Do You Possess Coping Skills?

The weather was prefect for an outdoor birthday party. I was there with a group of friends. The celebrator, I’ll call her Helen, was a very spiritual and interesting person.  She was very gifted: a writer, dancer, musician and poet. How is it possible to be so skillful?

During our conversation, I asked her, “Helen, what are the most useful skills you possess?”

“Coping skills,” was her quick response.

Do you want to know more about coping skills? Read about my conversation with Helen, and you will learn a lot.

Me: “Helen, I am surprised that you mentioned that coping skills were your most useful skills. Why is that? Did you lose someone close to you?”

Helen: “Thank God, no. You have misunderstood what I meant by coping. Coping does not only involve dealing with the stress of a death in the family. It also could mean dealing with changes that come with the birth of the baby, moving to another city, getting a job promotion, or the stress of driving on the highway, or arguing with family members or a friend. For any stressful situation we need to possess coping skills. Simply put, we need to know how to deal with a new situation. It is a behavioral tool we use to overcome adversity or stress.

Me: “How did you learn your coping skills, or do you believe you were born with them?”

Helen: “I have learned my skills from many different sources, and through observing what works for me. The range of successful coping skills varies widely and their use depends on the problem.

I believe that the learning, sharing and practicing of coping skills are generally very helpful. Personally, I use many different techniques, such as relaxation response, exercises with deep breathing, meditation, cognitive behavior therapy methods and I listen to classical music. One of my very useful techniques is self-talk. What we say to ourselves and how we say it is crucial in gaining coping skills.

My advice is to watch your language when you talk to yourself.

With your self talk, you are programming yourself for better or worse. Forgiveness and thankfulness are also very useful coping skills.

Me: “How do I learn all these skills?”

Helen: “Just through practice. Those who want to gain coping skills need to learn these by themselves”.

Me: “Is `walking in someone else’s shoes’ good to use as a coping technique?”

Helen: “This works very well for me. If I can understand another person’s behavior, I can help myself.”

Me: “We are talking about coping skills. May I ask you for the definition of coping skills?”

Helen: “There are so many definitions. One of them is a `complex set of internal beliefs, emotions, and behaviors that we learn from a young age’. Another one is `flexibility and personal control in approaching any problem and recognizing your own strengths’. My definition of coping skills is `a healthy way of addressing situations.'”

Me: “Does acceptance work well as a coping skill?”

Helen: “Sure it does. Sometimes, there is not much to be done about particular situation. Can you change the weather or the traffic? Acceptance can be a good coping skill – it all depends on circumstances. I call acceptance dealing with the situation.”

Me: “Recently, I heard a person say she had no coping skills at all. Could this be correct?”

Helen: “In my opinion, it is not correct to say that. Virtually all living beings routinely utilize different coping skills in daily life.  Some people are more successful and skillful in doing this than others. The good thing is that we can improve our ability to use coping mechanisms, if we want to do that.”

Me: “Why is it important to learn and use coping skills?”

Helen: “I`ll mention just a few reasons. The first reason is to reduce the intensity of the emotional distress you feel. Stress is very harmful to our bodies. In the act of trying to escape from emotional distress, you might possibly do something harmful to yourself or to another person. The second reason is very important. When you handle a difficult situation, you build your self-confidence.”

Me: “When you are feeling an intense emotion, it can be hard to know what to do.”

Helen: “You need to learn from experience and understand what works best for you. There is no magical formula for the best remedy to overcome a challenging situation. You need to know what is available `on the market’ to use as coping skills, and practice them. As you know, mastery requires practice.”

Me:  “What about prayer?”

Helen: “I am spiritual person. Prayer works for me, but I am not sure whether it does for others. I have a friend who calls me whenever any problem arises. Calling another person to chat could be useful. Again, it depends on many things. Doing something nice for someone else is a good coping skill for me. It can really reduce emotional pain.”

Me: “Helen, you are very familiar with coping skills!”

Helen: “Thank you. May I add something? Do not use alcohol or drugs in order to cope with difficulties. The escape is only temporary and you’ll end up with greater problems.”

Me: “Thank you Helen.”