Do Coping Skills Really Help?

“I just need some good coping skills. I don’t want to talk about my childhood or anything deep like that.”

Famous first words, spoken more than once in my counseling room.

We all wish life could be fixed by coping skills. It’s a common desire. Who doesn’t want an easy technique or strategy to make the pain or suffering go away? We all do. And many times, people come into counseling with this mindset.

I’m not at all opposed to teaching people coping skills. In many ways, healthy coping skills are simply healthy ways of living. We could all use more of those. I use coping skills all of the time and find them to be essential in helping me get through hard days.

However, I also think it is important for us to approach coping skills in the right way and see them for what they are.

Coping skills are an essential part of life.

Coping skills are really just self-care strategies people learn as they grow up to help them get through hard times in a healthy manner. Every single person uses coping skills– sometimes good coping skills and sometimes bad coping skills. Some people don’t learn healthy coping skills as children. Other people face new and challenging situations as adults that they aren’t sure how to handle. When this happens, learning new and healthy coping skills is essential.

Coping skills aren’t magic. You have to work at them over a long period of time.

I find that this is where many people get caught up. Many people think of coping skills as quick fixes that should immediately make them feel better. In reality, coping skills help the most when you practice them consistently and when you use a number of coping skills in combination.

Deep breathing is a great example. I know from personal experience that deep breathing can be extremely helpful. I find that people are reluctant to try it because it seems too simple. In addition, people often try it one time and state it didn’t do anything. But people who practice deep breathing consistently every day often find that it can be an excellent way of reducing tension and anxiety.

 Coping skills don’t solve problems. They can be a key aspect of recovery by putting you in a mindset that enables you to solve problems.  

When someone is enduring intense suffering, it is hard to see clearly enough to dig into the actual problem. Practicing coping skills such as deep breathing, grounding exercises, and progressive muscle relaxation can help someone with anxiety find a bit of relief. Relief leads to clarity which can lead to the ability to better understand what is going on.

 Coping skills alone aren’t enough.

Those people who come to me for counseling and say they “just need coping skills,” always find they need more than that. Coping skills don’t get to the root of an issue. They don’t tell you why you are anxious or suicidal. They don’t give insight into what makes you behave or respond a certain way. Once you are better able to cope with a situation, it’s time to get to work. It’s time to dig a little deeper and actually find healing for your struggle.

A few resources

 Over the years, I have written a lot about coping skills for managing chronic pain. Check out some of my favorite resources I have created on this topic.

21 Ways to Cope with a Chronic Pain Flare

Coping Skills to Manage the Emotional Stress of Chronic Pain

A Complete Guide to Pacing for Chronic Pain

31 Days of Expressive Writing for Chronic Illness and Pain

How to Allocate and Conserve Energy When You Have Chronic Pain

Visualization, Chronic Pain, and Neuropalstic Transformation





  1. Claudia said:

    What a great topic you chose! Growing up as the daughter of a psychotherapist, it boggles my mind how people would only want coping skills without addressing the root of the problem. To me, it became second nature to dig deeper and resolves/accept what I could because just like mold on bread, if you only remove what you see it will come back faster and spread wider than before. And then I meet other people who did me weird for talking so openly lol So thanks, your post reminds me how most people did not have the chance I had and have learned that coping is not feeling, moving on asap. I agree with your advice, great tips. I’ll try to remember those when talking with people.

    October 1, 2018
    • lifeinslowmotion said:

      Thanks Claudia!

      October 1, 2018
  2. Pain Bug said:

    Yes you are right.Coping skills is just one part of my process. I Know there are deeper issues that need to be address, but if i can cope with them then we can work together. I at least that’s what I convince myself to think. It is another step I need to take in this recovery process.

    October 8, 2018

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