What are coping skills?
- Problem-focused coping – aimed at resolving the stressful situation or event or altering the source of stress (ex. establishing boundaries, asking for support, creating a to-do list, time management).
- Emotion-focused coping – aimed at managing emotions associated with the situation, rather than changing the situation itself (ex. exercise, meditation, taking a bath, changing self-talk).
When it is not possible to change a situation, or when circumstances are out of your control, it’s necessary to use emotion-focused coping. However, in many cases, it is possible to use either problem- or emotion-focused coping. Given your particular circumstance, you can decide which coping style is likely to work best. For example, consider a day where your class is being extremely rowdy. In particular, two students are being very disrespectful by talking, interrupting you, and distracting their peers. You are extremely frustrated and can feel your patience starting to dwindle. A problem-focused approach to coping with this situation may include separating the students, asking the students to step out of the classroom, or letting students know that they will lose a privilege if their behaviour continues. All of these options attempt to remove the problem. Alternatively, emotion-focused coping strategies may include deep breathing or positive self-affirmations. In this example, it might even be best to employ a combination of problem- and emotion-focused coping skills.
- Active Coping – designed to change the nature of the stressor itself, or the way you think about the stressor (i.e. approach-oriented).
- Avoidant coping – activities or mental states that keep you from directly addressing stressful events. People may be aware of the problem and actively choose to ignore or avoid it, or they may be in denial about the problem.
In general, active coping skills are considered more efficacious. However, avoidant coping skills certainly feel more effective in the short term and may be a good choice to help you reset and refocus when you’re feeling too overwhelmed or exhausted.
Regardless of whether the coping strategy is problem- or emotion-focused, active or avoidant, coping skills can be healthy or unhealthy (positive or negative) based on how they affect your psychological and/or physical health:
- Healthy/Positive coping skills – these strategies may not provide instant gratification, but they tend to have long-lasting positive outcomes.
Ex. Exercise, seeking professional support, using social support, journaling, relaxation techniques, self-affirmations, self-care, reading, visualization strategies, gratitude practices, etc.
- Unhealthy/Negative coping skills – these strategies tend to feel good in the moment but have long-term negative consequences.
Ex. Over- and undereating, sleeping too much or too little, drug or alcohol misuse, avoidance, social withdrawal, self-harm, procrastination, aggression, etc.
What is a coping toolbox?
A coping toolbox is an actual physical container, which contains items that you can use to help you calm down and manage stressful or challenging situations in a healthier manner. This toolbox may include items such as fidget toys or a stress ball, your favourite book, pictures of happy moments in your life, a colouring book with pencil crayons, a journal and writing supplies, or inspirational quotes. For coping strategies that are not associated with a physical object, like breathing exercises or visualizations, you can create index cards that provide a visual cue or instructions for the strategy. Creating a coping toolbox ensures that healthy coping strategies are readily available and accessible, thereby also reducing the amount of effort or energy needed to positively cope with stress. A coping toolbox should have at least three different tools that apply to a variety of different situations. The toolbox becomes more effective as the resources become increasingly diverse, and relevant. However, too many resources can also be overwhelming and increase anxiety related to decision making. Ideally, try including between five to eight meaningful items.
What are the benefits of building a coping toolbox?
Where can I learn more?
What will students learn?
By the end of this lesson, students will be able to…
- Identify and give examples of positive and negative coping skills
- Access a personalized and effective toolbox for positive coping
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