Coping skills

Coping skills are techniques and activities clients can use to manage their symptoms.

The links on the left are examples of complete interventions with a single client.


Here are 7 basic coping skills that can be adapted to work in many different situations. You'll see variations of them being used in a lot of the interventions on the upper left.


1. Deep breathing – Our nervous system is divided into 2 parts. One part, called the sympathetic nervous system, controls our “fight or flight” response. The other, called the parasympathetic nervous system, controls our rest-and-relax response. These two parts can’t be turned on at the same time, so if you activate one, the other will be suppressed. Breathing slowly and deeply activates the part that causes us to feel calm. It’s one of the easiest and most effective ways to reduce symptoms of anxiety and anger.

2. Exercise – Physical activity causes our bodies to release chemicals called endorphins. These chemicals trigger a positive feeling, similar to that of morphine. Endorphins also act as analgesics, which means they diminish our perception of pain. One of the most effective coping skills for managing depression. 

3. Talking to someone – Studies at UCLA have shown that verbalizing feelings – putting them into words – reduces activity in a part of the brain called the amygdala that triggers negative feelings. This may be one reason why venting and journaling seem to make people feel better. Also, when people are anxious or upset, they often have thoughts that aren't realistic. Talking with someone they trust can help them get a sense of whether their perceptions are reasonable.

4. Journaling – Similar to talking with another person, with the additional benefit of creating a written record that can be studied later on. Looking back over things they have written can help people organize their thoughts, recognize patterns, gain insight about themselves, clarify their emotions, and come up with better solutions. Journaling can also provide the same cathartic effect as yelling at someone without the risk of damaging the relationship or saying things that are later regretted.

5. Meditation – Like deep breathing, meditation helps deactivate the “fight or flight” response and return people to a calmer state where breathing, pulse rate, and blood pressure are decreased. There are many variations but most involve the silent repetition of a word, sound, or phrase while sitting quietly with eyes closed, and relaxing muscles starting with the feet and progressing up to the face.

6. Eating right – The skill here isn't following a particular diet but staying up to date on what is known about the relationship between diet and mood. Studies have repeatedly shown a link between excessive sugar consumption and the development of depression and anxiety. Complex carbohydrates like whole grain breads and cereals have been associated with feelings of calm, in part because of their stabilizing effect on blood sugar. Caffeine and alcohol both interfere with sleep, and lack of sleep can intensify feelings of anxiety. Awareness of these things gives people the option of making changes in their diet to see what works and what doesn’t.

7. Reframing/re-thinking - When people feel anxious or upset, they often think negative thoughts and imagine things to be much worse than they really are. The ability to re-think things in a more realistic and positive way can help change people’s outlook and behavior.


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