Coping Skill Guide: Part 1

Hello blog! Today I wanted to talk about coping skills: what they are, examples of when to use them, and what a few of my favorites are. This will be part one in at least a two part series! In part two I’m going to dive into more coping skill options as well as how to choose effective ones for you but this article is going to be the building block with everything you need to know before we start getting into specifics!

Let’s get into it:

What are coping skills?

Coping skills are skills/tools that are used to help an individual adapt to a situation. They can be utilized in response to negative emotions, difficult situations, dealing with uncomfortable/intrusive thoughts, and maintaining mental harmony- among other things. To really boil it down: coping skills are healthy, effective skills you use to feel better. 

When should someone use coping skills?

Dealing with negative emotions, thoughts, or situations are times when one should consider using coping skills. Really there is no “wrong” time to use your coping skills! No situation is too big or too small- if you feel like you should use a coping skill, trust your instincts. There have been times I was stressed over a test or meeting and felt like it wasn’t a “big enough deal” to use my coping skills for, but this meant I ended up dragging out my anxiety! 

What types of coping skills are out there?

Coping skills range from taking a bubble bath for relaxation to specific skills for mindfulness, distress tolerance, and emotion regulation. An example of a distress tolerance tool would be journaling to distract yourself from eating disorder thoughts or a stressful exam coming up. Emotion regulation, on the other hand, involves things like becoming familiar with and identifying your emotions or taking opposite action (SUPER important for eating disorder recovery). Mindfulness is something I talk about a lot on this blog and there are a lot of coping skills that fit into this category- breathing exercises, taking a walk, noticing five things, and meditation are all examples of coping skills rooted in mindfulness. A lot of my favorite tools and skills come from the DBT concept, which can be helpful for those with eating disorders and/or those who struggle with black-and-white thinking. There are a lot of different categories I’ve seen people break coping skills into- emotion-based/problem-based, task-oriented/emotion-oriented/avoidance-oriented, and physical/non-physical- but these categories are all quite similar and can often be used hand-in-hand.

A few of my favorite coping skills…

Opposite action

Opposite action is a great skill to have in your tool belt for anyone who struggles with anxiety, depression, self-harm, and/or an eating disorder. Opposite action involves an urge to do something (e.g. restrict, purge, exercise, self-harm, avoid) and doing the opposite of that urge. This skill involves four basic steps: identifying the emotion you’re feeling, determining whether or not the emotion fits the situation (duration/intensity/etc.), asking yourself whether or not the urge you’re feeling will benefit you in the long run, and finally deciding to do the opposite action to the urge. An example would be feeling anxious over an event, let’s say a dinner party with your friends, and feeling the urge to restrict. Following the steps of opposite action would show you that while your anxiety may be valid depending on the situation (or not, maybe you’re just really excited), restricting isn’t an urge you should follow. You’d recognize this and eat your usual lunch.

Easier said than done for many situations, I know, but opposite action is so important and I encourage you to try this skill!


Sometimes you just can’t shake a negative emotion or intrusive thought and need to distract yourself, especially if it’s a timely issue. I, like many students I’m sure, often get super anxious before a big exam the day off! Distraction techniques help me take my mind off of it and calm down until I can get there and (hopefully) crush it. A few ideas are journaling, calling a friend on the phone, crafting, or watching a movie.

Notice five things

This one is exactly what it sounds like and is a solid skill for being present/mindful. Notice what you see, taste, smell, hear, and can feel (touch) around you. This helps ground you and bring you back to the moment. I use this all the time and not just when I’m in a negative or stressful situation, either. Sometimes the situation is fine (even great, like date night!) but I may feel anxious or spacey and this skill helps bring me back to Earth. 

Overall, coping skills are a great thing for everyone to be aware of and have in their back pocket! There are tons of options that we’ll dive into in the next article, but hopefully this article gave you some clarity on what they are and how they’re used. Let me know what you think about my favorite coping skills and what you use on social media (all platforms @recovroad) and check out the link below for a few coping skill ideas if you’re looking for some more in the meantime.

Pretty good list of coping skill ideas from The Eating Disorder Foundation:

Featured photo courtesy of Unsplash

All content on RecovRoad is based on personal experiences, research, and ideas. Please do not repost/share without credit and be aware that nothing on this blog takes the place of professional help. This is also a formal trigger warning: content about and relating to eating disorders may be triggering to survivors. Please see the “RESOURCES” tab, call the National Eating Disorders Association hotline at 800-931-2237, and remember to take care of yourself.

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