Mental health refers to our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. In today’s world, maintaining a healthy and positive mental health is a huge issue for many people. There are also negative stigmas associated with mental illnesses, so it is not talked about nearly as much as it should be. According to NAMI, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience a mental illness, and approximately 1 in 25 adults in the U.S. experience a serious mental illness that interferes with their life.
Not only do adults suffer from mental illness, but NAMI also reports that 1 in 5 youth will experience a severe mental disorder at some point in their life. With all of these issues concerning mental health, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the U.S., and the 2nd leading cause of death for people aged 10-34.
Coping skills are strategies that we learn in order to deal with a wide variety of stressors that affect our mental health. Coping skills can help us better maintain our mental health and live better lives. Mental illnesses have been a huge struggle for me throughout my life, so I am going to provide you with an A – Z list of coping skills that have helped me maintain my mental health and that can hopefully help you during hard times as well. I personally participate in DBT (Dialectical Behavioral Therapy), so many of the skills will come from that type of therapy because it has helped me immensely.
A – Art: Art is a very helpful coping skill that allows your mind to take a break from current stressors. The activity you do for your art coping skill can range depending on what you like, all the way from painting to drawing to even coloring. I personally really like to draw, and I find coloring books to be very relaxing. Also, adult coloring books have become a very popular trend lately. Whenever you are feeling stressed out and not in a very good place, take a break and do some art activities.
B – Bible (prayer): Sometimes when you are feeling really stressed, reading some uplifting bible verses or praying to your God can really help your mood. It reminds you that someone is there, looking over you, even if you feel all alone. Matthew 11 verse 28 says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Prayer personally helps me, but it is not for everyone. Just remember, you have to find what works best for you.
C – Check the facts: Sometimes, your emotions can run wild and this is when the check the facts DBT skill can be really helpful. Check the facts means to be willing and able to explore whether or not your emotional reaction fits the facts of the actual situation. It is looking for evidence to fit the way you are feeling, and even challenging your emotions. Many times, my mind will make up perceived threats when in many cases, there actually isn’t a threat and I just need to check the facts. Check the facts really helps you logically think through a situation and calm your emotions down.
D – Dialectical thinking (non-black and white): Dialectical thinking is another DBT skill that goes right along with check the facts. In simple turns, dialectical means that two opposing things can both be true. The key to dialectical thinking is to use the word “and”, not “but.” “But” discredits the previous statement whereas “and” adds to the previous statement. Many times, our minds will think black and white, all or nothing, which is very unrealistic. One DBT dialectic is “I’m doing the best I can AND I want to be doing better.” Making the effort to change your mind to dialectical thinking can really help better your mood.
E – Eating (healthy or ice cream): Eating is very crucial to a good mood. I am going to talk about two different coping skills that have to do with eating. The first one I will touch on briefly because I will talk about it more in detail in a later skill: eating healthy will help your mood significantly. I really recommend finding a healthy diet that works for you that you actually enjoy as well. The second eating coping skill is finding your comfort food because when you are really stressed and in a bad place, it is okay to enjoy it. Personally, mine is ice cream and when I’m sad, eating it can help me feel better. Of course, be mindful and do not let this comfort food eating turn into an unhealthy habit. But every once in a while, it can really help your mood.
F – Family/friends: Surrounding yourself with loving and caring people who support you is a key skill. When you are having a hard time, it is really beneficial to yourself to have those people around to help take care of you. Sometimes life is hard and having people around you who will support you and care for you through those hard times is crucial. Remember to choose to have people in your life that love and support you through everything and make your life better.
G – Grounding techniques: This is a skill I just recently learned in therapy and I find it to be extremely helpful. Grounding is a technique that helps keep someone in the present moment. Sometimes your mind can get stuck on things and reorienting your mind to the here-and-now really helps calm you down. Grounding is especially helpful in managing overwhelming feelings and intense anxiety. If you Google grounding techniques, a wide array can be found, but I will talk about a few that I find helpful. One very basic grounding technique to bring yourself back to the moment is to describe your environment in detail. Wherever you are, describe what is around you, using all your senses. Another grounding technique that helps bring you back into the present is eating something and describing the experience and flavor in details to yourself. I carry around sour warheads and when I feel overwhelmed, I eat them and describe everything I can to myself, and it helps bring me back to the moment, and calm my mind down. Those are only two of many grounding techniques that I find to be really helpful.
H – Harry Potter (reading and movie): Finding a good book, movie, or TV show that you can count on when your mood is bad can be really helpful. Personally, I have started re-reading and re-watching Harry Potter because it helps my mood significantly and takes me back to a good place. Last time I read and watched Harry Potter fully through, I was in a really good place in life, so by re-reading and re-watching it, I hope to bring myself back to that place even if just for a little bit. When I am feeling really stressed, taking a break, and reading or watching Harry Potter really helps calm me down and bring me back to the moment. It is important to take breaks and find that book, TV show, or movie that helps calm you down and makes you feel better.
I – Imagine your safe place: This is a skill that helps me a lot when my mind is running in all sort of directions. When your mind is in that state, all you have to do is close your eyes, take a deep breath, and imagine your safe place. Your safe place can be anything, whether it be real or made up. My safe place is a treehouse. Specifically, I imagine sitting on a window seat with pillows, a fuzzy blanket, and my cat. While I am sitting there, I am reading Harry Potter and relaxing. Taking a break for a few seconds and imagining your safe place that makes you feel calm and protected can really help you feel better.
J – Journaling: Journaling can be a great way to get all of what you are feeling out and down on paper. It is a great way to express emotions as well as to reflect. I think it is important that at the end of each journaling session every day, you write down three positive things that happened that day or three things that you are grateful for. Sometimes we can get stuck in those negative emotions and journaling is a great way to recognize the positives and write them down, so that you can look back at them to know that not everything is always bad.
K – Kitchen (cooking): Cooking is a great way to distract your mind. When you cook, it is important to throw yourself into it, so your mind has less of a chance to wander. Cooking is a hard skill to master, so a great way to distract yourself is by practicing. Stretch your limits and try to learn dishes that are out of your comfort zone.
L – Loving kindness affirmations (for self): This skill helps extend compassion towards yourself. When you struggle with mental health, sometimes you are not very nice to yourself and much too harsh, and this skill helps you love and care for yourself. To begin this practice, you need to find a quiet, comfortable place and begin taking deep breaths. Then you repeat to yourself some affirmations, which you can choose for yourself, but I will provide some of my favorites. “I wake up today with strength in my heart and clarity in my mind.” “Many people look up to me and recognize my worth; I am admired.” “Though these times are difficult, they are only a short phase of life.” “I radiate beauty, charm, and grace.” Loving kindness is good to practice daily, because the more you repeat these positive affirmations to yourself, the more you will start to believe them and find them to be true.
M – Mindfulness meditation: During this mediation, you observe your wandering thoughts, but instead of engaging with them or judging them, you just notice them, then let them drift away. When you engage in this type of mediation, find a quiet and comfortable place, and just take five minutes out of your day to notice. This really allows your brain to calm down and you to gain a better understanding of yourself. In times of distress, engaging in mindfulness mediation can significantly help.
N – Nature (outside): When you are feeling stressed and your mental health feels like it is declining, taking a break and going outside to enjoy the nature can help immensely. You can do anything from going on a walk around your neighborhood (or your campus) to relaxing outside and reading a book to taking a nice nature hike through the woods. The fresh air will soothe your mind. This is an especially good skill to use right now, with Spring on its way and the weather finally warming up.
O – Opposite action: With this skill, you deliberately attempt to act the opposite of whatever you are feeling. Many times, we will just get stuck in these bad and negative moods, and this skill allows you to throw yourself completely into the opposite. If you are sad and feel like lying in bed all day, use this skill and get up and throw yourself in to any activity, whether that be hanging with friends or going on a walk with your dog. The important thing with this skill is that you go all in. This is a good skill to use when you are feeling really bad and really need to distract yourself and get out of that negative head space.
P – PLEASE skill: The PLEASE skill is a good skill to use all the time, so that you maintain a good mental health and set yourself up for success. The PL stands for Physical iLlness which means providing yourself with the basic necessities to take care of yourself. When you are sick, go to the doctor and remember to take your medications every day. The first E stands for Eating. Make sure you are eating enough, but also not too much and also try to maintain a healthy diet. The A stands for Avoid alcohol and drugs. It is okay to have fun and go out every once in a while, but don’t make it a daily part of your life that takes over. The S stands for Sleep and making sure you are getting enough sleep, but also not too much. The final E stands for Exercise. Try to get up and do some sort of physical activity every day whether it be going on a walk or going to the DSAC. The PLEASE skill can be really hard if your mind is in a bad state, but it is vital that you try your hardest to follow it and maintain these necessities. Doing these things are the very first step in feeling better.
Q – Quilting (or crocheting, knitting, embroidery, etc.): This is a good skill to use instead of lying in bed all the time watching TV. Even getting up and quilting or crocheting for just 25 minutes can help your mood significantly. This is a good way to distract your mind because these are tough skills you have to work hard to learn. Not only will it help distract your mind while you do it, in the end you come up with a beautiful piece of work that you made all by yourself. It is also great for gift giving to those you love and care about.
R – Ride (car, bike, etc.): Going on a ride can relax your mind. If you have a car and know how to drive, going on a ride when you a stressed out helps a lot. Roll the windows down to enjoy the fresh air and play your favorite song on the speakers. You can also go on a bike ride around your neighborhood and that is also exercise which is really helpful. Just make sure you feel good enough to go on the ride because safety comes first. This will really help you relax and get away from all the stress for a few.
S – Self soothe: Self soothe is a very important skill because it is important that you treat yourself because you deserve it and are doing a good job. My favorite form of self soothe is a nice warm bath with my favorite book or TV show nearby. Self soothe is anything you do for yourself to relax. It can be taking a bath, getting a massage, or going out for ice cream. This skill consists of doing anything that makes you feel good. It is important to make yourself feel good and to take a break every once in a while.
T – TIPP skill: TIPP skill is a very good skill to use when you are distressed. If you are feeling really escalated and bad, you use this skill and it will bring your distressed mood down a little, so that you can think clearly and use other skills. T stands for Temperature change. This consists of getting something cold like an icepack and putting it on your neck. This will slow down your mind from the racing thoughts. You can always hop in a cold shower if you feel really bad because the shock of the cold will calm your brain down. I stands for Intense exercise. The pain from this intense exercise will calm your brain down quickly. This can be anything from pushups to a wall sit. This isn’t a full workout, it is just some intense exercise quickly, to distract your mind from its thoughts. P stands for Paced breathing. This is good to do throughout the other ones, but you can also do it on your own. Take deep breaths, breathing in through your nose and exhaling through your mouth. Make the exhaling breaths longer than the inhaling breaths to make sure you are getting out all of your body’s toxins. The final P stands for Progressive muscle relaxation. This is when you tense up your muscles and then let them relax and let the stress out with it. You can Google videos on YouTube, and they will guide you through a whole-body progressive muscle relaxation. Remember to use these skills when you are feeling very distressed in order to help calm you down.
U – Upbeat attitude (be positive): This is an important skill to use whenever you can. Try to be positive as much as possible. Even in overwhelmingly negative situations, try looking for just one positive, so you don’t come out totally in a negative mood. Looking for the positives can help change your mindset and it is very important for your mental health. I know it can be hard because life is hard, but it is all just about trying your hardest.
V – Validation: Validation is an important skill to use in order to better regulate your emotions. There are two types of validation: validation for others and validation for yourself. I will be talking about validating yourself. When you validate yourself, you accept your thoughts and feelings, and that doesn’t mean you believe these thoughts and feelings or that they are true. It is just about understanding what you are feeling and accepting it as it is and then from that, you can work to change it if need be. It is okay to feel the way you feel, and it is understandable. Self-validation allows you to calm down and better accept yourself.
W – Wise mind: There are three states of mind: reasonable mind, emotion mind, and wise mind. Reasonable mind is all logic, emotion mind is all emotion, and wise mind is a healthy mix between the two. Wise mind is considering both emotions and rationality. Wise mind is learning to listen to your inner wisdom and intuition. Wise mind is very important in helping best regulating yourself in order to set yourself up for success. It is especially helpfully to use wise mind in the decision-making process.
X – Xylophone (music): Music is incredibly helpful in regulating your mood and helping you feel better. It is all about finding your favorite genre of music or song and using that when you are in a bad place to make you feel better. Taking a break and listening to that music or song will increase your positive emotions. Having a pair of earbuds on you at all time is very helpful. I personally love spirit music and it really makes me feel better and uplifted. When you are feeling sad, just turn on your favorite song and take a few minutes to relax and breathe.
Y – Yo-yo (fidget toys): Fidget toys can be extremely helpful for anxiety and just to get your mind off things. Fidget toys range from yo-yos to stress balls to squishys and fidget cubes. There is such a wide range of fidget toys out there, so find the one (or few) that work best for you. You can distract yourself with these little toys anywhere and they will help calm your mind a bit.
Z – Zoo (animals): Last, but not least, animals are a great coping skill. Animals just make you feel loved and cared for and they are always there for you. I have a cat (Marley) who is my best friend and I do not know what I would do without her because she helps me so much. If you don’t have a pet, go to a friend’s house and I’m sure they would share their pet or go to the zoo (which has free admission in St. Louis) and just enjoy looking at the animals. When you are feeling down, animals are a great way to make you feel better.
All the A – Z coping skills I named, I personally use, and they help me get through day to day. Some of the skills take practice and time to learn, but they are really helpful. Using coping skills isn’t something you should be ashamed of; you should be proud that you are working so hard. Also, remember you are not alone. Many people struggle mental health-wise and have to come up with their own coping skills list that is effective for them, just as I have. I hope the list helps you as much as it helps me to live a better, more positive life.