Coping Skills Masterlist
This is a masterlist of coping skills, which are things that you can do to non-destructively react or get through or make better an uncomfortable/painful situation. Essentially, they are good skills to have in your toolbelt for life. They can be used for sadness, anger, stress, anxiety, and simply just not feeling good. Coping skills may not get rid of the feeling or situation, but they can help you better tolerate it or potentially alleviate the intensity.
Some are sourced from Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, others from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and some simply from talk therapy and lived experience. Skills marked with an asterisk are ones that I find especially helpful. Not every coping skill is useful in every situation and some may not work for you. They may appear asinine or seemingly useless, but in practicality can turn out to be helpful. There are a lot worth trying.
NOTE: Coping skills are not a replacement for treatment from a mental health professional. They can (and often do) supplement therapeutic work, but the importance of seeing a trained clinician (if you can) if you have concerns about your mental health cannot be understated.
Table of Contents
Grounding Skills - Skills that bring you out of your head and back to the moment.
Mindfulness Skills - Skills to help you regulate your emotions and gain perspective.
Self-Soothing Skills - Skills that can help you feel more settled and safe.
Distraction Skills - Skills that get you out of your head and into somewhere else.
Emotional Awareness Skills - Skills that help you recognize and process your feelings.
Tolerance Skills - Skills that help you tolerate uncomfortable situations and feelings.
Positive Activity Skills - Skills that are good for your overall wellbeing.
Skills that bring you out of your head when you’re in a crisis and back to the moment.
Most Helpful: For crisis situations or emotional distress (eg. panic attacks, emotional breakdowns, flashbacks, etc). Helpful for dealing with emotions like anxiety or stress.
* *54321 - Name five things you can see, four things you can touch, three things you can hear, two things you can smell, one thing you can taste.
* Rainbow! - Name two things that are red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and purple.
* *Square breathing - Breathe in for a count of three, hold for a count of three, exhale for a count of three. Repeat as needed.
* *Sensation - Submerge your face in cold water, hold ice or use an icepack, or take an ice-cold shower. Why? See mammalian response.
* Riding the wave - Think of your emotions as a wave that comes and goes.
* *Play mind games: Count to 100. Take a typing test. Name all the objects you see. Make a short bio of yourself. Pick up an object and describe its color, texture, size, and weight. Describe the steps in performing an activity you know how to do well.
Skills to help you regulate your emotions, gain perspective, and ground or self-soothe yourself.
Most Helpful: During states of lower emotional distress where you may be upset,
but able to think relatively rationally. Helpful with anxiety, stress, sadness, anger, etc.
* Clouds in the sky - Pretend that each thought and feeling you are experiencing is a cloud that is passing through the sky and eventually passing.
* Meditate - Focus on the physical sensations of your body, what your senses are aware of, and your breath. You can repeat an affirmation.
* Deep breathing: Sit or lie down with a hand on your tummy. Focus your attention on the physical sensation of breathing, like a wave. If you need, play calming music.
* Visualizing - Use your imagination to go to a safe place. As you breathe, picture the negative emotions flowing out of you with each exhale.
* Body scan - Paying attention to parts of the body and bodily sensations in a gradual sequence from head to toe.
* Progressive muscle relaxation - Starting from the top of your body, tense a group of muscles as you breathe in, and you relax them as you breathe out.
* Thought awareness - “I notice I am having the thought…”
* *Half smiling
Skills that can help you feel more settled and safe.
Most Helpful: For non-crises. Good for coming down after a crisis or trying to stay afloat during a period of sadness or stress. Can help with emotions like sadness, depression, anxiety, and stress.
* *Take a warm shower or bath. Consider playing music, going the extra mile (heating up towel in dryer, candles, etc).
* *Take care of basic needs (sleep, water, food).
* Engage with nature - Go outside and notice what you observe and what you feel physically. Cloud or star gaze. Lie on the grass and listen. Go on a walk. If you can’t get outside physically, get outside virtually by looking for walking/biking/driving videos on YouTube.
* Stretch your body gently.
* *Butterfly tapping.
* Make tea.
* *Pretend your current self is your younger self or a close friend. How would you take care of them? Do that.
* *Physical comfort. Change into lounge clothes. Wrap yourself in a fuzzy and/or weighted blanket. Cuddle a stuffed animal.
* *Sensation Seeking - Use fidget toys and thinking putty.
* Taste - Chew gum, suck on hard candy or a lollipop or mints.
* Smell - Use a favorite lotion or perfume. Light a candle or run a diffuser.
* *Take a nap.
Skills that get you out of your head and into somewhere else.
Most Helpful: During periods of distress, coming down from a crisis state, or trying to stay afloat mentally during a bad time.
* Do something creative - knit, color, draw, do makeup, paint nails, write, journal.
* Read something - Book or short story.
* *Listen to something - Music or an audiobook or a favorite podcast or ASMR or nature sounds.
* *Mental stimulation - Do a crossword puzzle or play a card or board game.
* Make food - Bake something you love or make a meal you love (if you can do so safely).
* *Entertainment - Watch a favorite/comfort movie or TV show. Watch a favorite performance or video.
* Work on learning something new.
* *Move your body. Go to the gym, go on a walk, do yoga, etc.
* Spend time with animals. They’re less judgemental than humans (and generally softer).
* Do or work on a hobby you love. For example, dancing, taking photos, biking, cloud-watching, makeup, crossword puzzles, reading, baking, etc.
* *Reminders and Reflections - Look at your favorite pictures. Read nice letters/messages/notes that people have given you.
Emotional Awareness Skills
Skills that help you recognize and process your feelings.
Most Helpful: When coming down from a crisis after using grounding skills or when particular emotional concerns arise.
* *Cry It Out - Go to a private space (with tissues) and let yourself cry.
* *Journal - Write in a stream of consciousness, identify feelings, reflect, ask questions, scribble, vent, make a plan, express gratitude, write a letter to myself or inner child or person I’m mad at or abuser or letter I will never send, etc.
* *Seven Column Thought Records / Evaluating Thoughts
* Dealing With Thoughts Physically - Write thoughts down and then rip them up or burn them.
Skills that help you tolerate uncomfortable situations and feelings.
* *Taking Breaks - When doing an uncomfortable activity, make an agreement with yourself to tolerate it for an X amount of time or until X is achieved. Once that happens, take a break to practice other coping skills, and come back.
Positive Activity Skills
Skills that are good for your overall wellbeing.
Most Helpful: In building a sense of wellness and wellbeing in your life which then helps with mental health. Could be used in periods of low to mid level distress or discomfort.
* *Reach out for peer or familial support from someone you trust. Check in with them.
* Spend time with others to avoid retreating socially entirely. Work on building healthy relationships with genuine connections.
* Call/text a friend, family friend, or family.
* *Leave the house, even if it’s just on your own. Go on a walk. Go to a bookstore. Go to a park. Go to a museum. Go to a café. Go on a drive.
* Tell yourself or write down affirmations. Use positive self-talk to cheer yourself on.
* *Volunteer with an organization.
* *Write letters to people.
* *Express Gratitude - Write a thank you letter to someone. Say thank you. Ask yourself what good things are currently happening in your life. Even if things are hard, what things make life better?
* *Acts of Kindness - Give someone a present. Do something kind for someone you love or a stranger. Give others compliments.