How to Develop (Good) Coping Skills and Avoid Unhealthy Coping Skills

Jordan Brown

"That's not a good way to cope."

If you've been an adult for more than a few minutes, you've most likely heard that phrase.

But what actually makes a good coping skill?

And are there universally good coping skills?

Probably not.

But there's something even better.

Being Someone I Wasn't

In high school, in college, and for several years after, I pretended to be someone I wasn't.

What did I do? I tried to be the center of attention. I tried to make people laugh whenever I could. I cracked jokes during class, and I was loud and obnoxious in certain social settings. Anything I could do to get people smile in my general direction.

Why did I do this? There were a lot of reasons, but it was mainly because of anxiety and feeling insecure about myself. I did it to fit in. I did it to feel better about myself.

Was this a good coping skill? Some might say it wasn't so bad. Even I can admit that goofing around had its time and place. But deep down it didn't feel right. It wasn't me. And that last point gets to the heart of the matter.

Good Coping Skills Versus Bad Coping Skills

The truth is this: only you can ever know if a coping skill is good or bad for you.

Is having one drink at a party bad? If you know you deal with addiction, it could be a terrible idea.

How about exercising? Isn't that universally good? Not if you exercise so much that you no longer spend any time with friends and family.

It always comes back to you. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine how you're coping.

Good Coping Skills

To determine if a coping skill is good for you, you have to look at the context--your personal context. Are you participating in an activity with friends who truly understand you and have your best interests in mind? Then, what you do together is most likely going to be good.

Good coping skills are good not because they come with a label attached. They're good because they leave you feeling sustained and ready to take on the day. They leave you better off than they found you.

Bad Coping Skills

Bad coping skills are different. And they often wear a disguise. Watching a movie with friends might be good. Binge-watching movies for five hours straight with friends can quickly tip the scale to bad.

It's a personal assessment, and it's one that only you can make.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Does what you did leave you feeling energized, or does it fill you with regret? Are you supercharged and ready to take on the world, or are you paralyzed by anxiety and wanting to hide away from it all?

Coping skills are personal assessments, yes, but the positive feeling they should generate is a universal one. It's attainable by anyone.

Learning to Cope Well Is Your Task

Make learning to cope well your task for today. Start with one day. You'll be amazed by what you can do when you simply get started, and here's how to get started.

Write down a simple list of the ways you are coping right now. Dig deep. You'll probably find there are several activities you are using to cope that don't immediately appear to be coping skills. Get it all down.

Then, select the top two that are positive and cross off the bottom two negative ones. The simple act of writing your coping skills down is enough to make them a bit more real in your mind. The goal is to hone in on the ones that are actually serving you and discard the ones the ones that aren't.

What's one good coping skill that you can rely on more this week? Start with one. Start small. It's the small, incremental gains that have the biggest impact.

It's the smallest coping skills, carried out with consistency and intention, that end up changing your life.