Back to the basics – coping skills



During difficult times in our lives, specifically a global pandemic, we can easily become overwhelmed with simply trying to take care of ourselves and managing our own feelings. With multitudes of websites and books on self-care and countless “how-to” guides, it can be stressful trying to pick just one, or the “perfect” way to practice taking care of yourself. The purpose of practicing self-care is to find the best method to manage stress in a constructive way while not adding more stress to our already-busy and often-chaotic lives. In a time when we are asked to “stay home,” we need to use this time to take a step back and revisit the basics so we can best care for ourselves and our loved ones.

As social workers, our job is to help students/clients learn positive coping skills to help with these sometimes hard-to-manage feelings. Simply put, coping skills are what we think and what we do to help get us through difficult situations. There are several coping skills that anyone can learn to use in order to overcome stress, anxiety, and depression. The key is not to overthink it; that is just adding more unwarranted stress!

Counting to 10 is a great coping skill for anxiety and anger. Counting to 10 gives you time to calm down before responding to a stressful situation. When you stop to breathe, you are giving yourself time to process what is going on before proceeding and making a choice.

It is during this time, when you are counting and slowing your thought process, that you can decide to make a good choice or not-so-good choice. The hope is we make good choices! Taking three deep breaths is similar to counting to 10 as it is also a great skill to use when battling anxiety. Stopping to breathe helps to change our thinking and creates calmness in our bodies.

The key is to take slow, deep, shallow breaths and focus on breathing in through your nose and out through our mouth. What is great about counting and breathing is you can repeat the exercise until you have returned to a resting, calm state.

Finding a positive distraction is also a good way to help alleviate stress. Squeezing a squishy is a way to relieve stress and tension. Stress is what you feel when you are worried about something. Stress balls and other fidgets can also help with concentration and paying attention. Coloring and drawing are also constructive distractions. Any type of artistic activity is a wonderful way of coping with stress because it lets you be creative and anyone can do it – no matter your skill level.

Taking care of your body is also extremely important and can be as simple as drinking plenty of water. Drinking lots of water is good for your body; moreover, staying hydrated has been linked to a decrease in stress levels. Eating healthy and being active are also vital components to our emotional and physical well-being. An example I like to use with my students to show the importance of eating a healthy meal, especially breakfast before school, is to imagine he/she is a car and breakfast is the fuel for the car. If the car does not have a full tank, it is going to be difficult for the car to make it very far – just as it will be hard for the student to make it through the morning in class, the student may run out of fuel before lunch and will lose focus and motivation to continue learning.

Another great way of promoting positive thinking is to imagine or visualize a happy place or your favorite memory. This will be different for each person. It may be at the beach, the mountains, your grandma’s house baking cookies, or school playing with your friends.

At the end of the day, if things just seem to become too overwhelming – ask for help. Reaching out to loved ones or someone we trust is an important coping skill that each person must not be afraid to use.

Abby Betz, LSW, serves as Youth First social worker at Holy Trinity and Washington Catholic Schools.