Photo of someone reading, one of my favorite coping skills.

Coping Skills: What they Are & How to Use Them

In Education, Self-Care by Courtney Archer2 Comments

“Coping skills” is one of those buzz phrases that tend to be tossed around with abandon. Have depression or anxiety? Well, you must need coping skills!

Have incredibly out of control stress? Coping skills will solve that!

Want to deepen your life’s meaning and solve all your problems? Coping skills again!

But here is the thing–what are coping skills? Sure, they’re great and all, but what exactly are they?

You have found a great place to learn the answer. Coping skills are only as useful as they are understandable and applicable.

We are going to delve into what they are and are not, and how they do and not help. Coping skills have their time and place, and it might not always be what you would think.

By the end of this article, you will have them sorted out. Not only that, but you will have some great ideas on how to use them in your life!

Photo of a sign that says "Relax", something that coping skills help with.

What Are Coping Skills?

Coping skills go hand in hand with self-care and have some of the same misconceptions. When you think about these two things, some things that come to mind might include eating chocolate, walking along the beach, or getting a massage.

Coping skills are strategies we use to deal with difficult emotions like fear, stress, and disappointment. They are the things we do to alleviate our distress.

And while walks along the beach can be a great way to cope, sometimes it is a little out of reach. Unless you live along the coast, chances are minimal that you can take a walk along the beach every time you experience stress.

The best coping skills are things you can do in a variety of situations for a variety of problems. Small and simple skills are often the most helpful ones. Just taking a deep breath before making any response in a disagreement can make a difference in where the discussion goes.

You are already using coping skills, whether you realize it or not. Whatever you do when you are upset–it is a coping skill. It just may or may not be a great coping skill…

Photo of some chairs on a beach.

Coping Strategies Can Be Healthy and Unhealthy

Coping skills can be healthy and unhealthy. When people say things like, “use your coping skills” they tend to be referring to the healthy ones.

Please note that we are using the terms “healthy” and “unhealthy” rather than “good” and “bad.” We use coping skills to make our lives better and trying to make life better is not bad.

However, some of the coping skills we use can be pretty unhealthy, like exploding in anger at someone or using mood-altering substances like unprescribed drugs and/or alcohol. While doing so may soothe our raw emotions at the moment, it tends to make more problems for us in the long run.

The key to figuring out whether something is healthy or unhealthy is to imagine what will happen five minutes, five hours, and five days after you do it.

Take the example of exploding in anger. If you look forward five seconds after, you might be feeling justified in your outrage and relieved that you have said something.

However, five minutes later how is the argument going? Has anyone calmed down? In five hours, have you reached the conclusion you had in mind?

How about five days later? Maybe you will still think your reaction was valid at that point–it depends on the situation.

In most situations though, you will have recognized your part in the argument, apologized, and be on your way to figuring out how to move forward.

If the thing you are doing to cope is not congruent with where you want your life to be five days from now, then it is not healthy.

Having a solid understanding of what coping skills are and are not will help you drill down to what you can do to make yours more healthy for you.

They Are:

Individual to You

One of my favorite coping skills is to read my favorite book, The Thief, by Megan Whalen Turner. Every single time I read this book, its snarky cleverness warms my soul.

My husband, on the other hand, loathes reading. The best book in the world is not going to make a bad day better for him.

Your coping skills are going to be the things that pick you up on a bad day. Think about things that you do or have done that truly bring you joy.

Some possibilities are going for a walk, talking to a friend, working in the garden, painting a picture, going for a drive, watching your favorite movie, meditating, etc.

Meditating is one of those classic coping skills that will benefit a lot of different areas in your life. If you have not tried meditating, give it a go with this super short guided meditation for acceptance.

Whatever coping skill you use, make them something that you will benefit from on an individual level.

Photo of someone reading, one of my favorite coping skills.

As Long or Short As You Need Them to Be

When you were thinking about your own possible coping skills, what kind of time requirement was involved? Walking, painting, gardening–these are all things that commonly take up a good chunk of time.

The thing is, coping skills do not have to be a huge time commitment. Walking a few steps out your front door can be enough of a change to clear your mind. Sending a quick text to a good friend is another simple way to get your thoughts out of your head so that you can re-focus.

Likewise, if you are in the middle of a very important, very difficult conversation, the best thing might not be walking away. Sometimes it is! It is amazing what a short time-out can do to diffuse frustration.

But if you are not able to take a time out, it might be more helpful to quote a personal mantra to yourself or to take a few deep breaths.

Grounding is a great coping skill that can be as simple or intensive as you want it to be. If you have some time, sure, go on a long mindful walk to root you back to the present.

But if you are pressed for time, try using scented lotion to ground you back to the present. All you have to do is sniff your hands to remind yourself that you are not your emotions and to keep yourself breathing.


Coping skills are changeable. If reading your favorite book worked when you were 14, but is not cutting it anymore, that is okay! Coping skills change!

You are not the same person you were at 14. Some of your 14-year-old coping strategies may still work great, and others may need some adjusting. Some of your 28-year-old (or 36-year-old, or 57-year-old; you get the drift) coping strategies may need some adjusting!

We all stretch and grow as we age. It is important for our coping skills to stretch and age with us. I do not think I will ever tire of reading The Thief, but I definitely do not stay up until five in the morning reading it anymore.

Sometimes the same old coping skills just need to be modified a little bit. A child’s journal is different than an adult’s journal, but journaling is something that can benefit a person at any age.

Now, if you are not enjoying anything at all in life anymore, this may be a sign that you could have depression. If this is the case, please consider seeking help from a therapist or a medical professional. Psychology Today has a great search engine for finding a therapist near you.


If your current coping skills are not getting you where you want to be, learn some new ones! You are not stuck with the ones you have already learned!

There are a few different ways to learn new coping skills. One is by reading articles like this. Another is to learn from someone in your life who has demonstrated a pretty solid ability to deal with life’s curveballs.

Even if you do not have any examples of that in your life, there are still plenty of people to learn from. Therapy is a great way to explore coping skills. You can also learn a lot just by watching YouTube videos about coping skills.

This 25 Amazing Coping Skills video is a great one to start with!

Coping Skills Are Not:

One-Size Fits All

The same coping skill is not going to work for every challenge or strong emotion in your life. If you are struggling with the stress of financial strain, going out to the movies is probably not going to be a great long-term solution for you.

However, if you are overwhelmed with grief or disappointment and just need to check out for a bit, going to the movies could be a great option.

Similarly, meditation is great when you have at least a little time. But if you are stressing because you are running late to an important meeting, stopping to meditate is going to make your problem worse instead of better.

This is why it is important to have a range of coping skills. If your current range is limited, it is time to expand.

As noted above, coping skills are something that can be learned. Having a small set of skills today does not mean you have to have a small set of skills tomorrow. You do not have to have a ton, but it is good to have more than one.

A Replacement for Social Support

Humans are social creatures. We all need social interaction to one degree or another. Even introverted people need social interaction!

If this is an area where you struggle, it might help to learn more about social health. Increasing social wellness is a great way to improve overall wellness.

While coping skills can help you cope with distress caused by poor relationships, they will not solve your need for social support. We all need people who support us, who we in turn support.

It is part of our need to be appreciated, cared for, and belong. There are some things that all people have in common, and this is one of those things.

That being said, coping skills can help with one’s apprehension toward social situations. They can also help us recover when social situations do not go well.

But if you are sad because you are lonely, reading and meditating are only going to get you so far. Solutions are only as good as they are relevant to the problems they are addressing.

Photo of someone relaxing.

Only Used During Crisis

When people train for marathons, they start months ahead of time. These people do not start with 26 miles on their first run. 26 miles is hard enough when you have trained for it (at least, according to my sister–heaven knows that have not run a marathon).

If a person did start out at 26 miles they would have all kinds of problems. Even if they could finish the run, they would be in a world of hurt afterward.

Moments of crisis are like personal marathons that you have not trained for. Something comes smashing in, tears things apart, and turns the world to chaos. “Crisis” is commonly defined as being a situation that exceeds a person’s resources.

Resources can be social, economic, personal, etc. One of the resources that crises commonly exceed is a person’s ability to cope.

Times of crisis are not times to be “practicing” coping skills. Just like we should not be practicing CPR on people in cardiac arrest, we should not be practicing coping skills when in crisis. The practicing needs to happen way beforehand!

When we have well-practiced, well-developed coping skills, it becomes much harder to exceed our ability to cope.  Coping skills work best in crisis when they have already been solidified through routine and daily use.

Why Are Coping Skills Important?

We all have stress. We just do. Some parts of life are less stressful than others, but every single day brings some form of stress with it.

The problem with stress (you know, besides the whole stress part of it) is that it can cause us to react in ways that are not consistent with the way we want to be. Most of us have some goals in life. Generally one of those goals is to not hurt people we love.

Yet when stress comes calling we find ourselves doing things we would not otherwise do. We use harsh words, jump to conclusions, and can even become self-destructive. If you have done any of these things you are not alone.

As we become distressed, the emotional part of our brain starts taking over from the rational part of our brain. Please note that rational is not synonymous with perfect–emotions have their time and place, and not just the happy ones.

However, as our emotions take over we stop weighing the pros and cons and start just reacting instead. Having well ingrained healthy coping skills allows us to act quickly without getting so destructive.

Dealing with stress in a way that moves you forward rather than backward is crucial to living the life you want to live. An ideal life is not one without stress. It is a life in which we are able to handle stress in a way that is congruent with our goals and values.

Healthy coping skills are important to our wellbeing in the same way that healthy eating and exercise are. They enable us to be the healthiest version of ourselves.

When we are able to cope, we are able to breathe. We are better able to live the life we want to live.

Photo of a couple relaxing in a hammock.

How to Develop Coping Skills

Now that we have a good understanding of what coping skills are and how to use them, we are going to explore how to actually use them.

After all, knowledge is only as helpful as it is applicable. All the information in the world about coping skills is not useful if you do not know how to apply it.

Fortunately, coping skills are relatively simple to incorporate into your life, especially with the strategies listed below. There are a number of ways that you can begin to use coping skills in your day to day experiences.

Start With What You Know

As was mentioned above, try to think of some things that you find soothing and reassuring. What is something that helps you remember that life is worthwhile? Or something that reminds you that you are worthwhile?

Cooking can do this for some people. It is something that generally needs to be done anyway, and adding your personal touch or a favorite mix of seasonings gives it an element of creativity.

Eating is also something that can be done mindfully, taking the time to experience every flavor and texture. When you are stressed, you can bring to mind your favorite food or flavor to ground yourself and get out of a fight or flight reaction.

If you have to take notes, get a pen in your favorite color. It is a small thing, but just seeing your favorite color can be a nice reminder that everything is not horrible.

Think of some things that you enjoy or appreciate. They can be as simple as your favorite color or as extravagant as your favorite place in the world.

Photo of a girl using one of the greatest coping skills, music.

Incorporate Them Into Daily Life

Once you have some things, start to think of how you can incorporate them into your life. If you love the night sky, find a guided meditation that centers on it.

Your favorite place in the world can be something you bring alive in your imagination every night as you fall asleep. Use your senses to cement it into place–the way it smells, feels, looks, etc. The more work you put into every little detail the better, and the more likely that it will help you fall asleep!

A little bonus of that one is that if you are busy building your favorite place in the world, you are not stressing about not being able to sleep. Fear of not being able to sleep is ironically one of those things that keep people up at night!

Another option is to get air freshener or lotion that smells like your favorite scent. This brings a little bit of calm, a little spark of enjoyment, to everyday activities.

If you are having a hard time figuring out how to incorporate your coping skills into daily life, feel free to share in the comments and we can brainstorm together!

Build Them Into Stressful Moments

Once you have incorporated some basic coping skills into daily life, it will be so much easier to build them into stressful moments! If you are already wearing your favorite lotion, all you have to do is smell your hands to help soothe your troubled emotions.

Likewise, if you have used your imagination to solidify your favorite place in the world, bringing any element of it to mind will help ground you. This is actually one of my favorite coping skills. Wherever I am, bringing to mind the feel and scent of sidewalk chalk helps me feel more at ease.

The more you use your coping skills in everyday life, the more likely you will be able to remember and use them when stressed. This will also help you break them down into readily usable pieces, like a simple scent or memory to get you back on course.

As mentioned above, coping skills are not just for times of crisis. They will work better for you in times of crisis if you are already using them elsewhere!

Photo of the words, "and breathe" a great coping skill.

In Conclusion

Coping skills are vital to making it through life’s ups and downs. They work best when they are personal and practiced regularly. Feel free to experiment with them to figure out what works best in which situations, so that they come easier in times of distress.

Do you already have some go-to coping skills? How have you found success in utilizing them in your life? Please share in the comments below so that we can all learn together!

Want to read more? Recommended articles below:

What is Self-Care? Satisfaction, Relief, & Wonder

5 Simple Problem-Solving Skills to Solve All Your Problems

Need a Break? 7 Simple Ways to Rejuvenate

3 Solid Ways to Find Meaning in Your Life

Social Health & You: How to Improve Social Wellness



  1. Greetings! Very useful advice in this particular post!

    It’s the little changes that produce the largest changes.
    Thanks for sharing!

  2. That was intriguing . I love your quality that you put into your work. Please do move forward with more like this.

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