You’ve probably heard the term coping mechanism, especially if you’ve ever been to therapy or a treatment program. Coping mechanisms are behaviors or strategies used to help us deal with a difficult moment or emotion. They are an integral part of health and wellness by helping you focus on what to do instead of enacting a negative behavior or following through with an addictive pattern.
Coping mechanisms can take the place of using, drinking, self-harm, and negative self-talk. They can keep us safe from harm, and they can help us work through an emotional trigger while it’s happening. They are the lifeline to grounding ourselves in reality in a safe and healthy way when facing trauma, dark thoughts, and difficult feelings. Overall, coping mechanisms help us slow down and work through tough moments while they are occurring.
A Coping Mechanism Starter-Pack
Coping mechanisms can be any type of strategy that keeps us from following addictive patterns or negative self-talk, so that means there isn’t one right way to cope. Here are a few proven ways to help you stay safe. You can use the list below as a guide to start your own list and add to it when you learn what works for you.
- Breathing: It may sound silly but breathing through a difficult moment can transform your life. It can ground you and slow down your anxiety so you can hear your inner voice. A great technique is called the 4-5-7 method. Breathe in for four seconds, hold the breath for five seconds, and release the breath for a duration of seven seconds. Repeat this sequence ten times and watch your body begin to slow down and regroup.
- Releasing Tension: In a moment of duress, it’s easy to feed into the anxiety and panic that is building because of nerves or anger. In the moment, stop and do a scan of your body. Where are you holding the tension? Some common areas include clenching your teeth/jaw, shrugging your shoulders up into your ears, and clenching your fists or your legs. When you’re facing a tough moment, assess your body. Make space between your top and bottom jaw and run your tongue along the front of your teeth. Roll your shoulders up and back to release tension and breathe into the space that you feel yourself clenching. Release it all with your exhaling breath.
- Movement: Sometimes when our bodies get so worked up, no amount of breathing seems to help. In this case, physically work it out. Head to the gym, go for a run or long walk, dance, or stretch. Sometimes all the body needs is a physical way to release the energy and tension you are currently holding.
- Get Creative: Grab a pencil and some paper, pull out an old coloring book, or grab some paint and a brush. Art therapy is a proven way to relax your body and slow your mind while lighting up other areas of the brain that can be healing and therapeutic. Some people may feel they don’t have a creative bone in their body, but the word creative simply means leaning into your own version of art. Cut out magazine clippings and make a collage, create a paper mâché structure, or learn calligraphy. When it comes to mental health, this isn’t about the end result. It’s about exploring new emotions and releasing that which no longer serves us.
- Phone a “Friend”: Sometimes our emotions get the best of us, and we get stuck in a mental loop that feels impossible to break free from. Talking to someone can help us acknowledge negative self-talk, recognize harmful patterns, and ultimately calm us down. You could call a close friend, talk to a family member, reach out to a sponsor, set up a time to meet with your therapist, or check in at a group meeting. There are many supports out there available to help, but you have to take the first step to make the call or send the text.
Healing Beyond the Strategies
Coping mechanisms are an important part of the recovery process, but they shouldn’t be the end all be all. It can be difficult to tell when a coping mechanism should be used, especially if we are just starting out on our journey to recovery because, at times, they can be used as a crutch instead of a healing tool. Coping mechanisms help us in the moment, but there is also a lot of work to be done outside of those moments. We need to continuously acknowledge our triggers, work through past traumas in therapy or group, and make healthy choices in our daily lives at school and work. Coping is a way to heal in the moment, but the deeper healing work can’t be forgotten. Cope in the moment but be sure you’re taking time every day to practice self-work and self-care.
Dealing with anxiety, depression, and addiction can be tiring, especially in the beginning stages. It can feel frustrating and isolating, and rightly so. But this work doesn’t need to be done in a vacuum. The Bougainvilla House was created with the intention of helping kids and adolescents work through these feelings and break addictive patterns with the help of family and community. If you or someone you know is struggling to make healthy choices or needs help with the self-work, reach out today at (954) 764-7337 or use our convenient Contact form. Let us help you cope and heal.