Developing Coping Strategies: Mental Health 101
Friday, September 5 2014 Mike Ehrmantrout
Coping with symptoms of mental illness can be a daily struggle for the mentally ill. Each person develops his or her own strategies to cope with these painful experiences. These strategies can be as unique to each person as you can make them. What works for you to battle your mental illness symptoms might not work for me, and vice versa.
We learn these coping strategies over time in the crucible of our illness and the ways in which we gain insight into our symptoms and how they uniquely affect us. That’s why it’s not very helpful to say to a mentally ill person struggling with their symptoms, “Just do this,” or “Just do that.”
Mental Health Coping Strategies That Work for You Might Not Work For Me
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely want to know your coping strategies, because they just might work for me too. But unfortunately, they may not. The problem comes when we minimize other peoples’ suffering by making a “cookie-cutter” declaration that our coping strategies will work for everyone.
They won’t, and it can engender feelings of inadequacy which can exacerbate the pain we feel. This would be the last thing we’d want a suffering person to experience. So please know, the following are only suggestions to try and help you get started if you haven’t already.
Make a Tool Box of Mental Health Coping Strategies
If you’re familiar with Batman, you know he wears a utility belt (stay with me...utility belts are like a toolbox anyway). This utility belt is full of little gadgets and weapons which he uses when he fights the bad guys. Batman has supreme confidence in his utility belt because it’s worked for him in the past.
The idea here is to establish a utility belt, er, a toolbox of coping strategies you know have worked well for you. Have them at the ready so when depression, anxiety, and other bad guys come knocking, you’re ready to fight.
Examples of Mental Health Coping Strategies for Your Toolbox
Here are a few examples of items you could place in your toolbox.
Someone You Trust
This can be an important coping strategy for folks with mental illness. Most of us know that many mentally ill people are terribly isolated. Many literally have no human interaction beyond common niceties. They just don’t feel safe among others.
Although this isolation would be considered a negative coping strategy, such as drinking or drugs, you are where you are. At the same time, perhaps you could set realistic goals for yourself to become less isolated. This is important because having another person who knows and cares about you can be invaluable.
Evaluate Your Existing Mental Health Coping Skills Before Tossing Them in the Toolbox
We all have coping strategies already, or we probably wouldn’t be alive. But some of those strategies are negative for us because they don’t contribute to our wellness, and sometimes they can make things worse.
Even some positive coping strategies may be negative for you. For example, I really enjoy listening to hard, driving rock and roll music. Did I say loud? Since music is one of the most effective of my strategies, I often retreat to listen to my tunes. It’s definitely a positive strategy for me.
However, since I have an anger management issue as part of combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I discovered that when I was angry my beloved music would sometimes make me feel angrier. This is because in that musical genre the songs are frequently anger based. They also can replicate the physical attributes of anger, such as making your heart beat faster.
Since I definitely don’t need help feeling angry, I stopped doing that as a coping strategy for anger. I still listen, just not when I’m angry. It’s important when you identify a negative coping strategy to not just get rid of it, but replace it with a positive one.
Prepare an Affirmation Portfolio
Write down several affirmations you find particularly helpful to you when you are down. Things such as, “I am a good human being, worthy of respect and love.” When you encounter a period of stress or a flare-up of symptoms, pull out your affirmation portfolio and use the affirmations to help you get centered on healthy thoughts about yourself and the world around.
These are but a few of a multitude of different coping strategies. If they work for you, great. If not, that’s fine too. Just develop ones that you find beneficial in helping you cope.