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What does it mean to cope?

Coping refers to anything we do in order to overcome difficult situations. These situations can be things like stress, anxiety, depression, hyper-arousal, or other situations that may feel difficult to manage. Common coping mechanisms include working out, watching television, spending time with loved ones, or shopping. Coping mechanisms are a very important part of the therapeutic process. In fact, one of the most common reasons clients come to therapy is to learn coping skills to manage their symptoms. However, it is important to understand that just because something feels good, does not mean it is actually helping us cope. 

How does coping affect me?

Coping can have very beneficial effects on people who have developed adaptive coping skills. Examples of healthy and adaptive coping skills include things like self soothing, exercise, boundaries, meditation and mindfulness, thinking through the issue and finding logical solutions, eating good nutrition, and getting enough sleep. Any of these activities can bring you happiness, routine, and peace when you are feeling overwhelmed and when done consistently. On the other hand, when your coping skills are maladaptive, they can have serious, negative effects on your mental health. Examples of unhealthy and maladaptive coping skills are substance use, avoidance of the stressor, overeating and oversleeping, and impulsive spending. These methods of coping might make us feel better in the moment and for a short amount of time, but they tend to have negative long-term effects. For instance, alcohol and other substances tend to provide a temporary numbing feeling; however, they also tend to exacerbate your symptoms or even create substance dependency problems.

How can I learn healthy coping skills?

One of the best and most effective ways to learn healthy coping skills is to go to therapy. Your therapist can provide useful tools while also collaborating with you to develop skills that will satisfy your unique needs. Other ways to develop coping skills is to practice self-reflection and consider what needs you might have. Making connections and hanging out with new people is another way to explore new ways to cope. Reading, practicing self-care, and developing a positive self-image are all ways you can learn to cope. The point is to self reflect and discover new ways that you can take care of yourself. You should understand that learning to cope effectively is not easy and and can take time, so be sure to be compassionate with yourself as you try to develop these new skills. 

This page is also part of the Roamers Therapy Glossary; a collection of mental-health related definitions that are written by our therapists.

While our offices are currently located at the South Loop neighborhood of Downtown Chicago, Illinois, we also welcome and serve clients for online therapy from anywhere in Illinois and Washington, D.C. Clients from the Chicagoland area may choose in-office or online therapy and usually commute from surrounding areas such as River North, West Loop, Gold Coast, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lake View, Rogers Park, Logan Square, Pilsen, Bridgeport, Little Village, Bronzeville, South Shore, Hyde Park, Back of the Yards, Wicker Park, Bucktown and many more. You can visit our contact page to access detailed information on our office location.