HEALTHY COPING SKILLS

By Tussy Wallace


COVID-19 has affected all of us in various ways. We are in danger from a virus that leaves some dead and others symptom free. Millions have lost their jobs. Billions struggle with collective grief, fear, anger, anxiety and depression. Right now, the future is uncertain. While these realities still face us, there are steps we can take to care for ourselves during the enormous stress of life under crisis capitalism. These steps won’t fix the economy, but they can help us navigate these alienating times.

Physical Exercise:

We’ve all heard the pros talk about the link between physical exercise and emotional well

being. I don’t need to regurgitate the experts. The truth is that our bodies hold all of our experiences. Our body needs to move, even when we’re maintaining distance. If you can move outside, the fresh air and sunshine provide wonderful benefits. There are parks, walking trails, cemeteries. If you are fortunate to live near natural areas this is the perfect time to explore the beach, the mountains, lakes, forests, etc. Biking, hiking, skateboarding, rollerblading are perfect ways to be active. While moving outdoors with a group of people is not recommended, having a friend accompany you on the excursion is a wonderful way to get some social interaction.

If you can’t get outside, there are plenty of ways to get physical indoors. Streaming can get you free yoga classes, dance tutorials, exercise challenges. You can have a dance off with your roommates, using only music from the 1980’s. Play Twister. Have a pillow fight. Play musical chairs. Start a Nerf war. Turn your garage into a recess bonanza; Dodge ball, Steal the Bacon, Hopscotch, or Two-Square.

Practice Healthy Coping Skills:

Healthy coping skills help you tolerate, minimize, and reduce your emotional distress. When we can’t change the situation, sometimes we must find ways to minimize the effects the environment has on our mental health. There are so many small things you can do to care for yourself; take a long hot bath, play with a pet, spend some time in nature, clean or organize your space, draw, listen to or create music, write in your journal, use aromatherapy, use relaxation apps or create a gratefulness collage. You can create a list of self-care activities that work for you and use them according to the situation. If you’ve had a bad day at work, playing twister with your roommates or creating a stand-up marathon with your favorite snacks might help. Or, if you’re feeling angry or frustrated, taking a walk, soaking in a hot tub or writing in your journal might help you calm down. While it’s important to use coping skills to help relieve some of the distress that you’re feeling, coping strategies shouldn’t be about constant distracting yourself from what is happening in your life. Sometimes it’s helpful to accept and face your emotions directly. Sometimes there are situations in life that distressful emotions are appropriate. If your pet dies, feeling sad is appropriate. There are ways of accepting our emotions and allowing them to be present, without allowing them to control our lives.

Mindfulness is one of those buzzwords that everyone tosses around. What does it mean? Mindfulness, at its essence, is simply paying attention on purpose to what is happening right now. Without judgment. Without overthinking. Without invalidating your experience. Mindfulness is just being willing to show up to the present moment. It is acceptance of the present moment.

It sounds simple, but most people spend a very small portion of their day mindfully engaged in their lives. We usually tune out our actual experience, and get distracted by thoughts about our experience. We live most of our lives on auto pilot, living by habit.

Mindfully experiencing emotions is the opposite of the control strategy. With mindfulness, you simply observe what comes up with the emotion. You notice a feeling of your face flushed. You notice a lump in your throat. You notice all of the experiences that are connected to that emotion, and you do so not with the intention of suppressing them, but in the service of accepting each and every one of them unconditionally. The emotions naturally go just as they came. Giving them permission to be there lets emotions take their natural course as fleeting, changing, dynamic sensations.

Meditation is a wonderful way to practice mindfulness. However, we can practice with simple household chores. Mindfully wash the dishes. Feel the temperature of the water. Watch the bubbles dance from the dish soap. Focus on wiping each speak of food off of the dish. You can turn simple chores into experiences by simply pouring yourself into each moment of the experience.

Distraction can help us feel better when overthinking and anxious. By diverting our attention away from the distressing thoughts, we can let our thoughts and emotions pass without getting caught up in them. Please note that I am not encouraging anyone to AVOID an uncomfortable situation. Distraction merely allows us to create distance from the source of emotional distress so that you’re able to process those feelings. Distraction coping techniques require that you go from an emotionally-driven story that your mind can spin, to a shift into the present. Distraction techniques might include dancing to your favorite music, playing a video game, a board game marathon or a mindful walk, paying attention to the weather, the animals and people you see. Giving yourself space to allow your emotions and thoughts to settle.

A simple way to decrease your distress a crisis is to use your body's senses. Self-soothing through senses can quickly reduce the intensity of negative emotions. Your senses are a tool you’ll always have with you to reduce the intensity of a situation. Try focusing on only one sense at a time to incorporate mindfulness into the self-soothing skill.

Sight

Use your vision to focus on something else. Count how many places you can see a certain color in the room, or focus on an object’s texture. You can also pull out your phone and scroll through some of your favorite photos.

Hearing

Listen to sounds—any sounds. Can you hear birds chirping or the sound of traffic outside? Turn the volume up on your favorite song and just listen. If you prefer soothing sounds, there are many apps you can install on your phone to play on the go.

Taste

A small treat can give you something pleasurable to focus on while you’re getting through a tough moment. You don’t need to prepare a full meal—a piece of gum or a few mints will do the trick.

Touch

Embrace your sense of touch by noticing how a pen feels in your hand, running your fingers through your hair, or using a fidget toy. When appropriate, you can wrap yourself in a blanket or take a warm bath.

Smell

Whether it’s good or bad, focus on whatever scent is in the air. Can you identify the smell, or break it down into its components? For easy access to a scent you find calming, put a few drops of your favorite essential oil onto a cotton ball and keep it with you in a plastic bag.

When There is a Problem to Solve:

There are many ways you might decide to tackle a problem head-on and eliminate the source of your stress. Get that paperwork together for the landlord, for example. In some cases, that may mean changing your behavior or creating a plan that helps you know what action you’re going to take.

Balancing helps you to bring logic and rational thought into the equation. It might include making lists, being honest about how you’re feeling, and asking for help. Contact a friend and ask them to help you think through your options. When emotions are running high, you’re prone to blind spots. Help from someone who has distance from the problem can provide insight to solutions that you might not have access to on your own.

Remember, we’re social beings. Lean into your community. You are not alone. Find people that you can talk to about what you’re experiencing. Together we can face the uncertainty. Together, we are strong, even if today is more of a struggle than yesterday. Together we will get through this moment.