Coping Skills

Coping Skills

Having a set of good, adaptive coping skills in your toolbox is essential for managing life. Coping skills range from managing your thinking effectively, to self care and self soothing, as well as stress management. Resilience, utilising your strengths and avoiding getting stuck in a negative mindset or perspective all form part of a good approach to coping.

CATEGORY: Life & Coping Skills

SOURCES: APS | verywellmind.com | BMD

Number: #15

 

Penguin Jumps From One Icefloat To Another

An Australian Bureau of Statistics’ National Study of Mental Health and Wellbeing released in 2023, of 5,500 people aged 16 to 85 years old during 2020-2021, showed that more than two in five Australians experience a mental health issue in their lifetime and that in 2020–21 more than 3.4 million Australians sought help from a health care professional for their mental health.

The study is published at https://abs.gov.au/statistics/health/mental-health/national-study-mental-health-and-wellbeing/2020-21

Some signs of poor coping strategies may include things like using alcohol or drugs to numb, escape or minimise uncomfortable feelings; withdrawal and isolation; over-working; over or under eating; over or under exercising; seeking validation and support from inappropriate or unsafe places, activities or people.

Cognitive and behavioural psychologists work with you to learn good cognitive and behavioural coping skills. Cognitive refers to ‘thinking’ and the concept of cognitive strategies for coping include things like:

  • Recognising unhelpful or negative thoughts
  • Recognising the cognitive distortions you are using and challenging these
  • Challenging or replacing negative thoughts
  • Modifying negative and unhelpful core beliefs

 

Behavioural refers to ‘behaviour’ and good behavioural coping skills include things like:

  • Relaxation
  • Meditation
  • Yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Breathing techniques
  • Self care
  • Self soothing

More Details

Cognitive distortions are an important thing to recognise and get on top of when improving your coping skills, and the method of cognitive defusion is worth mentioning here too.

Cognitive Distortions

When you think about your life, it is quite possible that your mind is playing tricks on you that can distort your view. Cognitive distortions—where your mind puts a ‘spin’ on the events you see and attaches a not-so-objective interpretation to what you experience—happen all the time. We all have cognitive distortions, which are simply tendencies or patterns of thinking or believing, and they are especially common in people with depression and other mood disorders.

When you know what to be on the lookout for, it becomes easier to spot the cognitive distortions in others. It may be a little more challenging to spot your own, but it is possible. Doing so usually brings lasting positive change in the way you experience stressors in your life. An interesting thing to note is that several cognitive distortions can actually work to your advantage. The key is to know when and how to do so.

Here are the 10 most common (and officially recognised) cognitive distortions, with examples of how they relate to stress and coping.

All-or-Nothing Thinking

This type of distortion is the culprit when people think in extremes, with no gray areas or middle ground. All or nothing  thinkers often use words like “always” and “never” when describing things. “I always get stuck in traffic!” “My bosses never listen to me!” This type of thinking can magnify the stressors in your life, making them seem like bigger problems than they may, in reality, be.

Overgeneralisation

Those prone to overgeneralization tend to take isolated events and assume that all future events will be the same. For example, an overgeneralizer who faces a rude sales clerk may start believing that all sales clerks are rude and that shopping will always be a stressful experience.

Mental Filter

Those who tend toward mental filtering may gloss over positive events and hold a magnifying glass to the negative. Ten things can go right, but a person operating under the influence of a mental filter may only notice the one thing that goes wrong. (Add a little overgeneralization and all-or-nothing thinking to the equation, and you have a recipe for stress.)

Disqualifying the Positive

Similar to mental filtering, those who disqualify the positive tend to treat positive events like flukes, thereby clinging to a more negative worldview and set of low expectations for the future. Have you ever tried to help a friend solve a problem, only to have every solution you pose shot down with a “Yeah but…” response? You’ve witnessed this cognitive distortion firsthand.

Jumping to Conclusions

People do this one all the time. Rather than letting the evidence bring them to a logical conclusion, they set their sights on a conclusion (often negative) and then look for evidence to back it up, ignoring evidence to the contrary. The kid who decides that everyone in his new class will hate him, and ‘knows’ that they’re only acting nice to him in order to avoid punishment, is jumping to conclusions. Conclusion-jumpers can often fall prey to mind reading (where they believe that they know the true intentions of others without talking to them) and fortune-telling (predicting how things will turn out in the future and believing these predictions to be true). Can you think of examples of adults you know who do this? I bet you can.

Magnification and Minimisation

Similar to mental filtering and disqualifying the positive, this cognitive distortion involves placing a stronger emphasis on negative events and downplaying the positive ones. The customer service representative who only notices the complaints of customers and fails to notice positive interactions is a victim of magnification and minimization. Another form of this distortion is known as catastrophizing, where one imagines and then expects the worst possible scenario. It can lead to a lot of stress.

Emotional Reasoning

This one is a close relative of jumping to conclusions in that it involves ignoring certain facts when drawing conclusions. Emotional reasoners will consider their emotions about a situation as evidence rather than objectively looking at the facts. “I’m feeling completely overwhelmed, therefore, my problems must be completely beyond my ability to solve them,” or, “I’m angry with you; therefore, you must be in the wrong here,” are both examples of faulty emotional reasoning.

Acting on these beliefs as fact can, understandably, contribute to even more problems to solve.

Should Statements

Those who rely on ‘should statements’ tend to have rigid rules, set by themselves or others, that always need to be followed — at least in their minds. They don’t see flexibility in different circumstances, and they put themselves under considerable stress trying to live up to these self-imposed expectations. If your internal dialogue involves a large number of ‘shoulds,’ you may be under the influence of this cognitive distortion.

Labeling and Mislabeling

Those who label or mislabel will habitually place labels that are often inaccurate or negative on themselves and others. “He’s a whiner.” “She’s a phony.” “I’m just a useless worrier.” These labels tend to define people and contribute to a one-dimensional view of them, paving the way for overgeneralizations to move in. Labeling cages people into roles that don’t always apply and prevents us from seeing people (ourselves included) as we really are. It’s also a big no-no in relationship conflicts.

Personalisation

Those who personalise their stressors tend to blame themselves or others for things over which they have no control, creating stress where it need not be. Those prone to personalisation tend to blame themselves for the actions of others or blame others for their own feelings.

If any of these feel a little too familiar, that’s a good thing: recognising a cognitive distortion is the first step of moving past it.

Cognitive Diffusion

Cognitive fusion refers to the tendency we have as humans to get caught with, or fused with, our thoughts. This makes it hard for us to gain perspective on our thoughts, and our thoughts end up controlling our behaviour. When this happens, we need to diffuse our cognitions (thoughts). Here are some cognitive diffusion strategies:

Notice

We need to notice our thoughts so we can see which thoughts are helpful and which are not. If we have unhelpful thoughts, we need to defuse.

Defuse

We need distance from the thoughts, and we can try saying “I notice I am having the thought that….” in order to get some distance. We can also use humour, for example by singing the thought to the tune of Happy Birthday to remind ourselves they are just words in our head, and we can control them. We can give a story our mind is telling over and over again a name (Mission Impossible), or a character in the endless loop story  a name, for example, and then when the story reappears and we start ruminating on it we can say to ourselves “there’s Mission Impossible again, I have seen this movie before, and I think I’ll focus on something more beneficial”. Essentially, we need to ask ourselves “is this thought helpful?” and “will having this thought bring me closer or further away from my goal?”

Choice

Now that you have more perspective, bring yourself back to the present and choose a behaviour more in line with your new perspective, your values and who you want to be in that moment.

Therapy | Treatment

 

Therapy should include practical coping skill based components. Most of us grew up without learning good coping skills, or good communication and conflict management skills, in fact, and when we come to therapy to address problems in our lives, we usually need to learn these skills alongside the rest of the therapy work we are doing.

 

Your therapist can discuss coping strategies with you in sessions, provide you with handouts and information and your job will be to practice these new skills and embed them into your daily routines and make them a part of your psychological toolbox.