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Oct 22

How To Cope – Improving Coping Skills

So What Are Coping Skills Anyway?

Everyone copes, but some ways are better than others. Looking at how we cope, and what we want the outcome to be are important steps to improving overall functioning.

Coping skills are abilities or talents employed to effectively respond to issues that result in disadvantage or adversity. Coping skills are applied every day, some with conscious thought, some without. Coping is a response to physical, cognitive, and psychological stressors. If one’s coping skills are not able to effectively address the stressor, there can be an increase in impaired functioning.  For more information about specific coping skills, see our article Top 10 Coping Skills.

Is There A Wrong Way To Cope?

Some coping skills are clearly positive, some are not so straight forward. Some coping techniques can be problematic and exacerbate the stress or even cause harm.  Some coping techniques are not problematic in moderation, but if done too often become harmful.  Additionally what is helpful for one person, may not be helpful for another. So it important for every person to discover what are the best coping skills or responses for them.

Psychological Stressors

For our purposes, it is best to look at coping skills in terms of responses to psychological stressors.

A psychological stressor can be considered anything that causes an individual stress. This stress can come in the form of many feelings including anxiety, apprehension, fear, sadness, distress, frustration, anger, hurt, or anything that triggers a trauma response.

These can be episodic (taking a new route to work) or long-term (going through a divorce).  Additionally, the stressor can have varying levels of intensity or even a threat to self.   It is important to remember that not everyone experiences a stressor the same way and that stressors can be unique to a person.  Something that one person finds stressful, may actually be a benign or even enjoyable event to someone else.

Coping with Stressors

We cope with stressors every day, often without even realizing it. When we cope with stressful events (even if it is a simple daily task), it is vitally important that we use healthy effective coping skills.

For example, if I become so anxious (stress) about taking my car to the mechanic (stressor) that I start hitting the steering wheel, crying and turn the car around and go home (coping), I have coped with the stressor. However, my coping was not effective in that I was not able to accomplish what I needed to do. All I did was make the stress go away, but I did not effectively cope with the stressor, and I may have additional problems later when my car’s problems get worse.

Improving Coping Skills

Once you know what your stressors are and how you cope, you can start to improve your skills. Becoming aware of how you cope is the first step to improving your overall coping skill. Only then can you determine how effective your coping is, and how to improve your overall skill.

  • Identify stressors, what causes you to feel stress?
  • Determine how you cope, what do you do in response to the stresses?
  • Rate how effective your coping is, are you able to accomplish what you want?
  • Study how do others cope, what are some coping skills others use that you would like to employ.
  • Select coping responses, how would you like to respond to the stressor.
  • Reality testing, could you really easily employ the coping techniques you have selected?
  • Adopt new skills, plan to use new effective coping skills.

At a loss as to what to do?

  • Look at how you effectively cope with stressors and effective ways others cope with stressors.
  • Make a list of effective coping skills that you could do in response to particular stressors.
  • Choose some effective coping skills that you could realistically employ.
  • Practice using the coping skill. Visualizing yourself employing a particular coping skill can help you use the skill when the stressor presents itself.
  • Find a trusted therapist to speak to about your difficulty coping.

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Life can be complicated, messy, and rarely progresses in a straight line.  PeoplePsych is a Chicago-based psychotherapy group that treats adults seeking profound change in their lives.  We provide services that affirm the dignity, worth, and value of all individuals. We strive to create a safe non-judgemental space for clients to explore the issues that bring them. To connect with one of our therapists, please contact our Clinical Coordinator at (312) 252-5252 or