Coping Skills

By Nancy S Buck, PhD, RN

We all have those overwhelming experiences and stressful times in our lives when it feels as though everything is falling apart. The upset can be a failing grade on an important exam in our high school class, or hearing the news that our family pet has died, or being laid off from our job and only source of income, or the pain and heartache that comes with a love break-up. Let’s not forget that many are now struggling because of environmental and whether challenges. These include floods, flash floods, out of control forest fires, tsunamis, hurricanes and tornadoes.

What do you do when faced with these kinds of things in your life? Do you have coping strategies and self-soothing comfort skills? Have you developed and practiced these skills? Or are you like many people who aren’t quite sure what you do until faced with the emotional upheaval of life?

I have recently begun working as a nurse in a psychiatric emergency room of a regular hospital. Most of the people I see are in the worst moments of their lives facing terrible circumstances. This is the time when coping skills are really needed. Too often however, people tell me they have very few or no coping strategies.

When I asked one fellow, who was terribly upset and distraught, what he did to help himself he told me he asked his girlfriend to hug and hold him. If she wasn’t available he told me he then took drugs, whether they were prescription drugs or street drugs. He was in search of something that would help him numb the pain he was experiencing. These were the only two strategies he had. Amazingly he never considered seeking some kind of solution or help to solve his problems. Even this emergency room visit had been initiated by the police and not his idea.

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For improved Mental Health & Happiness start now developing, learning and practicing your coping skills. This is best done not when you are faced with the crisis or upset, but when life is mostly in balance and you feel calm and in control. Chances are good that you already have a few of these self-soothing strategies. Perhaps you just haven’t considered these to be part of your coping repertoire.

For instance, do you close your eyes, take a deep breath and count to 10? Or maybe you call a dear and trusted friend just to hear his voice knowing he will offer wise words of counsel. Some people get regular massages and when needed get an emergency massage. Others take a bath, or meditate, or take a nap, or go for a long or short walk in nature. Still others go directly to the ice cream shop, local bakery or fried chicken joint to eat their comfort foods because that is what is needed — some comfort.

A crisis is not the time for judgment about what is the healthiest choice. Now is the time to evaluate only based on the ability of your strategy to give you the kind of immediate comfort, relief and help you need.  Once the crisis is resolved you can decide whether or not to cultivate healthier and more effective coping strategies. It is always appropriate however, to evaluate whether or not your coping strategy is putting you in greater danger like my patient who was hospitalized for perilous drug consumption.

Start today. Follow these three simple steps:

  1. Identify your present coping strategies
  2. Evaluate how healthy and effective they are
  3. Start cultivating and practicing more strategies to add to your  repertoire. To get more ideas you can always ask friends and family  members what they do to help them cope when under stress.

Dealing with a crisis involves more than relying on good and effective coping strategies to help keep you calm. Understanding the step-by-step of handing the crisis you face is also essential. This will be discussed in a future blog.

For now, improve your Mental Health & Happiness today by cultivating, practicing and improving  your present coping strategies.

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