Let Me Help You! Effective Strategies for Coping with Stress & Anxiety

Written By Miracle Hawkins, Contributing Writer

1/16/2021

Stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly being dismantled and conversations surrounding mental health are becoming less taboo and more mainstream. Coping strategies and self-care have always been very popular concepts in the therapy and counseling world. Today, these concepts are being promoted more often and not just during therapy sessions. Now we see many Instagram, Pinterest, Twitter posts, and tweets that reinforce the importance of having healthy coping strategies and engaging in self-care.

Coping strategies are tools that we use to cope or handle difficult situations or emotions. “Coping strategies are actions we take—consciously or unconsciously to deal with stress, problems, or uncomfortable emotions.” [1] Everyone copes differently, and it can be in a healthy or unhealthy manner. Coping strategies that are unhealthy are usually used to feel good in the moment but end up having negative consequences later. Healthy coping strategies may not give instant gratification but will ultimately lead to more positive and long-lasting outcomes.

Examples of unhealthy coping strategies include:

  • Drinking excessive amounts of alcohol or using illicit drugs
  • Overeating or not eating at all
  • Sleeping a lot or too little
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Self-harming
  • Aggression towards others
  • Gambling

Examples of healthy coping strategies include:

  • Prayer and mediation
  • Deep breathing or using other mindfulness exercises
  • Reading a book or journaling
  • Taking a hike or bike ride
  • Taking a walk or exercising
  • Cooking a healthy meal
  • Spending time with a loved one
  • Seeking social or professional help
  • Engaging in an art activity/project

Recognizing whether your coping strategies are healthy or unhealthy is very important for self-awareness. Stress, sadness, fear, and anger are all emotions that we feel day to day. Therefore, it is important to identify what coping strategies work or don’t work for you. What coping strategies have you learned from others? What coping strategies are self-sabotaging? What coping strategies are creating more problems than helping?

Ultimately, coping strategies play a major role in the way you solve problems, your relationships, your mental functioning, and your overall health and well-being.

The following are 8 steps to help you with developing healthy coping strategies:

  1. Write down a list of the coping strategies you currently use when you are dealing with difficult emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, loneliness, and anxiety.
  2. Next, decide which strategies are healthy or unhealthy.
  3. After identifying your unhealthy coping strategies, recognize the possible outcomes if you continue to use those unhealthy coping strategies. Decide if it giving you instant gratification, yet resulting in negative consequences and more problems down the line.
  4. Eliminate the negative strategies and replace them with healthy ones that you can use instead. For example: Instead of overeating, maybe find a task you can complete around the house or find a new healthy recipe to try. Or instead of isolating in your room, maybe call a friend or take a walk. 
  5. Once you have a list of healthy coping strategies, circle the ones that you feel will be the most enjoyable for you. Think about the hobbies and activities that you already enjoy doing.
  6. Be patient with yourself and take small steps. Remember: the coping strategies that you have consciously or unconsciously been using for so long won’t disappear overnight.
  7. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Be intentional about using healthier coping strategies. Consider putting your list of healthy coping strategies somewhere you will see it every day.
  8. Consider seeking professional help from a therapist or counselor who can help you better process your emotions and difficult circumstances.

References

[1] Therapist Aid. (n.d.). Healthy vs. unhealthy coping strategies. https://www.therapistaid.com/worksheets/healthy-unhealthy-coping-strategies.pdf

Published by Counseling With Leslie

Leslie Stevens, M.Ed., LCMHC is a North Carolina and Virginia board-certified licensed professional counselor. She co-owns a successful practice in Carrboro, North Carolina. Leslie specializes in helping adults navigate stress, depression, anxiety, and perfectionism. Additionally, she is a life strategist, spiritual coach, and writer.

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