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.
Other changes affect millions of people all at once. The COVID-19 pandemic forever changed the way we work and go to school. Many people woke up to racial tensions and injustices that they had ignored for a long time. When the world changes, a whole generation can suddenly lose their old coping skills, and have to learn new ones.
Even in “ordinary” times, some of your coping skills may not always be available. Your friends and family might live far away. You may not be able to afford a fancy vacation or a spa day. Other strategies, like journaling or texting a friend, are almost always doable. Make sure you have a variety of coping skills. That way, no matter what’s going on in your life, you have something you can do to improve your mental health.
Learning new coping skills—and giving old ones a second chance
If strategies that worked in the past are no longer working, consider the flip side: the 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.
Treat yourself with kindness
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. Give yourself permission to find your own path!
Strategies that work for you don’t have to make sense to anybody else.
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—but you are strong enough to cope with anything life throws at you.