The Two Types of Coping Skills


By Carolyn Simon, LPC

Coping skills are a helpful way to provide strategies and relief from common feelings and issues such as anxiety, depression, overwhelmingness, trauma, obsessive urges, sadness, grief, stress, and more. There are so many different ways and skills out there to aid with difficult emotions and can help name, address, and reduce the things one may be currently experiencing. With so many coping skills out there to choose from, it can be hard to pinpoint which one in the moment is best. 

Softer Coping Skills

Softer coping skills are skills that are incredibly effective, yet less intense and produce a more calming and soothing effect. These skills can often be paired with feelings of sadness, depression, loss of motivation, and more. The aim of these skills is to hopefully reduce one’s heart rate, slow down the nervous system, normalize body temperature, and lessen feelings of tension. These don’t usually require a ton of room or materials and can be integrated into one’s daily routines and hobbies.

Here are some examples:

  • Deep breathing
  • Stretching/yoga
  • Mindfulness
  • Meditation
  • Walking
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (slowly tense and release individual muscles)
  • Listen to calm or soft music
  • Read
  • Cook
  • Draw/paint
  • Watch TV
  • Play an instrument
  • Take a nap
  • Take a bath
  • Do a puzzle

Harder Coping Skills

Don’t let the word ‘harder’ fool you – these skills aren’t meant to be more difficult yet can exert more energy and burn off more steam, quicker. These skills are often used when one is feeling or experiencing anger, intense anxiety, panic, etc. These skills often require a change in body temperature, heart rate, the nervous system, and sometimes, the environment. These can change one’s mood or mindset quickly yet may not always be accessible or the best fit.

Here are some examples:

  • Jogging/cardio/weight lifting
  • Brain dumps (typing or writing quickly whatever is on your mind without paying attention to grammar, spelling, punctuation, etc.)
  • Take a hot or cold shower
  • Splash water on your face
  • Punch or scream into a pillow
  • Cry or sob
  • Blast music (rock, electronic, house, rap, pop)
  • Dance
  • Deep clean (ex. scrubbing)

Tip: Make a list of the coping skills that work best and feel best for you in a place you can easily reach: phone, journal, computer, whiteboard, etc. Having these easily accessible can reduce stress while trying to find something to calm you down.

No matter which coping skill or skills one may attempt, difficult feelings and emotions may still linger and be present. One may need to try various coping skills to find which one fits best in the moment and experiment based on one’s mood. Softer and harder coping skills can be paired together or done one after another. Unfortunately, coping skills don’t always eliminate or eradicate feelings, yet can help one learn to tolerate and work through them. Coping skills require practice and patience and may need to be done a number of times to be proven effective.

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