Coping Skills, Wellness Tools, Wellness Strategies

Coping skills, wellness tools, and wellness strategies are things we can use when we have anxiety, depression, anger or when we are “stuck” with anything. Coping skills and wellness tools can often be used as distractions to help us move away, or through, uncomfortable feelings or symptoms. Wellness strategies can help us achieve goals by using coping skills and/or wellness tools as parts of the process.

There is a misconception that there are "negative" coping skills. When someone has a challenge, they may try to use anything that helps them cope with a situation. For instance, they may misuse a substance to deal with some type of trauma. That skill may be all they have to cope with that trauma at that time. That is where a support network can be so important, especially if they have someone who has lived experience to support them; walk with them through their pain. For this instance, the pain is trauma and the use of a substance is often the symptom. Supporting a client when it comes to trauma often opens up a space for wellness and can create opportunities for the client to have options when it comes to coping skills and wellness tools.

There is a poignant, real-life example of this. The person has a co-occurring condition of depression and misuse of alcohol. He made up his mind to go into detox and he had to wait a couple of weeks to get in. This was during the pandemic. He has a strong support network and they supported him, especially by encouraging him. He had just a few days to go and there was an outbreak of COVID-19 in the facility and he had to reschedule for three weeks later. He was really looking forward to getting the condition under control and this was a huge blow. He knew he had to keep drinking, at least somewhat so that he wouldn't have major withdrawal symptoms. He called an on-call nurse and she told him that he really had no choice. One option was to go to the emergency room but he had a traumatic experience one time and couldn't bring himself to go. To continue to drink was his coping skill to stay alive. The people in his support network let him know that they were there to support him and encourage him to take things one day at a time, sometimes one hour at a time. It was very important that one way of supporting him was to let him know it was okay that he needed to drink leading up to getting into detox. He managed to make it through the three weeks, including several days of a bad case of the flu where he could barely keep anything down. It took all of his will to manage the alcohol intake during that time. He made it into detox and has been doing very well since then. What if anyone in his support network told him that he should stop drinking before going to detox because it was "bad" for him for any reason. Most likely he would have died. What seems like a negative coping skill was just a coping skill.

The following is a list of several skills and tools you may find helpful. Some of them may be more effective in the moment, where we would like to shift the energy of our symptoms or feelings quickly, and others may be helpful to use for longer periods.

  1. Squeeze an ice cube tightly

  2. Pet your dog or cat

  3. Chew gum

  4. Jump up and down

  5. Turn on all of the lights

  6. Make your bed

  7. Practice deep breathing: four-count in through your nose, four-count through your mouth

  8. Practice a relaxation technique

  9. Draw, paint or color

  10. Listen to your favorite music

  11. Sip a cup of hot chocolate or tea

  12. Do the dishes

  13. Go for a brisk walk

  14. Meditate

  15. Bite a pillow as hard as you can

  16. Sit in the sun

  17. Organize a space

  18. Journal

  19. Make a gratitude list

  20. Compliment someone

  21. Call a friend, or contact anyone else in your support network (counselor, doctor, etc.)

  22. Watch a funny or inspirational movie

  23. Go to the library

  24. Go outside and look and/or listen to nature

  25. Dance

  26. Volunteer

  27. Any type of exercise not mentioned

  28. Find a safe, quiet place to sit and stay there until you know you can be safe

  29. Call a hotline

  30. Write poetry

  31. Think of five to ten more coping skills to add to this list

*Using your coping skills and wellness strategies is one way to take care of yourself, which is a big Strength!