10 Healthy Coping Skills to Learn & Habituate for Better Living in Tough Times (and at all times)

Apr 13, 2020

“Stoics do not seek to have the answer for every question or a plan for every contingency, yet they’re also not worried. Why? Because they have confidence that they’ll be able to adapt and change with the circumstances. Instead of looking for instruction, they cultivate skills like creativity, independence, self-confidence, ingenuity, and the ability to problem solve. In this way, they are resilient instead of rigid. We can practice the same.” The Daily Stoic by Ryan Holiday

When the unwanted arises, our stress rises.

And when our stress rises, our body’s natural defense mechanism – our hypothalamus in the brain “gets the ball rolling, telling your adrenal glands to release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol“. While such a bodily behavior is natural, it is not healthy to be prolonged, thus why the name chronic stress arises and should be avoided as it begins to break down the body (and the mind) and its ability to function properly.

In our current situation, we are likely to be and have already been under a state of uncertainty for some time. Knowing how to healthily navigate during these times is crucial to our overall good health because not only do we want this period of history to come to an end, we want to come out on the other side as well as possible, and the good news is, it is indeed absolutely possible. We can ratchet down the stress, and in so doing strengthen powerful skills that we can use in our lives moving forward to elevate our everyday lives in every arena.

“Coping mechanisms are skills we all have that allow us to make sense of our negative experiences and integrate them into a healthy, sustainable perspective of the world”. —Psychology Today

There are a wide array of coping mechanisms and not all are healthy. As we know some people will revert to negative or hurtful coping mechanism and ultimately make the situation worse or their ability to think well impossible (i.e. substance abuse, over-eating, working ourselves to the point of exhaustion as a way of avoiding or trying to control what is out of our control, denial, problem avoidance (worth repeating as it can take on many forms), unsafe relationship or sexual decisions, etc.). On the flip-side, healthy coping mechanisms are essential tools we need to know how to tap into when life gives us something we may not expect or want.

“Healthy coping mechanisms can help you translate fear and ambiguity into a sense of calm confidence and inner peace”. —Constance Scharff Ph.D.

In my second book Living The Simply Luxurious Life: Making Your Everydays Extraordinary and Discovering Your Best Self, two of my favorite chapters and what readers have shared were the most helpful chapters for them were “Building Your Toolbox: Skills and Strengths”. Below I am going to share with you Skills you can welcome and strengthen for your personal toolbox. However, in my book, I go into far more detail and share many more, but below is specifically tailored to the times we find ourselves. Let’s take a look.

Positive coping skills to incorporate into your toolbox:

Physical exercise

Coping is a strategy by the brain to solve or handle the problem, but we must be in control of our brain for the coping skill to be positive. Ultimately, the coping skill we choose is a way to exert mastery over the mind – knowing what it needs for us to be in control, not the other way around. “Physical activities like exercise have been shown to alter the brain’s chemistry for the better”.

It may seem hard to fathom how simply running or walking or going outside and gardening or yoga or [insert your favorite aerobic activity] can help our brain cope well, but as any athlete will tell you, it’s true. You cannot think about much else if you are fully invested in the physical task at hand, and that is when we give the brain a break, we let it relax, rejuvenate and as well, become exhausted in the most healthy way so that we can sleep well.

Creative Outlet

First, let me reassure you that you are a creative being. As I shared in detail in this post, we are all creative in our own way. Some of us have realized this and some have yet to, but we all have a creative part of us waiting to be tapped into. Whatever it is that you love doing – it doesn’t have to be art, it simply needs to be something where you forget about rules and let your mind and then your being create something that comes forth when you set aside what you “have to do”.

While I am thankful to have discovered the handful of creative outlets I enjoy spending time immersed in, writing has always been helpful for my mind. Cooking as well as gardening, decorating, each of these for me have been coping mechanisms that are healthy and therapeutic especially during trying times, but even more uplifting when all is going well.

Meditation

Strengthening the mind before tough times ensures that when difficulties arise, you already have a positive default track in the brain. Meditation is the “gym” in which we can strength and tone our minds. Begin with just three minutes a day, and work up to five, then 10 and so on. Check out this post for more detailed information.

Relaxation Exercises or Activities

From taking a hot bubble bath, to incorporating daily and/or weekly rituals of relaxation – sipping your favorite cuppa in your favorite spot, etc., whatever you have found to relax your mind, let yourself do so regularly. It is a necessity.

~The Importance of Daily and Weekly Rituals, episode #280

Get outdoors, befriend Mother Nature

The gift of Bend is that I can go outside every single day in one way or another – whether on my porch or out on a trail with the dogs. Any time I have had the opportunity to speak with someone on a trail, one thing we will both agree on is the gift of being able to go outdoors and bask in the comfort of Mother Nature in this place we are most fortunate to call home.

Stepping outside brings us to the present moment if we will let it. It’s hard not to stop and savor the sounds of the birds chirping, the warmth of the sun on your face, the smell of the freshly fallen rain. When you focus on the gifts of Mother Nature, you are present and you step away momentarily from any worries that had been previously dancing about in your mind.

~Check out this post for details on the many benefits to your health when we spend time with nature.

Cook well, and just cook

I find cooking or baking therapeutic, and the Journal of Positive Psychology confirms it is true! Perhaps cooking is your creative outlet, so these two coping mechanisms will go hand-in-hand. If you have the opportunity to step into your kitchen, play with ingredients and make something you enjoy, the immediate gratification is uplifting, but even more, it is the act of cooking and baking that I find most helpful. Why? It keeps me present. It keeps me in the moment and my thoughts do not wander as the meal needs my full attention.

When I do not know how to deal with a situation and am still working through it, I will step into my kitchen and make something new. It is certainly possible to think about something else while making a favorite recipe I know by heart, but if it is a new recipe or one I have been curious to try, I am narrowly focused on what I am doing and it calms me down almost immediately without me even really realizing it until I am done and my heartbeat has slowed down.

A Deep Slumber

Sleeping well is a coping mechanism. Of course, we need to get out of bed, but sometimes in the short-term, our bodies need more rest than we may realize because our minds have been overwhelmed with an abundance of information that we have exhausted it with. Let your body rest and your mind will follow when you fall deeply asleep. Never under-estimate the power of a full night’s rest to wake up clearly, calmer and with the ability to make better decisions moving forward.

Spend time with your pets

As many of you know, I am a doggie mama, and without a doubt, my two boys have been one of the strongest and most effective coping mechanisms during our current uncertain times. Honestly, so much so, I probably don’t fully understand their power in my life to stay present, nurture them and be nurtured by their company. They keep me present, they keep me focused on the moment at hand and they keep me focused on what makes them happy – a walk! dinner! a snuggle! a treat! a walk! dinner! a snuggle! (you get the idea – the simple things that make us feel loved and feeling good and healthy).

Connect with healthy relationships

How we connect with others is crucial (we don’t want to vent to release our stress and then bring our friends or family down), but connecting with those who we wish to continue to cultivate relationships with is a healthy coping mechanism – for us and for them. From a phone call, a Zoom chat, a walk outside together, sharing a “cuppa” at a safe distance, whatever you can do to connect, but those that lift you up and provide the support you need, connecting with them is crucial as we are socially physically distant.

One helpful gift that I have found has been given during these times is who I want to connect with and who I actually don’t find to be a supportive connection has become quite clear. Clarity is a wonderful gift when we find ourselves in times in which our emotional health is imperative in the immediate future. The best connection I have confirmed even more deeply to be vital is with myself, and thereafter, only with people who truly want to connect with me and I with them – caring about each other’s well-being and reaching out during these difficult times to check in.

~Click here for more posts on Healthy Relationships

Reading

I have found I enjoy reading different books and content at different times during the day, as well as depending upon how I am feeling. For example, I try to read my news in the morning and never before bed. I try to read something uplifting or about France or Britain or something that is pure pleasure before bed. Throughout the day, the content fluctuates, but knowing this about myself and how it affects my mood has helped me better select how to choose wisely to best cope especially in difficult times when reading is indeed a wonderful way to calm my mind down, provide reassurance that all can be well because I have the confidence in myself to navigate forward well.

While we may find ourselves in an extremely stressful situation at the moment, having healthy coping skills in our toolbox for anytime in the future will prove to ensure we can navigate well any situation that comes our way and strive forward with confidence.

For me, I have found great joy getting my hands in the dirt as I prepared my yard for what I hope it can eventually become, Norman and Oscar’s company is a breath of fresh air, and I am savoring the slower pace as I go about my days. Having already established healthy routines which incorporate meditation, exercise and eating well, I am witnessing with even more appreciation the strength they are bringing into my life and I wish for you the same. Stay well. We’ve got this.

For more details on building your toolbox of strengths and skills, be sure to check out TSLL’s 2nd book.

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4 thoughts on “10 Healthy Coping Skills to Learn & Habituate for Better Living in Tough Times (and at all times)

  1. Thank you for sharing your coping strategies, Shannon. Sounds like you are staying both positive and grounded. Luckily, it’s gardening season for those of us who find peace in seeing snd helping things grow.

  2. Great post! On a day when I don’t walk, I always feel that I’ve missed out. Its been a challenge here in S. florida as our beaches and parks are closed. So, I walk in my neighborhood, the challenge is to get out earely enough to be able to listen to and breathe in nature. After 7:30 AM everyone comes out and the buzz of conversation makes it impossible to hear nature. So, this week I will begin setting my alarm so as to not miss out on the best part of the day.

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