We all experience hard times; stress and heartache are just a part of being human. But another important part of humanity is getting through those challenges. That’s where coping skills—that is, the unique skills that help you overcome adversity and support a positive sense of well-being—come in.
The Duality of Coping Skills
When people consider coping skills, there’s a tendency to only focus on one type—those from the outside world.
This specific type of coping skills, known as “external coping skills,” includes things like exercise, eating a well-balanced diet, getting massages, listening to or playing music, treating yourself to retail therapy, or snuggling up with your favorite fur family.
All of those things can bring a smile to your face. But sometimes, even with those strategies, we still feel tired, defeated, anxious, or sad. When that happens, it may be because we’ve forgotten to tune into the other half of available coping strategies—that is, those on the inside.
Those are called internal coping skills, and they’re just as (if not more) important as coping skills you get from external forces.
What Are Internal Coping Skills?
Internal coping skills are the internal thought patterns we put on repeat inside our heads. Those patterns influence how we think, as well as how we respond emotionally throughout the day.
Imagine, for example, that your brain has a string attached to your heart. Depending on your thoughts that day (like if you feel self-defeated, motivated, inspired, or supported), this string will pull your heart in all directions. When the heart moves, it affects the way we feel as well as how we treat ourselves and others.
If you are punishing yourself all day mentally, your emotions will follow suit. You might feel deflated, less motivated, tired, and get more easily irritated and angry with others.
So how do you stop the string from getting pulled toward negative emotions? Start by changing the channel to your mind’s radio.
After all, if you don’t like a song on the radio, you simply change the station. We can do the same when our “internal brain channel” keeps playing the same cynical song on repeat.
It can take time and daily practice to learn how to change your brain’s channel, but it can be done. Once you learn how, it becomes easier only to play the thoughts you find encouraging, supportive, and forgiving.
And that means a more positive perspective and emotionally balanced day—like music to our ears!
Here are some simple strategies you can practice, starting today. Remember: Rome wasn’t built in a day, so it may take some time to tune out the white noise of bad thoughts. But you will get there, so keep trying!
Permit Yourself to Feel What You Feel
First of all, acknowledge that your feelings—whether good or bad—are valid and real. Just take a moment to let yourself feel those emotions and let them sit with you for a while. For now, resist the urge to fix, solve, judge, and numb those feelings out. Just allow yourself to confront them to know what they are and what they feel like.
Set a timer for 10 minutes. Give yourself permission to tune into the thoughts on repeat: Listen, feel, and ask yourself if those thoughts are serving you or hurting you. Remind yourself that this is a time to notice, not fix.
You can write these feelings down, say them out loud, or just contemplate them in silence. Then, consider changing the channel; what do you want to hear on repeat instead?
Tell Yourself: “Yes, today was a hard day. It’s okay to have hard days. Tomorrow, I’m going to start a new day. I can always start a new day and have a different experience.”
Embrace Mistakes and Failures
Has anyone ever learned a life lesson from things that worked out perfectly? Probably not. Perfection is overrated and limits our ability to learn and grow. When you make mistakes or fail, be gentle to yourself, and acknowledge the learning opportunity. Hard lessons help us build resilience, increase the ability to self-trust, and help to bust stress.
Your boss calls and scolds you for minutes on end about an error in your work. You realize you did make that error. You can own it, let your manager know that they are correct and that you made a mistake, that you understand the consequences of this error, and that you will remedy the situation ASAP. If you own the situation and give yourself permission to make a mistake, you’ll be better equipped to de-escalate the situation, de-escalate your own emotional responses, and move toward a proactive solution.
Understand and Develop Boundaries
Personal boundaries are the road map to how we travel through life. They help us determine our level of self-worth, the value of our time, and our moral compass. And yet, laying down boundaries is tricky, especially for those who are highly empathic and who want to please everyone. But consider this: Allowing others to set your boundaries gives them the power to control the strings that connect your brain to your heart. And that could make for a wild ride…without wearing a seatbelt!
Boundaries get crossed, even unintentionally, every day. Say someone asked you to do something you didn’t want to do—but you said yes anyway. You took on that extra shift or baked those cookies for the class bake sale. If you’re exhausted from saying yes so often, pause and ask yourself: What happened to my limits? Consider what will happen if you say no; you might find that you’re creating undue pressure on yourself. When we’re afraid of disappointing others, we end up just disappointing ourselves. We’re left feeling tired, deflated, anxious, and sad. Learning to say no and communicate your needs can boost your mood, as well as your ability to manage stress more effectively.
Don’t Neglect Your Internal Skills
Remember, stress management doesn’t only rely on your dog’s or masseuse’s ability to calm you down. Sometimes, the best ways to overcome stress are with those skills you have inside.
With national and global changes and new stressors everywhere, this is more important now than ever. So, take time to recognize your internal thought patterns and make your internal coping skills a daily practice.
And in time, that self-awareness can help you redirect the string to better maintain resilience, hope, and a well-balanced life perspective.
“You are important, you are valuable, and you are worthy.” Let that be the music you hear on repeat.
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