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 blog is an op-ed piece written by Rachael Heffernan, writer and researcher for The Drawing Board.

Recently, I’ve noticed an influx of articles discussing the phenomenon whereby people tend to portray their lives through rose-coloured filters when they are posting on their social media platform. Failures are covered up and bad days don’t exist in the ideal life presented before the world in the form of Facebook statuses and Instagram photos.

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There are people that see this phenomenon as frustrating or dangerous. They understand it as perpetuating an unrealistic standard of living, or consider it representative of the inauthenticity of interactions online.

To tackle the latter problem first: it is important to realize that you will never get, nor are you ever owed, unadulterated, complete, and utter honesty from each and every person you interact with. To have that expectation is frankly insane. People hang their best pictures on the wall, people choose stories to tell depending on their audience, and half the time people don’t know what the “truth” is, anyways. Whether online or in person, you will only ever get a partial picture.

And that’s okay.

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You are allowed to choose what you tell people. You are allowed to focus on the positives and refrain from posting about your hardships. I have absolutely no problem with seeing the ideal versions of people’s lives. Why?

Because I like seeing joy. I like when people are posting funny videos and beautiful photos and uplifting statuses. I don’t like looking at other people’s happiness and success and feeling bitter, resentful, jealous, or judged. I like feeling happy for them. I like feeling inspired. I have had many a bad day where looking at pictures on Facebook made me feel better. I have posted things specifically to make myself focus on the good in my life during rough patches. Social media can be a place where happiness is shared and shared and shared and shared. And to feel joy at another person’s fortune is a choice you can make – and a choice you should make.

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If you don’t find Facebook representative enough of reality, go spend some time in reality. Let people post their filtered photos and snapshots of their best selves, because ultimately a stage of 1000 “friends” is not an appropriate place for everyone to post their gruesome, unedited vulnerability.

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The hope is that we all have enough close friendships, enough face-to-face conversations, enough intimacy and wisdom in our lives to realize that everyone has hard times, bad days, rough spots, and bumps in the road. We should be able to recognize that our social media profiles are not meant to be our biographies – they are parts of our public selves, and as such, are representative of the things we want to project into the world.

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