By Erika Labuzan-Lopez, LMFT, LPC
When people think about what it most needed to maintain good mental health, coping skills are always at the top of the list. As a therapist, I’m always working with my clients on building their toolbox and filling it with strategies that will help them to deal with their upcoming problems, not just the problems of today. The challenge is to have a strong skillset in place so that when something hard happens, you can quickly find things you know are helpful to get you through that difficult time.
There are no “one size fits all” coping toolboxes out there; different things work for different people. Coming up with better ways to deal with tough stuff is not a small or simple goal at all. I recommend exploring your coping skills on your own, with a support system, and preferably a good therapist. During emotionally heavy times or stressful situations, you won’t be able to sort through healthy and unhealthy ways of dealing with things, so it’s helpful to have good options readily available. Here’s a quick list to get you started.
A List of People to Call – Choose 3-4 people you know will be emotionally supportive and write down their names and numbers. If you can’t get ahold of them, write down some of the important points that you wanted to talk about and save it until you can speak with them. I do not recommend texting or emailing because it is too ambiguous and may not lead to the support that you actually need.
Coping Cards – You can create coping cards on paper, your phone, or you can get creative with it. Make cards outlining what to do when you are feeling “X emotion” and then write down three options that will help you deal with that emotion to avoid engaging in destructive behavior.
Relaxing Audio or Meditation – You can find many meditations on the internet. Try out different styles and techniques until you find what works the best for you. Music can also be helpful for relaxation, but stay away from songs that “pump you up,” sad songs, or songs that remind you of a specific distressing event. The goal is to calm your nervous system, not amp you up.
A Video from Someone You Love – Connection and seeing eyes and faces are very comforting in times of trouble. Ask someone that makes you feel safe to record a short video letting you know that you are ok, and that they are there to support you. Watching the video can quickly regulate emotions.
Chewing Gum, Adult Coloring Books, Or… – You may wonder how chewing gum and adult coloring books are related? Anything that involves a repetitive motion produces serotonin in the brain, which has a calming effect and can make you more relaxed. If you’ve ever wondered why painting your guest room was so relaxing, now you know why!