There will always be moments when we feel overwhelmed. At those times, our emotions may seem to get the best of us, and we may react in ways that are unhealthy or that we may regret later, such as lashing out at those close to us. The ways in which we respond to our emotions are known as coping mechanisms. We all have different mechanisms for coping that we have learned through our life experiences, some of which are healthy and adaptive, while others are not. One of the benefits of psychotherapy is that you can learn more about your current coping mechanisms and work on developing other skills and techniques which will better serve you in future stressful situations.
One type of coping skill that you can learn in psychotherapy is grounding. Grounding helps you to remain present in times of high stress, and can help to ease your mind when struggling with racing thoughts. There are many types of grounding exercises, most of which begin by utilizing slow, deep breathing to help regulate the body. This breathing helps to slow your heart rate, which can increase in times of stress, sending messages to your brain that you are physically safe. Once you are able to practice deep breathing, you can move on to other coping skills, like body scans. This is a technique wherein you intentionally focus on parts of your body that may be physically holding stress: raised shoulders, furrowed brows, clenched fists. You move up or down your body, noticing where your stress is being held, and release it (by stretching, shaking, and moving your body in various ways). This not only acts as a way to help you feel less stressed physically, but helps you to become aware of the physical signs of your stress and anxiety. Another grounding skill is the 5 senses exercise. In this exercise, you use your bodily sense to ground yourself in the present. While taking slow, deep breaths, you identify 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell, and 1 thing you can taste in that moment. This can act as a distraction from your anxious thoughts and also helps you to be aware of your present environment. In a therapeutic setting, your counselor can guide you through these and other grounding exercises in order to help you feel more comfortable utilizing them outside of session.
Another type of coping skill that you can use is known as emotion-focused coping. As the name suggests, this type of coping helps you to manage your emotional reactions to stressful situations. In situations where the source of your stress is something that you do not have the power to immediately change or control, these techniques can be very helpful. One example of emotion-focused coping is meditation. This practice involves intentionally setting aside time within your schedule to relax, breathe, and focus on the present moment. This technique can be done at home, on a walk, or even at work, and can involve candles, aromatherapy, and mantras. You can also express your emotions through journaling and art, creating a tangible representation of your feelings. This can help you to release your emotions instead of having them bottled up, which can lead to outbursts and resentments. These processes can also help you to better understand your emotions, and can give you a daily practice with which to express them. You can use guided journals that include daily prompts, or create your own journaling routine with things like gratitude lists, mood ratings, and daily affirmations. These skills could show up as part of a homework assignment from your therapist, and you can discuss your experiences in session to help determine what skills work best for you.
Finally you can utilize problem/solution-focused coping for situations that you have some control over. With this type of coping, you identify the source of your stress, and either remove yourself or the stress source from the situation. This can be done by utilizing confrontation skills, such as assertiveness and clear communication. For example, if you are having issues with a roommate, family member, or romantic partner, you would use problem-focused coping by communicating with them which behaviors are causing you stress and working collaboratively to find a solution to the problem. You can also use problem-focused coping by seeking out information about the issue you are facing in order to find the best solution for yourself. If you are feeling stressed about an upcoming exam or assignment, for example, you can use solution-focused coping by speaking with your instructor to get clarity on what material will be covered so that you know what to focus your attention on when studying. Much of problem/solution-focused coping necessitates self-advocacy and motivation, which are skills that can be developed through therapy.
In times of stress, it is important to know how we can best utilize coping skills to relieve feelings of anxiety. Through psychotherapy, you and your counselor can try out many new skills and also develop the skills that you already possess in order to help you handle your emotions in a healthy and adaptive way. If you or someone you know is struggling to cope with feelings of anxiety or stress, SBS Psychological Associates is here to help you. Call our office at 678-205-0838 to schedule an appointment and begin your healing journey!