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Coping Skills Therapy

Table of Content

Table of Content

What Are Coping Skills?

Coping skills are any behavioral patterns or characteristics that enhance your ability to adapt. In other words, coping skills help you regulate your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors in the face of stressful events. Situations that benefit from appropriate coping skills can include work frustrations, academic pressure, or relationship troubles. Coping mechanisms can soothe or distract from the frustration, help you face the situation and take action or be flexible and motivated to solve the problem.

Sometimes, the coping strategies we develop are unhealthy. Many people use substances as a primary coping mechanism, self-medicating an underlying mental health issue with alcohol or substances. In fact, 7.7 million American adults have co-occurring mental and substance use disorders. Mental health issues can often make it challenging to process difficult emotions.

Life is full of stressful situations beyond our control. What we can control, however, is our response to these situations. If you have begun the addiction recovery process, professional support and treatment can help you channel your energy into healthier outlets.

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Examples of Unhealthy Coping

To develop healthy coping skills, it first helps to recognize and steer clear of the unhealthy strategies many people often turn to. These can include:

1. Substance Use

Difficult emotions, stressful situations, trauma, and external pressures can all lead a person to alcohol or substance use. When people cannot regulate their emotions, they may turn to substances to feel some sense of relief or escape. This can be a slippery slope. Depressants and stimulants may help to temporarily numb feelings or subside negative thoughts you are avoiding. However, excessive use can lead to health complications, addiction, overdose, and death. 

Healthy coping skills can help you overcome the complex emotions that arise from stressful circumstances.

2. Avoidance Behaviors

Many people avoid their problems or turn away from an issue rather than face it. People often use these avoidance behaviors to distract themselves from difficult emotions, thoughts, or situations. This can look like avoiding relationships, new job opportunities, social situations, career advancement, or family get-togethers.

Unhealthy coping skills could also look like avoiding anything that isn’t positive. People with healthy coping skills can adapt to and accept life’s ups and downs, challenges and triumphs, and joys and pains all at once. 

3. Spending Too Much

It’s also common for people to overspend in times of stress. Retail therapy can be as simple as purchasing small trinkets or something small online. While you may get a temporary dopamine rush from spending money, this is bad for the bank account, leading to even more stress in the long run. Compulsive shopping can cause severe financial problems within the family, hoarding, and secrecy.

4. Focusing on Others’ Problems

When hoping to avoid our troubles, it’s common to want to solve someone else’s as a distraction. You may desire to place all of your energy onto another person or entirely disregard your own struggles. It can also be normal to downplay your own challenges or push them to the back of your mind to avoid discomfort. However, while it may seem easier in the short term, focusing on others and avoiding your problem can be draining and will not resolve your own struggles.

5. Sleeping All Day

Stress, depression, and anxiety can take a toll on energy, and you may find yourself sleeping more. Similar to avoidance behaviors, sleeping is another distraction that might feel better at the moment. While your body needs rest, it also requires physical movement. It’s essential to have a balance between the two to stay healthy.

6. Over or Undereating

It’s common for people to binge eat as a response to stress or challenging times. It’s also common for people to undereat due to anxiety and stress. Your body needs nutrition and fuel to function throughout the day. Eating more or less than recommended by a health provider can cause severe health issues or illness. In times of stress, regulating your eating habits and maintaining a healthy diet is crucial.

Examples of Healthy Coping Skills

Several healthy coping skills can help you conquer substance use and addiction. Everyone copes differently, so you may find specific skills work better for you than others. It’s all about finding the coping skills for addiction that work best for you and your recovery journey:

1. Wait to Respond

Wait to Respond

Substances and alcohol can cause you to act impulsively. It’s common for people with substance use disorder to make rushed decisions in times of stress, depression, anger, or anxiety. However, these fast decisions can often yield painful results. Learning to wait before responding can help you make more rational and informed decisions, which is especially important during stressful events. When you feel pressured or rushed to make a decision, take a moment to breathe and clear your mind.

Thinking and breathing before reacting can help manage impulses and address issues with a level head. Using this skill in everyday life can help you change habits, manage emotions, maintain relationships and even keep your career. 

2. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Relaxation and stress relief are two primary reasons people turn to substances or alcohol. But if you can work to ease tension on your own, you will no longer feel the need to rely on substances. 

Mindfulness meditation is an evidence-based practice that can help you see clearly through your problems and address them more helpfully. Mindfulness also helps you stay in the present moment, which often results in less anxiety, stress, or depression. It includes any exercises that help you become aware of your body sensations, thoughts, and feelings. 

Mindfulness coping skills that can ease stress and anxiety include: 

  • Deep breathing
  • Walking
  • Meditation and guided imagery meditation
  • A warm bath
  • Getting outside and enjoying nature
  • Laughing
  • Listening to music
  • Yoga
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Drinking green or herbal tea
  • Reading

Progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) is another excellent way to reduce stress and body aches. It works by tensing muscle groups one at a time and then relaxing each area. Mindfulness techniques can help you work through difficult emotions and thoughts. It can help center you so that you are only focused on the present moment, observe your thoughts and accept them without judgment.

3. Keep Busy

Keep Busy

In the past, you likely spent most of your time seeking, using, and recovering from substances or alcohol. Now, it’s time to replace those activities with new, healthy ones. Try new hobbies or activities that prevent your mind from triggering thoughts or cravings. Do things you may have always wanted to do but never got the chance to. 

Examples of coping skills for addiction cravings include:

  • Develop new skills
  • Learn a new language
  • Travel to new places
  • Dine at a new restaurant
  • Try dance classes
  • Get creative — draw, paint or make music

Too much-unplanned downtime could lead to increased cravings. Keep your schedule filled with healthy and positive activities that uplift your spirit and keep you emotionally intact. Check things off your to-do list and be proud of all you’ve accomplished. Do what will make you feel good at the end of the day and continue new healthy habits into the next morning.

4. Exercise and Nutrition

Exercise and Nutrition

Substances can significantly affect your physical health, so getting active and exercising are excellent coping skills for addiction triggers. Exercise can raise your endorphins, release dopamine and help you reduce stress and sleep better, which can often help prevent triggering feelings. It’s also important to remember to eat nutritious, satisfying meals and nourish your body with nutrients and vitamins in recovery. 

5. Journal and Find Gratitude

Journal and Find Gratitude

Practicing gratitude is one of the most empowering coping skills for addiction recovery. As you work through the process, consider all the people in your life who support you, remember what makes you feel good, and be grateful for how far you’ve made it. Writing can be an excellent way to express yourself and release negative emotions and feelings you may struggle with. 

Seeing your thoughts on paper can also help you manage your emotions more efficiently. Additionally, keeping a journal is a great way to take inventory of what’s happening in your life, acknowledging the steps you need to take to improve. Overall, developing this coping mechanism can help you practice gratitude and maintain a positive attitude as you improve your life while serving as an outlet for negative thoughts and feelings. 

6. Connect With Others

Connect With Others

Social support is an essential component of your recovery success. Honesty is key to sobriety, and talking to your support system about your feelings can help them keep you accountable. Recovery is not easy, though opening up to new relationships and building a sober network is essential so you have people to call and in times of need.

If you do not have close friends or family members to lean on in stressful events, attend 12-step meetings and build a healthy, supportive group of friends. Online communities can also offer support. This way, you can get help staying on track. Take advantage of the social skills you learn in these meetings, which can help you make lasting relationships and cope better in the future. 

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How We Help You Develop Healthy Coping Skills

At Gateway Foundation, we can help you develop healthy coping mechanisms to increase your chances of a long-lasting recovery. We take a broad recovery approach to help you avoid relapse and improve your overall well-being. Our treatment programs can include the following services to help you stay sober:

The Benefits of Healthy Coping Skills

There are so many benefits of healthy coping skills for addiction recovery and your overall wellness. Substances like opioids activate our brain’s “pleasure circuit,” releasing dopamine and making people experience a sense of euphoria. When we use these substances to cope with or escape difficult emotions, we can start to rely on them to function and feel okay. Too often, this is how addiction starts. 

Developing healthy coping mechanisms for mental health is essential to break the addictive cycle. In times of crisis, the right coping strategies can help us manage life’s ups and downs and prevent minor setbacks from becoming more significant. 

Positive coping skills for addiction have numerous benefits, including: 

1. Manage Strong Impulses and Emotions 

When you face mounting stress or pressure, it’s common to slip into behaviors to remove that discomfort. Intense emotions can be difficult to manage. Coping skills can help regulate these emotions.

This can include gambling, substance use, or other unhealthy activities. Healthy coping skills help us manage these strong impulses and emotions in the most beneficial way possible. These healthy habits can help us restore balance after experiencing stressful events.

2. Increase Confidence

Practicing healthy coping strategies can help us gain confidence in ourselves and our strengths and abilities. For instance, perhaps you replace gambling or substance use with exercise or creating art. Seeing improvements in our bodies or the creative work we produce can help us feel better about ourselves. 

Additionally, certain types of coping skills can lead to connection with other people. For example, by attending a new exercise class, we may meet people and build new relationships. It can also be highly motivating, encouraging us to continue these healthy activities to constantly improve in different areas of our life.

3. Better Resilience

Building healthy coping skills is essential to keep calm in stressful times and build resilience for the future. Life is unpredictable and can come with many positive and negative changes. Over time, healthy coping skills can help us respond to negative emotions or events better. You’ll find it easier to face situations head-on without avoiding the problem. Aside from building resilience, you’ll gain confidence in your ability to respond to stress and may even be able to help others in times of need. 

4. Prevent Relapse

Developing healthy coping skills is critical to maintaining sobriety from substances and alcohol. While addiction treatment centers can get you on a healthy path, they don’t guarantee lasting sobriety. In fact, 40% to 60% of people who have lived with addiction go through stages of relapse. Relapse doesn’t mean that treatment has failed but that you should resume or modify it. Coping skills are also a must to help you recover completely, as they support your overall health and help you break free from the cycle of addiction.

5. Improve Overall Health and Wellness

Specific coping strategies can improve your overall health and wellness. For example, writing, drawing, and making music are all forms of artistic coping strategies that also promote better mental health. At the same time, activities like exercise and cooking nutritious foods can improve your physical health. 

Coping skills are helpful, useful, and necessary for everyone, not just those in recovery from addiction. Making a habit of practicing healthy coping strategies can bring significant strides in all areas of your life, helping you stay healthy long-term. 

The Benefits of Healthy Coping Skills


Coping skills can help you healthily confront and overcome the triggers that may have led to your substance use. While addiction can feel isolating, remind yourself that you are not alone in experiencing triggers. At Gateway Foundation, our experienced and compassionate team is here for you. 

We can help you build new coping skills you can take with you post-treatment. Having positive relationships and people on your side can help you stay sober. We provide support groups, behavioral therapies, counseling, and other supportive measures. You can also learn stress and anger management, communication skills, and essential relapse-prevention tools for your recovery success.

Identifying your triggers in therapy and then building healthy coping skills can help you to stay healthy and prevent relapse. Contact us to learn how we can help you through the recovery process. 

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