Some coping strategies to try

If you are currently trying to manage emotional pain, these are a few strategies that may help. The first thing you try may not make you feel better. Don’t let that be your excuse to stop trying.  Instead, pick another strategy to try, then another.  At worst, you’ll pass some time.  At best, your thoughts and feelings will shift away from the pain and toward something helpful.

If you want to distract or calm …

  • Breathe deeply for a few minutes: As you inhale, imagine the air going straight to your belly.  Aim to have your belly pop out when you inhale and relax when you exhale.  Inhale slowly, counting to 4.  Hold the breath for a count of 3 if that is comfortable for you.  Exhale slowly and deliberately, counting to 4.  Repeat.  This calms the body on a physiological level. If you focus on the experience of each breath, it calms the mind as well.
  • Start a Gratitude Journal.  Every day, write down 3 things that you are grateful for.  Begin right now.
  • Watch an absorbing TV show or movie.  Listen to an absorbing podcast.  Read an absorbing book.
  • Do a few yoga poses.  If you are not familiar with yoga, try my favorite pose: mountain pose.
  • Do puzzles: jigsaw, crossword, Sudoku.
  • Look for inspirational or funny quotes on Pinterest.
  • Try a guided mindfulness meditation.  If you don’t like the first one, try another.  The person’s voice or style of meditation can make a big difference in your experience.
  • Do the “5 Things” mindfulness exercise: Look around.  Choose one thing you see and describe it to yourself in as much detail as possible. It should take at least a minute or two.  Do this for 4 more things you See.  You can also do 5 Things you Smell and 5 Things you Feel.  This exercise directs your attention to and keeps it focused on something other than your pain.
  • Watch some TED talks.  Here are some links to get you started: Funniest TED talks,  Business Insider’s Mind Expanding TED talks that are less than 10 minutes, and Lifehack’s list of inspirational TED talks.
  • Plan your next vacation or your ultimate dream vacation down to the details.  Choose the location, where you’ll stay, where you’ll eat, what you’ll do, what you’ll pack.  Go to TripAdvisor for ideas. Get into it!
  • Get your crayons or colored pencils and color.  Coloring is soothing and creative, and there are a lot of fun options.  Find an adult coloring book you like or go online for free coloring pages.  Here’s one to get you started: Secret Garden.
  • Make a playlist of songs that make you feel like dancing.  Listen to it.  Ideally, dance.
  • Watch YouTube videos of your favorite comic.  Or baby goats.  Or whatever makes you smile. The physical act of smiling actually improves your mood a bit.
  • If you have an urge to use an eating disorder behavior, follow the steps on

If you can, do these things outside, in whatever kind of green space you may have available to you.

For longer-term relief from suffering …

  • Take a 5-day break from social media.  Notice how you spend your time instead. Notice how you feel.
  • Identify your strengths (the VIA-IS Strengths Survey is free:  Put one strength into action every day.  This is especially helpful for coping with depression.
  • Reduce time spent with people who don’t make you feel good about yourself (including online friends or people you follow).  Spend more time with people who make you feel good about yourself as you are right now.
  • Develop a daily mindfulness practice. Once you are able to control your focus, you will be able to choose to put your focus on meaningful/helpful/distracting things rather than on your pain.
  • Choose an organization to volunteer with. Hand out bags of goodies and essentials to homeless people.  Smile at everyone you pass.  Providing service to others is especially helpful for coping with depression.
  • Identify what is important to you.  Do one thing every day in support of these values.
  • When something positive, no matter how small, happens to you (e.g., when someone appreciates you, when you feel loved, or when you feel good about completing a task), take 30 seconds to savor the moment. Allow the positive feelings to linger.  Repeat the words said to you.  Try to believe them.  Imagine encapsulating this moment into a stone or precious jewel that you place into your internal storehouse of positive experiences. Spending 30 seconds to engage at this level with the positivity of the moment allows your brain to encode it more deeply. You actually learn from that moment to seek other moments like it.
  • Read this article on how to improve your mood using neuroscience. It has some great ideas.

“Comparison is the thief of joy.”

– Theodore Roosevelt