I'm coping, you're coping, we're all coping!
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
When it comes to coping strategies, I am hesitant to rip them away from people; even if some would consider them "unhealthy" coping strategies. I believe we hang on to coping strategies because they work! That is, until they stop working.
A colleague once framed coping strategies as sustainable vs unsustainable, and I have adopted the same approach ever since. I do my best to not snatch coping strategies away from patients, but I do often work with folks to identify a range of strategies; a knapsack of options, if you will. What many patients have found helpful is plotting their coping strategies on a scale. For example, the strategies may vary if you're level of anxiety is at a 3 versus a 10. I work with patients to start identifying strategies that can work at lower levels of distress before getting to the point where the unhealthy or unsustainable strategies are necessary. I am fully aware, that sometimes a level 10 will happen, but oftentimes there are some more manageable triggers/stressors that can be attended to.
Coping strategies are often different for each person, but there are some common ones that tend to be popular. We all know that exercise and meditation are usually extremely helpful, but I'd like to share a few others. One of my favorites for anxiety and PTSD triggers is to ground yourself by using the 5 senses. This activity helps to refocus us in the present moment. Another pretty discrete strategy is to engage in diaphargmatic breathing. This breathing exercise can be completed at your desk, in your car, in the line for coffee, etc. Breathing is a necessity, so no one will give you a side-eye if they see you inhaling and exhaling.
For depression, the ability to complete everyday tasks can be abysmally low. I ask patients to make a list of the basic things they can do when overwhelmed with depression, and differentiate that list from things they can do when feeling at their best. Sometimes, a list may contain "brush teeth" and "walk dog". That is good enough! Don't put healthy you expectations on actively depressed you.
Eventually, you may find that you prefer these strategies over others. Or not. But it may be better to have a variety to choose from, rather than one that cannot be sustained.
How do you manage your symptoms? Does one strategy work better than others?