What is a Coping Skill?
Coping skills are essential tools that can help an individual deal with stressful situations or difficult
emotions in healthy and productive ways. They can be unique and personalized to meet the needs of an
individual and can be both short- and long-term strategies. While there are many different types of
healthy coping strategies the most recognizable skills are usually problem solving or emotion focused
such as asking for support, time management, meditation, and journaling. Most people find benefits
from using a combination of both. So, why do so many people feel that coping skills are ineffective for
Misconceptions about Coping Skills
“Coping Skills don’t work for me because I’m still overwhelmed.”
Often people will think that coping skills are unhelpful because they will still feel stressed out,
overwhelmed, or anxious even after using a coping strategy. It is important to remember that coping
skills can be effective in helping someone build resiliency and minimize the impact of anxiety or difficult
emotions. However, no strategy can eliminate your stressors or feelings of stress & anxiety entirely.
“I can’t stop my thoughts, so meditation or mindfulness won’t work for me.”
When using strategies such as mindfulness it is important to remember that the goal is not to suppress
emotions or stress but rather to develop an awareness of our thoughts, emotions and how our body
may be reacting. For coping strategies to feel effective we often must be comfortable with being
uncomfortable. This is accomplished by focusing on the present and how we are thinking, feeling, and
our surroundings without judgement. By avoiding feelings of discomfort or anxiety when trying new
coping strategies, we find short term relief that gradually builds into more intensified feelings of anxiety
over time when faced with the same anxious thought or situation. Avoidance does not teach us the
skills to navigate these difficult moments but can give more power to our anxious thoughts causing us to
“I don’t have the time.”
In today’s busy world it can seem daunting when thinking about another “task” to add to our to-do lists
and schedules. A misconception people have when thinking about coping strategies is that they require
a lot of time, money, or resources. One or two effective strategies can still make a difference and do not
require extensive planning. We can also utilize coping skills proactively before a stressor happens or
reactively after a stressor occurs. By thinking ahead, we can develop tools and skills that will help us feel
better equipped to navigate unplanned stressors.
What does this all mean?
There is no one size fits all approach to coping skills and strategies. While many coping skills are
beneficial to most people, it may take some trial and error before finding the right ones for you. Just like
any skill, they also require practice and grow stronger the more we use them. Give yourself some time
when trying out a new skill and be open with your therapist if you need to explore other strategies.
Written by: Dawn Ruane, LAC