Coping skills are exactly what they sound like: skills to help you cope with stressful situations. They are one of the most important things to have in your mental wellness toolkit. Coping skills help us deal with life and all its challenges. Over the years, writing out my feelings, watching The Office, and taking a bath have become the core coping skills for stress that ALWAYS make me feel better for at least a little while.
Recently, I’ve gotten into more hippy-dippy activities like yoga, essential oils, and crystal healing. Coping skills are unique for every person, and there’s no wrong way to do it unless you are hurting yourself or someone else. For example, I bite my nails. I have been biting my nails ever since I can remember. I have tried countless times to stop, but I’ve been doing it for over ten years, so I always fall back into it. Biting my nails is a maladaptive coping skill for my anxiety disorder because it leads to sore and bloody fingertips. I am hurting myself, but I do it because it brings me a kind of relief. it’s strange, but that how maladaptive coping skills work.
For over a year now, when I’m biting my nails, I try to stop, replacing the activity with a good coping skill, like using a fidget toy or chewing gum. I haven’t kicked the habit, but I’m forever working on it. Below I’ve listed some positive coping skills to consider to adding to your mental wellness toolbox.
Here are 32 coping skills for anxiety and depression:
1. Watch an episode of your favorite TV show. Whenever I’m having a panic attack or going through a stressful situation, I turn on The Office. There has never been a time when it didn’t cheer me up. I’m sure you have a favorite TV show or movie, too. Turn it on, and let it distract you for a little while!
2. Draw or paint a picture. It doesn’t have to be good!!! Growing up in a family of visual artists… Wow, the desire to compete with them when I am a writer, not a visual artist, was hard to overcome at times. But first and foremost, art is a coping skill. Just because we’re not amazing at something doesn’t mean we shouldn’t still do it if it brings us joy!
3. Take a relaxing bath. Honestly, I rarely take showers now. After a long day, it is so relaxing to get out my essential oils and bath bombs, put on stand-up comedy, and relax in the hot water. As Sylvia Plath said,
There must be quite a few things a hot bath won’t cure, but I don’t know many of them.
4. Listen to music. Think of a song that has brought up emotions in your before. Put in on and listen to it in private. Let the emotions come up and feel it, crying if you need to, belting out the lyrics, knowing that when the song ends, any unpleasant feelings that may have come up can be safely left in the song. I like making playlists on Spotify for certain moods. When I’m sad, I need to hear that sadness. It’s strange, but putting on my playlist titled “Moody” always makes me feel understood.
5. Cook your favorite meal. I enjoy cooking most when I have writer’s block. Using my hands and immersing myself in making a meal takes my mind off working on my book, helping lift my creative block. It’s great because at the end, I have something to munch on!
6. Rip paper into small pieces. This is one of the best coping skills for anxiety when I’m super upset and need to be active and doing something, but I don’t want to do something I regret like break something. When I was younger, I used to throw shoes and books. Sometimes at people. This is not a good idea! I still get angry, but now I rip up sheets of paper or squeeze my slime ball.
7. Write a letter to someone you are angry with, and then destroy it. An easy way to let out any frustration toward someone is to write a letter. This coping skill is great for letting out feelings about someone who would not be receptive to a confrontation or who you no longer have contact with. However, I would advise against writing the letter in an email or text message. All of us have probably sent a message accidentally before, and that would most likely make the situation worse.
8. Do a puzzle. If doing a puzzle with too many pieces feels overwhelming, pick out a smaller puzzle. Even if the puzzle didn’t have many pieces, it can be immensely satisfying when you complete it. I did this A LOT in 2015 after I was hospitalized. I was on medication that made it hard to stay awake. I couldn’t keep a job, and I felt immensely useless. Doing a puzzle made me feel productive and gave me joy.
9. Play a video or computer game. If you don’t often play video games, consider hopping on Neopets and playing a few games from your childhood. If the nostalgia doesn’t raise your spirits, the cute games will at the very least amuse you.
10. Rearrange your room. When we’re in a situation where we feel stuck or powerless, it’s helpful to focus on the things we do have control over, like our attitude or the way we’ve arranged our room. Spice things up and move some furniture around.
11. Make a list of the people you know you can always count on. You’re not alone even if it may feel that way sometimes. Jot down those in your circle of support and reach out if you need to.
12. Do the dishes. I used to hate doing the dishes, like most of us. It’s still not my favorite activity, but it always helps me be mindful and stop my tendency to ruminate. The physical activity gets me out of my head and refocuses my thoughts. Plus, it needs to get done, anyway, right?
13. Go to the park. Maybe even feed the ducks (just not bread!). Exercising is a natural antidepressant and helps us deal with stress. Getting some fresh air always recenters my thoughts and helps me stop ruminating.
14. Hang out with a friend. Friends can be great listeners when we need to vent. Send someone a message and spend some time together! I like to hang out with my sister when I’m upset. She usually makes me pizza rolls and turns on a reality TV show. I always feel a little better.
15. Go to the library and take a look around. Nourish your mind! Browse the shelves and take a few things home, even if it’s just a magazine. I like going to the library because it’s quiet and no one will bother me, but I’m out of the house and doing something. I also love checking out a book or movie!
16. Write in your journal. Writing is my favorite coping skill. It is how I process and make sense of life. I wouldn’t survive without. However, you don’t need to be a writer to use it as a coping skills. Writing things out can be a great way for anyone to cope. It helps us hone in on our feelings and understand why we’re upset.
17. Clean your room. When my room is messy, my mind feels cluttered, too. The space we live in can greatly affect our inner space. Even if it’s just picking up the clothes off the floor, it can make a difference.
18. Use essential oils. Essential oils help me so much with stress and anxiety! I thought it was a bunch of mumbo jumbo at first, but they help me fall asleep, relax tense muscles, and ease the pain of migraines. If you’re just getting started, I recommend reading Essential Oils for Beginners.
19. Jump rope! If you want to exercise, but don’t know where to start, jump roping is a great way to ease yourself into it. The equipment is cheap, and for me, it brings back good memories of my childhood.
20. Try meditation. This is a hard one that I still struggle with because it so hard to quiet the mind chatter and worry. There are also guided meditations on YouTube if you don’t want to sit in silence. I usually listen to guided meditations by Michael Sealey. I felt silly after first, but it really helps me!
21. Do an exercise video. Again, if you want to get into exercising but don’t know where to start, watching an instructional video in the privacy of your home can be loads of help! I like following along with exercise videos when I’m home alone. Otherwise, I feel too self-conscious to really get into it.
22. Do yoga. Yoga with Adriene is a great place to start. She’s my favorite YouTuber, and I especially love her yoga videos for migraines and anxiety. I do yoga every day now, and it has been the most effective method for me to relieve my headaches, as well as neck and back pain.
23. Make a short list of your long-term goals. Remember to be realistic and listen to your intuition when making this list. It shouldn’t feel like a crushing weight. For example, one of my long-term goals, when I was 20 was to open up a pastry shop. I loved to write, but I was in such a creative block that I completely ignored my intuition. Three years later, I’m no closer to opening up a pastry shop because it was a fleeting thought that I quickly lost interest in. Instead, I’m a published freelance writer, and if I’d been more receptive to my true wants, I could have bypassed all those months of inner turmoil.
24. Paint your nails. You can even paint them clear if you don’t want a color! I chew my nails, which I mentioned before. I still paint them sometimes, though. Even if it looks terrible. It’s a subtle and easy way to express yourself. And it’s cheap!
25. Let yourself cry. Sometimes feelings need to be expressed physically. I have a good cry about every other month. It helps me get out any frustration, and I always feel much better afterward. Sometimes I’ll cry out of nowhere and realize how upset I was.
26. Dance it out. I love to dance, but I never do. I’m so self-conscious that I can’t even dance when I’m alone anymore. Last weekend, when I was playing Transformation Game, I picked a card that basically told me I need to dance more. While I haven’t done a 5 minutes dance solo in my room since I was in middle school, I plan to take a Zumba class to get me back into my body and feel the joy of moving.
27. Make a list of everything you’re thankful for. My therapist told me to do this a few years ago, and after getting into the habit, it’s really helped me out of my negative mindset. There are so many basic things that we take for granted, such as hot running water and sunlight. I keep a gratitude journal now, and it’s one of my favorite coping skills for depression.
28. Play a board game. I recently played Pandemic, and my love of board games was reborn! They can be so much fun, especially when hanging out with friends. It’s such a fun way to connect without pressure that isn’t costly.
29. Check out this mental illness podcast. It’s my favorite! It’s very dark and raw and real, but full of humor. When I dropped out of college after being hospitalized, I felt like such a failure, and this podcast helped me realize that everyone is fucked up, and I CAN succeed. Knowing you’re not alone can give you a much-needed change in perspective. I’m back in school now, and I know that when I hit any bumps in the road, I can turn on this podcast to remind me that I’m not alone.
30. Learn how to knit or crochet. Or take up a new hobby in general, especially one where you work with your hands, which is one of many coping skills that help us get out of our head. I’ve been making jewelry lately, and it’s been a great way to express myself without the pressure to make it perfect.
31. Smile even if you don’t feel like it. When I’m really stressed, I like to force myself to smile because it actually does make you feel better. So if you find me in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the highway, I just might be over smiling with my eyebrows raised like a weirdo, desperately trying to trick my brain into making me calm down!
32. Write a letter to your younger self. Instead of writing to someone else, address your inner child. I did this for an assignment, and it was actually so therapeutic talking to my inner child and telling her that everything was going to be okay.
About The Author:
August Blair is the founder of Survival is a Talent. She is a freelance writer and blogger. She is passionate about mental health, social issues, and the environment. She studies at The University of North Georgia.