Had a hard day? Bad news? Frustrated or anxious? These are the easiest coping skills to use, the ones people use the most, and the most often suggested by counselors and therapists.

When we don’t want to talk is probably when we need to the most. Talking with someone who is trusted allows the brain to keep it churning it over, to keep working it out. The simple act of saying something out loud can also help to decrease the intensity of it on the inside. Talking it out sometimes helps a person hear their own thoughts, as if it makes them real. A listening ear also provides a check, someone to bounce ideas and thoughts off of as well as interpretations.

Whether it is through journaling, free writing or letters, writing gives the brain another way to process information and think things through. For some, writing is more precise. It usually takes longer to put something down in writing and people tend to be more specific toward what is meant. Writing has the added benefit of leaving a trail that can show the progression of thoughts and changes in perception.

There is a reason why they say that music soothes the savage beast… because it works! Music engages a different part of the brain. Whether listening to or playing music, it can change your mood, clarify or prompt new thoughts, and calm the nerves. Because music is so powerful, it can also influence people in a negative way, so know where the music is heading.

Getting the blood pumping is not only a good way to get the mind off of something, it engages hormones and endorphins that change body chemistry and makes one feel better. This can be as simple as going for a brisk walk. But of course, it can also include more strenuous exercise like running, dancing or lifting weights. A common recommendation given by doctors to their patients with depression is exercise. Watch out though, it can be addicting. It can also turn into a form of escaping from problems instead of dealing with them.

What happens when a baby or toddler is crying and then a toy or food is offered as a distraction? They forget whatever they were crying about in favor of this new thing grabbing their attention. This can be as simple as watching TV or playing a game, or reading a book. Anything to directly take the mind off of whatever was distressing. One caution… if distraction is used exclusively, it can turn into perpetual avoidance. Distraction is best for getting one out of a moment, to allow the time and space to engage a different coping skill when in a better head space.

Drinking alcohol, doing drugs and over/under eating are not coping mechanisms. They are escape mechanisms. Escape mechanisms don’t deal with problems, they avoid them. Don’t get me wrong, they certainly work if the goal is to forget about something, even for a short period of time. But they do not get rid of it, and more likely than not they make things worse in the long run. But you already know that.

Happy coping!


Todd has been a therapist for over 20 years in a variety of settings. An unconventional therapist who tells the truth, Todd has taught undergraduate and graduate level courses, and authored his first book, Simply Relate.

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