As a therapist, one of the first conversations I often to have with individuals involves the question of how one copes with the intense emotions experienced in the face of difficult situations. Often, people refer to their distractions as ways of coping; however, those are different. Distractions allow us to focus our full attention on things other than our emotions, while coping strategies help us acknowledge, accept and stay within our difficult emotions. Sometimes this helps us move through an emotional experience quite quickly, while other coping strategies force us to be emotional for some time. Below, I’ve compiled a list of what seem to be the top coping strategies for teenagers and adults and why they work!

Talking: Giving words to our situation can be cathartic. Dr. Dan Siegel states that we need to “name it to tame it”, meaning, that if we are able to identify our emotions, and further, to share out loud our emotional experience, that is the first step in helping gather our emotions back into a manageable state.

Drawing and other art: Humans have a need to be creative. The process of creating art can be an experience that impacts mental health. This might be partially due to the idea that creating art stimulates many areas of the brain to create new neural connections, and research shows that this may occur in areas that ultimately lead to more emotional resilience.

Writing/Journalling: Writing has many healing benefits, so many, that I’ve written entire blog post dedicated to the positive effects of writing. Putting our story to paper can provide clarity, can allow for letting go, and can inspire hope.

Breathing: Sometimes this is one of the simplest things that we can do. Taking deep breaths into the diaphragm helps infuse the body with oxygen, which creates a calming effect on both the physical body and in the mind. This is because deep breathing helps reduce cortisol levels in our bodies.

Music: Brain studies show that when we listen to some music, the blood flow in our brain changes, particularly in the area of the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala. These areas are important for logical reasoning, and in the case of the amygdala, our emotions. Music can directly influence the way we feel and the way we think.

Exercise: Research shows that exercise can be just as effective as antidepressants in managing symptoms of depression, like exhaustion, sadness, and low motivation. Daily exercise may work over time by increasing our levels of serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter implicated in depression.

Actively introducing positive thoughts: When our emotions are difficult, our thoughts tend to become negative. It takes practice and conscious thought to be able to actively introduce positive thoughts into our thinking. One way to do this is to name your thinking traps and find ways to respond to these thoughts.

Changing up your surroundings: Sometimes switching the environment we are in can be helpful. Often the change is subtle, like moving out of your bedroom and into another room. Sometimes the change is more drastic, like rearranging furniture in your living room.

Taking a step back, taking a break: This is especially helpful when our difficult emotions are stemming from relationships. Taking a step back from the relationship, either with physical distance or mental distance, can help us find room to problem solve.

Communicating your needs: It takes skill to be able to recognize what we need, and more hard work to communicate these needs to those in our lives. Perhaps you need an hour of me-time, maybe you want to say “no” to an upcoming social event, or maybe it is important to tell a family member you’ve been hurt by their actions. Communicating your needs assertively helps you to not only get what you need, but can help with self-esteem and feeling accomplished.

Using coping strategies when our emotions seem to be out of control can help bring them back to being regulated again. Moreover, coping strategies, when used over time, can help make changes that increase our ability to become resilient in the face of life events.  Remember, you got this.


20181009_113447Erin Newman is a therapist by day, and a writer by night. She is also a parent, student, advocate, artist, and teacher.

This article was written by Rachael Heffernan – new staff Writer and Researcher for The Drawing Board.

If you’ve ever struggled with depression, you’ve likely heard all of the mainstream advice – eat well, exercise, talk to a counselor, take medication, get lots of sunlight. I have found, though, that there are little tricks that can bolster you up if you are finding it difficult to get out of bed in the morning due to your depression. Please note that this is anecdotal advice from my personal experience and is, in no way, a replacement for medical advice.

50c195121cf255765cd19f6d2d459796Talk the talk.

A long time ago I read an article exploring why evangelical Christians generally have better mental health than their secular counterparts, and it turns out that part of the reason has less to do with religion and more to do with how they talk. “I’m so blessed.” “I’m so loved.” “Look at the gifts all around me.” It’s an appreciative, grateful, and generally positive way of looking at the world.

And I thought to myself, “I can do that.”

So I do. I talk about how wonderful my life is. I am openly thankful for the things I have. I focus on how lovely people are. Whether or not God is included in those conversations is entirely up to you – but no matter your belief system (or lack thereof), you can start saying (out loud) how great your life is and how appreciative you are of it. It makes a huge difference and is loosely related to psychological techniques including Behavioural Conditioning and the interruption of Automatic Negative Thoughts.

il_fullxfull.738763364_69vkSurround yourself with lovely reminders.

When I’m having a rough morning, I try to clothe myself in gifts – a dress my mom gave me, a scarf from my sister-in-law, or a shirt from my partner. I wrap myself in these things and I feel all the love that has been shown to me, and I suddenly become much stronger, and much more outward looking. Plus – I look fly.

runawayRun.

This is one of the hardest, but ultimately (to me) one of the most important ways to stay happy. And by “run,” I don’t necessarily mean “Strap on your shoes and hit the treadmill” (although that helps too!).

I mean, every time I start to feel those monsters creeping up – lethargy, apathy, lack of appetite – I run: I go shopping. I go to the movies. I go to the mailbox. I go over to a friend’s place. Every opportunity I have to get out of the house, I take: Yes, I’ll help you move. Yes, I’ll go to the park with you. Do you need help painting your house? Planting a garden? Organizing your sock drawer? I’m available to volunteer. I’m available to work. I run and I keep running until I can happily collapse, safe in the knowledge that, at least for that day, the monsters couldn’t get a grip on me.

hijab-fashion-2014-4Dress up

If you’re like me, you have no real reason to get dolled up, and about a million reasons – including sweaty gym sessions and an inordinate love of the snooze button – not to. But getting dressed up can be surprisingly helpful.

Just like slipping into pyjama pants after work can be instantly relaxing, putting on dress clothes and doing your hair can immediately make you feel more productive. After getting dolled up, I suddenly feel weird sitting in bed. I feel the need to accomplish things. I look great; I feel great; and I itch to get things done. It’s a good combination.

So yeah, you might mess up your makeup the instant you hit the gym, and yeah, you might need to do more laundry as you systematically mudify all your nice clothes, but if it means you feel better, then it’s worth it.

tumblr_lvwdafR7351r27f9oo1_500.pngImprove your space

I used to think I didn’t care about how my place looked. And maybe if you’re reading this, you think the same about yourself. But space can be tricky – for myself, as a perpetual renter, grad student, and generally cluttered human being, I didn’t get attached to spaces and didn’t see the point in investing time and effort into the apartments I was only staying in for 8 months. But speaking from recent experience – it’s worth the time. It’s worth the effort. It’s worth the marginal cost. The moment everything is put away, sparkly clean, and looking fabulous, I can instantly feel the clouds lift from my brain. A clean sense of space leads to less cluttered, more thoughtful behaviour in other areas of my life. I clean up my workspace (my computer) by closing my millions of useless tabs. I manage to maintain only one glass of water rather than grabbing a new one every time I get up. I update my phone. It’s remarkable, really.

So break out the Pinterest inspiration board, go buy a mop, and get to work!