• Dr Jane Howard


Coping effectively with all the challenges that life presents is a skill that is learned. Some people learn from their parents in childhood, and some learn by experience. Some learn vicariously by watching how friends cope and some gain skills from self-help books and psychologists. It is practice of coping skills that helps with self-confidence and well-being.

People who feel confident in themselves trust that they will do their best and things will work out. People who lack self confidence often feel something is wrong with them, or that others will do better. Often, they feel badly and become anxious about whether to take any action at all, or which action to take.

What is coping?

Coping is calmly managing one’s thoughts, feelings and behaviour in relation to life’s situations. Reassuring oneself and remaining calm are important features of coping. Coping is about assessing the situation, taking appropriate action, and recognising that one is doing one’s best, then moving on. Not coping is reacting to a situation with anxiety, fear and panic, which results in self-criticism and inability to move on.

People who cope feel able to deal with situations, even if things do not turn out well. In life everything is not perfect and sometimes things will turn out badly, in spite of one’s best effort. In this case coping is about staying calm, not panicking and trying another solution

What does anxiety feel like?

At its worst, anxiety results in a raised pulse, an increased rate of breathing, sweating, churning stomach and nausea, shaking and fainting. Some people speak faster, some stammer and others freeze. Anxiety does not feel good.

What is the process in coping?

The first step is thinking about the situation. Thoughts produce feelings. Positive ways of thinking such as” I can do this.”, “It will work out.”, “I will try my best”, give a person a sense of power and confidence and enable a coping action.

Negative thoughts, such as ”I am stupid.”,” I am not going to succeed.”, “Others can do this better than me.” cause feelings of anxiety and fear of failure.

The next step is to calmly think about possible ways to act or not act, to help resolve or manage the issue. Making a choice of strategy and putting it into action follows. It is necessary to remain calm and soothe negative thoughts.

Life’s situations play out in various ways, and it is important, to recognise that some situations will get worse, even when we have done our best, and other situations will get better. We cannot take responsibility for everything. All we can do is our best.

How can coping skills be improved?

To examine a particular situation we would like to cope with, it may be helpful to write it down. Then, to make a note of thoughts about this situation. It is useful to divide thoughts into useful thoughts and thoughts which are not useful. Thoughts happen all the time, but we do not need to act on all of them. We can let go of the ones which are not useful.

Recording our feelings about the situation, shows us how much we are affected by it. The process of exploring thoughts and feelings may lead us to uncover our personal beliefs about ourselves, which may be true or untrue. It is useful to discover whether our personal beliefs are true or untrue. Often they are so negative and critical, they are not true. Realising that thinking positive thoughts in relation to one’s abilities, makes a person feel better and so able to behave more positively.

Are there any other ways to improve coping skills?

A healthy diet with a modest alcohol intake and regular exercise are helpful.

One is less anxious after adequate sleep and regular pleasurable outings.

Writing in a journal may be a way of exploring coping skills and making a diary recording mood changes.

Mindfulness training to be fully present in the moment, may help one to be less anxious and develop one’s self confidence.

In stressful moments, it may be useful to sit quietly with the eyes closed and take slow deep breaths in and out.

Psychologists can teach people coping skills. Medicare offers rebates for five sessions in a calendar year with a psychologist,after a diagnosis of anxiety disorder. Your GP can write a GP Mental Health Care Plan to refer you to a psychologist.

Meditation and yoga may also help to manage anxiety.

Dr Jane Howard


February 2018

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