[Take Note Tuesdays] Mental Health: Developing Coping Strategies

[By Mike Ehrmantrout]

Coping with symptoms of mental illness can be a daily struggle for the mentally ill. Each person develops his or her own strategies to cope with these painful experiences. These strategies can be as unique to each person as people can make them. What works for you to battle your mental illness symptoms might not work for me, and vice versa.

We learn these coping strategies over time in the crucible of our illness and the ways in which we gain insight into our symptoms and how they uniquely affect us. That’s why it’s not very helpful to say to a mentally ill person struggling with their symptoms, “just do this” or “just do that”.

What works for you might not work for me

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely want to know your coping strategies, because they just might work for me too. But unfortunately, they may not. The problem comes when we minimise other peoples’ suffering by making a “cookie-cutter” declaration that our coping strategies will work for everyone.

They won’t, and it can engender feelings of inadequacy which can exacerbate the pain we feel. This would be the last thing we’d want a suffering person to experience. So please know, the following are only suggestions to try and help you get started if you haven’t already.

Put together a utility belt

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If you’re familiar with Batman, you know he wears a utility belt. This belt is full of gadgets and weapons which he uses when he fights the bad guys. Batman has supreme confidence in his utility belt because it’s worked for him in the past.

The idea here is to establish a collection of coping strategies you know have already worked well for you. Have them at the ready so when depression, anxiety and other bad guys come knocking, you are ready to fight. Here are a few examples of items you could place in your utility belt – or your wellness toolbox.

  1. Find someone you trust: This can be an important coping strategy for folks with mental illness. Most of us know that many mentally ill people are terribly isolated. Many literally have no human interaction beyond common niceties. They just don’t feel safe among others. Although this isolation would be considered a negative coping strategy, such as drinking or drugs, you are where you are. At the same time, perhaps you could set realistic goals for yourself to become less isolated. It is important because having another person who knows and cares about you can be invaluable.
  2. Identify your negative strategies and replace them with positive ones: We all have coping strategies already, or we probably wouldn’t be alive. But some of those strategies are negative for us and they don’t contribute to our wellness, and sometimes they can make things worse.
  3. Even some positive coping strategies can be damaging: Since music is one of the most effective of my strategies, I often retreat to listen to my tunes. It’s definitely a positive strategy for me. However, I have an anger management issue and sometimes listening to my music would make me feel angry so if this happens, I don’t listen to my loud rock music.
  4. Be gentle with yourself.
  5. Prepare an affirmation portfolio: Write down several affirmations you find particularly helpful when you are down. Things such as, “I’m a good human being, worthy of respect and love.” When you encounter a period of stress or a flare up of symptoms, pull out your affirmations portfolio and use them to help you get centred on healthy thoughts about yourself and the world.

What are your coping strategies and what is in your wellness toolkit? Let us know. Please leave your comments in the comment boxes.

Another great read on coping strategies here.

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