helpful if you want to talk to someone about what’s going on, but can’t bring yourself to talk to them out loud. The writing itself can be sloppy, misspelled, stream of consciousness with no punctuation, or it can be orderly, spellchecked, proofread, and indented, if that helps you order your thoughts. The important thing is that you get your emotions out onto the paper, (or screen) not how you do it.
(Note: If you use a blog for your writing, it might be useful to use a host site that supports password-protected blogs, so that you can be sure no one you don’t want to know will see it)
Again, some of these may seem silly to you, and if they do, don’t try them. There’s no point in doing something that you aren’t interested in, and it might only frustrate you more. However, if you like the idea, try it out! It might really help relieve stress – but you have to believe it might. If you don’t actually think it’ll work and are just trying it because it’s here, it probably won’t work out for you. You have to find out what works for you.