My coping skills aren't working anymore

We all have coping skills that we rely on to feel better during tough times. If your go-to techniques just aren’t working anymore, you’re not alone.

It’s frustrating and scary to hit a wall with your coping skills—but it’s also normal. It would be so nice if we could just pick one set of coping skills and use them forever. But the truth is, that rarely works. We learn and grow. We adapt to new situations. That’s not a bad thing! You can mourn the loss of some coping skills, while also finding opportunities to learn new ones.

Why did my coping skills stop working?

You may have heard that different things work for different people. But different things also work for the same person at different times. Anything that changes our thoughts, emotions, or situations can change the way our coping skills work.

Some of those changes are personal: You break up with someone. You move to a new place. Your body develops a tolerance for your antidepressants, and they’re not as effective as they used to be. But there are also things that affect society as a whole—especially right now!

Other changes affect millions of people all at once. Right now, a global pandemic is raging. People are waking up to racial tensions and injustices that many have ignored for a long time. The stakes in world events seem higher than ever. This is a unique time! Pretty much everyone is experiencing some of the same issues at the same time—and they all affect our mental health in similar ways.

At the same time, some of your coping skills may not be available right now. Working out at the gym, getting dinner at your favorite restaurant, or visiting family might not be options. Other strategies, like journaling or video chatting a friend, are doable—but you may find that they suddenly don’t work as well as they used to.

Learning new coping skills—and giving old ones a second chance

There’s a flip side to all this change: strategies that haven’t worked in the past may work now! Whenever you hit a wall with your coping strategies, you can add more. This might seem overwhelming if you feel like you’ve tried it all. But remember, the situation you’re coping with right now is different from ones you’ve coped with in the past. It’s only natural that your coping skills will change, too.

If you tried meditating a few years ago and didn’t find it helpful, think about giving it another chance. The same goes for skills like breath work, yoga, spending time outside, practicing gratitude, and any other coping strategy. Small things can and do help in the long run, like sticking to a routine and setting boundaries for yourself.

Coping skills during COVID-19

During the time of social distancing, it’s more important than ever to find support from other people. While constant video calls can be exhausting, you might benefit from a vulnerable and honest conversation with a trusted friend or family member. Many of us are going through similar challenges. Hearing that others are right there with you is powerful.

You may also want to learn more about practicing self-compassion and acceptance. It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re reaching your limit—even if that means you have no more energy to call a friend, or that you’re losing your patience with your family. Constantly pushing yourself to “be fine” often adds more stress and frustration. There isn’t one right way to deal with life right now—times are tough, and circumstances are beyond your control.

It’s important to not give up or assume that all hope is lost. You may not be able to eliminate negative feelings… but you can learn how to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Mental wellness takes effort, especially in the face of distressing external circumstances.

You can find more tips for maintaining your mental health during COVID-19 on our Wellness & Coping Skills page.

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