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Why Are Coping Skills So Important?

Updated: Dec 12, 2020

You’ve probably heard the phrase “your perception is your reality”, but what does that mean, and how does that play out in your body? The definition of perception as I'm using it here is a way of regarding, understanding, or interpreting something: a mental impression. Attached to this mental impression is a response that can be positive or negative – often times it’s a response that we can control.

While you are busy perceiving something, this is what your body is doing. First, this information is sent to the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for emotional processing and detecting stress. Please note, your brain doesn't know whether it happened in the past, is happening right this second, is just a thought, fear, your imagination, or a dream. Let that sink in for a minute...the part of your brain that detects your stress can't decipher if it's real or something you've manifested. If 'danger/stress' is perceived it sends a distress signal to the hypothalamus. The hypothalamus then sends a message to the pituitary gland, who in turn wakes up the adrenal glands which respond by releasing a cascade of hormones, like cortisol. These chemical messengers affect cellular processes in nearly all body tissues, particularly glucose (aka sugar) metabolism in your liver, muscle and fat tissue. The point of this chain reaction is to make a lot of stored energy available to your cells. These cells are then equipped to support you so you can fight or flee -- so if you are not actively needing to kick-ass or run away from an imminent threat then this chemical response to stress in your body can be damaging over time. Chronic stress can contribute to chronic disease like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, type II diabetes, and increased stroke/heart attack to name a few.

What I find so fascinating about this is that you can't measure a person's stress level based on their environment or the circumstances they are encountering because each person is going to have a unique perception and a different response. Much of our stress comes from the way we respond -- and THAT my friend is why coping skills are so important!

We should always allow ourselves to have natural reactions to big stressful things in life and not suppress our feelings, but also actively work to put the small stresses into perspective in a healthy way. Small stresses would be non-life altering events like traffic jams, spilled coffee, someone's social media feed, missing a workout, a to-do list, an assumption, a negative thought, etc. My Dad always said, "Don't sweat the small stuff", but doing that takes a ton of practice and action on our part.

It's human nature to worry and have negative mind-chatter. Did you know that Buddhists meditate so they can quiet that chatter and be "awake" in the moment? They call living in the past or future living in the "dream" because it isn't reality, and they believe most people spend their lives living in a dream-state. This really resonates with me because I feel like living in the past can bring up feelings of regret, shame, guilt, and depression and living in the future just has anxiety and worry written all over it. Even if you aren't spending time in the past/future the present can be full of stressful things (2020...enough said). Many coping strategies are meant to pull you out of the mind-chatter by shifting your thoughts and concentrating on something else, calming your body, and/or finding solutions to the things overwhelming you.

Here is a list of my favorite stress-reducing activities:

  • Brisk walk – Helps clear the mind and release muscle tension. Exercise in general can be a great stress-reducer…I just prefer walking or hiking. Plus, fresh air!

  • Massage and other bodywork modalities – I had a client tell me the other day that she has tried to meditate but she just can't quiet her mind, so she gets massage instead and that helps her get out of her head and into her body.

  • Yoga – Hatha, Yin, and Restorative yoga styles are all great for beginners and tend to be aimed more at relaxation and breathwork.

  • Guided Imagery – "The internal experience of a perceptual event in the absence of the actual external stimuli" (Rider & Achterberg, 1989) This can be a very powerful tool used to combat chronic stressors or PTSD. It literally can train your brain over time to turn off the stress response mentioned above. The idea is to imagine a tranquil scene, focus on your breath, use all of your senses to hear, smell, see, and feel "the scene". Some people visualize the beach, the forest, sitting by a river, whatever you relate to as peaceful. Then you imagine yourself in that environment smiling, happy, calm, and relaxed. You mentally hang out in your 'happy place' until your body feels calm. (Happy Gilmore and the pitchers of beer...anyone??) Over time and practice, when you imagine that scene it will cue your body to physically relax. There are tons of great audio guided imagery programs out there if you search the internet, plus many professionals who would work with you in-person.

  • Floatation therapy – This is a great place to practice meditating because there is literally nothing to distract you (besides your mind )

  • Social support – Facetime and phone calls work great if you can't meet in person. I personally have been leaning on virtual happy hours with my girlfriends this past year.

  • Deep abdominal breathing – (while listening to ocean waves is my personal favorite)

  • Journaling – There are so many journaling techniques out there - free writing, affirmations, gratitude lists, unsent letters, dreams, goals, and the list goes on and on. If journaling sings to your soul, then I would look up journaling prompts and find the style that you gravitate towards the most.

  • Self-talk – I’m aging myself here, but if you were a Saturday Night Live fan in the 90’s you remember Stuart Smalley saying, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” Positive self-talk is a great way to trick your brain into believing your own words, and it combats the negative mind-chatter we battle with. Some other phrases are, “It’s okay, I can do this”, “I’ve done this before, I can do it again”, “I’ve overcome worse, I got this”, or simple one-word affirmations like, “love”, “peace”, “harmony”. Mantra chanting (Om) has been used forever to quiet the outside world, so in this sense if you find a phrase that resonates with you and you say it repetitively you too can quiet the outside world.

  • Do a jigsaw puzzle or read a book – Plus you exercise your brain so it's a win-win.

  • Paint or color – There are so many adult coloring books out there now, and some amazing color pencils…just sayin’.

  • Knit, macramé, cross-stich, quilting (you get the point)

  • Make a list or a timeline – Whatever organizes my feelings of overwhelm. This works best with events, a big move, a work project, whatever is "keeping you up at night". If I get anxious or overwhelmed by something, I make a list and a timeline of how I'm going to execute it and then I know I just need to put one foot in front of the other until it's done. If the variables that I can control are organized and anxiety creeps in, I can just tell myself "don't waste time worrying about what you can't control".

  • Unplug – stop the mindless scroll and put down your device for a day or two.

  • Sing and dance to my/your favorite music – my husband works from home now so this doesn't happen as much as it used to, but it can be a real mood lifter!

All of this is coming from a friend, to another friend, as a reminder to work actively on lowering your stress levels. I think it’s super easy to live in our heads, and sometimes we have to put our focus on relaxing. And the more we do it, the easier it becomes. If we don’t carve out time to practice, we will live in the patterns that we gravitate to and our stress response becomes almost instinctual and automatic. I also realize it’s easier said than done, but something worth being mindful of and practicing.

I have many amazing people in my life being treated for depression and anxiety disorders and this is not in any way a replacement for medical treatment, or to belittle the very real struggle that many people face day in and day out. This blog post is addressing situational anxieties and stresses and how our response affects our body.

As always, I’d love to hear any feedback you may have. I hope you all have a healthy and low-key finish to 2020 and I will see you in 2021.

Much love.

2 comentários

Thank you for your wise words. You are such a positive, uplifting, joyful, and beautiful soul. I needed to hear that I am not alone and it doesn't come easy to even the best of us. I will definitely be trying some new techniques rather then having a mommy meltdown in my moments of frustration. ❤️


This is perfect and something I really needed to read and hear. It touched on so many things I have gone through and am going through. I will try hard to adapt some of the suggestions in to my days, along with some that I do already. Great post - thank you!

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