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Spaghetti? Murder Mysteries? Ben & Jerry’s? What Is Your Favorite Coping Strategy?

Rachel Alexander Oct. 3, 2013

What coping skills do professionals recommend to clients going through divorce or other crises? Which should be utilized and which avoided? Unfortunately, a lot of times, the coping skills that we go to are not healthy. Yes, they help us cope by avoiding or numbing out, but they are not necessarily good for us. We turn to substances, cling to other people, invest our energies into things over which we have no control, or otherwise misuse things to avoid our feelings and not take the next appropriate action.

In the midst of an emotional crisis, a good rule of thumb is to focus on doing what’s needed to decrease distress. It is not the time to take action in terms of moving toward your goal, or evaluating your life plan; it is a time to do no harm, get quiet, and attend to yourself. You don’t want to create unwanted consequences and increased complications by using coping mechanisms that are self-harming or reckless.

The idea of coping healthfully is to stay safe, self-soothe and reinhabit a clearer state of mind where you can then make effective choices.

What makes a coping mechanism effective? I, for example, would love to have the coping mechanism of running 7 miles upon the first signs of becoming overwhelmed and upset. Sadly, though, I don’t like to run, and if I’m particularly upset, running would not be a natural choice for me. Rather, running would put additional pressure on me. To be effective, a coping mechanism must be tailored to the person using it, to help them change their state of mind and provide them with comfort.

Before a crisis occurs, spend some time getting to know yourself. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What makes me feel better?

  • What makes me feel good on a regular basis?

  • What has helped me in the past when I’ve been having a difficult time?

For me, when things are too tough to bear, a good coping skill is a bowl of pasta while watching Masterpiece Mystery! For whatever reason, watching British mysteries really soothes me. (No judgement, just doing what’s effective.)

It would be great to have a list – a database –

of tried and true, healthy, non-harmful coping mechanisms that people have used effectively, because when in crisis, it’s often difficult to identify helpful choices or alternatives. Sharing and creating a coping mechanism resource, in advance, could be a helpful tool. That way, when we are in the midst of an emotional crisis, we are armed with healthier ways of coping, which will undermine the narrow vision of panic.

What works for you? Feel free to share that information here, so we can begin to build that resource together.