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How to Cope

How to Cope

As a therapist, I consider coping skills to be one of the most valuable tools in my toolbox. For the sake of making a Texas reference, let’s think about change and adaptation as a sort of “Texas two-step”: the first step is the desire to change or the acknowledgment that change is necessary (the “quick-quick” steps), and the second step is taking action to make the needed changes (the “slow,” because change is a process!) Coping skills are what help us make change happen, as well as what help us adapt to changes we don’t have control over.

What does coping mean?

Coping means adjusting to life’s changes. Nature tends to like homeostasis, or stability; when things get out of whack in the Earth’s environment, nature will adjust to return to equilibrium. Humans beings also like homeostasis, and so when we’re thrown off by being laid off at work or going through a marital separation, we feel the urge to adapt and return to stability, which can cause us stress in the process. Short-term stress can motivate us to take action, but long-term stress wears on our bodies, our minds, and our mood, so learning effective coping skills can help reduce long-term stress and its negative effects.

Why is coping important?

Coping is important because life is hard! You might cringe when you hear this lament from a millennial, but it’s essentially true. Nothing in life is guaranteed, and no one ever said it would be easy. Therefore, we can help ourselves by being prepared for when the going gets tough.

How can I learn coping skills?

One was to learn coping skills is through Dialectical Behavior Therapy, or DBT. DBT provides us with an easy, peasy, lemon-squeezy blueprint for learning lifelong coping skills. Developed by Marsha M. Linehan, DBT uses acronyms to help us remember the various skills and techniques we need to increase awareness, improve relationships, and regulate our emotions. For example, ABC PLEASE is a DBT acronym that describes a protocol of coping skills and self care that we can practice on a daily basis. The acronym stands for the following:

Accumulate positive emotions;
Build mastery;
Cope ahead of time;
treat PhysicaL illness;
balance Eating;
avoid mood-Altering substances;
balance Sleep; and
get Exercise.

Accumulating positive emotions helps us remember the good times and maintain a positive outlook when we’re lacking self confidence or feeling uncertain about the future. Building mastery gives us a sense of capability and increases resilience. Coping ahead of a stressful situation, like a job interview, allows us to prepare for the worst and feel more confident. Treating physical illness eliminates the additional stress of feeling under the weather or distracted by pain and discomfort. Balanced eating gives us the vitamins and nutrients we need to function throughout our day. Avoiding mood-altering substances allows us to be clear-headed and achieve balanced sleep, which helps us feel rested and recharged for a new day; and all of these habits prime us for exercise, which improves our physical and mental health and helps us release pent-up emotional energy.

Want to learn more about how stress affects the body and how you can develop coping skills? Check out the following resources:

What is Homeostasis? 

Stress: Coping with Life’s Stressors 

The Effects of Stress on Your Body

DBT Skills Training Handouts and Worksheets, Second Edition, by Marsha M. Linehan

Written by: Rachel Larreta, LMFT, LCDC