Why Coping Skills Can Be Hard
Let's set the scene: You made a mistake and your head is flooded with thoughts about how you can never get things right and how you always mess up. As you seethe with frustration and hopelessness, you reach for your phone to zone out on social media to numb out the negative thoughts and feelings. This is pattern that's been in your life for quite some time now and it seems like an endless cycle. It helps for a little bit, but ultimately comes back to start again. You know something needs to change, but you aren't sure what or even how to start.
This is a cycle many of us are stuck in. It's called negative or unhelpful coping. Negative/Unhelpful coping is used when we haven't learned and haven't mastered using helpful coping skills when things get tough. Unhelpful coping is a wide spectrum of behaviors and responses to difficult situations ranging from things such as criticizing ourselves, binge watching TV, using substances, or hurting others with harmful words. They become habits that we use as our go-tos, with each use further strengthening those short cuts in our mind that love to do what is easy and what we know.
However, unhelpful coping has negative consequences. If they are geared outwards such as yelling or lashing out, we end up hurting and pushing away those in our lives. If they are geared inwards such as self-harm or criticizing ourselves, we hurt ourselves by diminishing our self-worth and sometimes physically hurting ourselves in ways that leave permanent marks.
On top of that, there's another way it hurts. It doesn't end up solving or helping -except momentarily- and prolongs suffering because this cycle will repeat. Dealing with tough emotions and situations like this does not help you move through them and process them. It leaves the feelings lingering, just momentarily put off. Which is why these often become cycles because those feelings come back up again. This is why we need helpful coping skills so we aren't drowning in all our feelings that aren't being released. Helpful coping skills help soothe our minds and bodies in ways that relieve tension and process our feelings that negative coping does not.
Helpful coping skills are things such as deep breathing, going for a walk, journaling, talking to someone safe, and doing something creative. They can even be things that used to be negative coping if they are balanced such as watching tv. If you binge watch TV and numb out for 4 hour after something tough happened, you're not processing and helping your feelings to move on. However, if you watch a show for an hour to give you some breathing room to calm down and not act impulsively, that's a great way to use healthy coping.
Helpful coping skills need a lot of practice! Once you find helpful coping skills that work for you, you'll need to practice before you're upset to create that new habit. The example I always give to my clients is learning an instrument or sport. You need to practice a lot to get good at it, and it would be increasingly hard to play if you were emotional. So when something tough happens and you are emotional, that is not the best time to try and successfully start a new habit. Practice before so it will be easier to remember and replace your usual negative coping.
Coping skills are hard because we as humans like habits, we do what is easy, and we like something that will help us immediately even if it hurts us in the long run. Helpful coping skills are harder to remember and they take effort, however our bodies and minds will thank us in the long run. You will start to notice that you aren't feeling like you're drowning anymore, and your burdens will feel lighter. Getting out those emotions and processing them with helpful coping skills helps soothe our mind, soul, and bodies in ways that help us feel more free and light. I believe in you! Start your journey towards practicing healthy and helpful coping skills today.
Written by Devan of SafeHeart Counseling. Devan is the founder and owner of SafeHeart Counseling, which provides therapy services to children, and teens. SafeHeart Counseling specializes in working with eating disorders, trauma, and anxiety.