One of the reasons it’s so important to develop strong coping skills is because when we are busy investing all of our energy in just emotionally surviving, we have no energy left to be who we are.
We can lose ourselves in our struggle to just keep our head above water.
When we are anxious; when we’re depressed; when we are coping with trauma; when we’re fighting off addiction…all of that takes effort.
Anyone who has been depressed knows how much effort it takes just to get up in the morning, let alone leave the house and go to work or deal with children or pets.
Anyone who has been chronically anxious knows how much effort it takes just to be out in public without freaking out or melting down.
Anyone who has struggled with the intrusive memories or runaway emotions associated with trauma knows how exhausting it is to focus on ANYTHING else when we’re triggered.
Anyone who has struggled with addictive cravings knows how virtually impossible it can be to yank our attention away from our substance or behavior of choice when ALL we want is to give in to it.
In addition to the suffering that we go through enduring these struggles, we’re faced with a very practical challenge of energy management.
How on earth are we expected to devote energy and attention to those things that make us, us, when we’re exhausting all of our focus and energy just trying to survive and exist in the world?
This is why we need to focus first, and most, on developing effective coping skills.
Our first job in recovery is working on strategies and tactics that will allow us to get through the day without being exhausted and depleted (or, any more exhausted and depleted than we need to be, anyway).
The idea with coping skills is not to “heal” or “process” anything.
The idea is to manage what we’re feeling and experiencing.
To modulate emotion so we’re not overwhelmed.
To rein in impulses so we don’t behave self-destructively and create all new problems we didn’t have before.
A lot of us don’t want to focus on coping skills. We want to get right to the heart of our emotional problems— to “process” our trauma, or otherwise heal our emotional wounds.
I can’t express how any times I’ve witnessed people try to skip over the development of coping skills…and then, when they try to do the emotionally intensive healing work of therapy, fall into destructive patterns and have very little idea how to manage them.
Developing coping skills is not optional. It is an essential part of the healing process.
Using coping skills is not optional. We have to bring them out every single day. We don’t get days off.
Even if we don’t “feel” like using our skills. Even if we’re tired of bringing out our tools. Even if we’re sick of thinking about strategies.
The thing is: developing strong, effective coping skills pays off in the end.
If you go slow and develop effective coping skills, it is less likely you’ll lose ground in treatment due to symptomatic relapses or impulsive behavioral decisions.
Developing and regularly using coping skills can make the difference between healing being a years-long or decades-long process.
When we get so good at using our tools and skills that we don’t fight it, we just whip them out when necessary— that’s when we star to have energy to be ourselves again.
That’s when we start being ready for the deeper work.
The collection of tools and skills that will work for me, will be different than those that will work for you— and that’s okay.
There’s no rule that says you have to benefit from every coping skill equally, or that your toolbox needs to look the same as anyone else’s.
What your toolbox needs to do is work for you— and you have to be willing to use it.
Unless you’re cool throwing all your energy at coping with overwhelming feelings and impulses every time they hit as if you’re facing them for the first time.
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