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Coping strategies

If you are feeling stressed, anxious or just struggling to deal, there are lots of coping strategies you can try.

Teen girl colouring in a mandala

What is coping?

People often think ‘coping’ is about doing well or even thriving. But most of the time, coping is about just getting by in hard circumstances. 

It’s that inner strength or resilience that allows you to put one foot in front of the other when you feel like giving up. 

Different coping strategies work differently for different people, which is what can make coping so tricky.

"There are three main things that have kept us strong through tough times, and they are friendship, community and music."

Here are some coping strategies you can try, and helpful info on how and why they work.

Breathing exercises

As you read this, focus on your belly button.

Breathe naturally, evenly, and at a speed that feels comfortable.

Focus on sending your breath right down to your belly button – so your stomach rises and falls with each breath.

Don’t breathe really deeply, as this can actually make you hyperventilate.

Just keep your breathing even and natural.

Do this for five slow, even breaths.

Take a moment to reflect on how this makes you feel.

Why does breathing help you feel calm?

Believe it or not, your body and brain communicate with each other all the time!

When we are stressed, our breathing patterns become fast and chest-focused.

When we are calm, our breathing patterns are slow, even and stomach-focused.

Taking slow, calm breaths is one way for your body to communicate to your brain that you are safe and it’s ok to calm down.

What happens in your brain when you’re stressed?

Watch to learn the science behind feeling anxious.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness strategies are all about being 'present' by connecting with one or more of your five senses. They are sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. Here are some mindfulness techniques you can try:

  • Focus on 3 things you can hear, 3 things you can smell, and 3 things your body can physically feel

  • Touch is a great way to be present – you might stomp your feet, pat your cat or even have a massage

  • Get absorbed in the moment – playing sport, playing a video game or just having fun with friends is a great way to have a mental break from worries

  • Focus on really listening to an awesome song

  • Eat something yummy really slowly, savouring the taste

  • Splash cool water on your face – this can trigger the ‘mammalian dive reflex’ which is an automatic response that slows your heart rate and brain waves (designed to help us survive when swimming underwater)

Watch to learn a simple mindfulness strategy!

Get creative!

Our brain loves to be creative. Activities that allow you to express yourself aren’t just fun; they can actually be quite healing as well – which is why things like ‘art therapy’ exist.

One of the ways things like creative writing, dancing, music and art can help is they actually alter your brain waves and create different mental and emotional states, especially if you get ‘absorbed’ in the activity. 

The second way these activities help is by acting as distractions, which are sometimes a helpful way to break a worry cycle or help shift your mood.

The third way they help is by allowing you time to process and gain insights into your thoughts, feelings or behaviours. Having insight can help you break patterns and form new habits. These insights play an important role in creating ‘meaning’. 

Being able to create meaning from a negative experience is a great way to be more resilient and is an important part of post traumatic growth – not just surviving a trauma, but actually thriving!

Why does mindfulness help you feel calm?

Our mind has a unique ability to venture into the past or future!

For example, we can stress over a fight with had with a friend yesterday, or worry about a test we have next week. 

But our body is always in the present moment. 

Mindfulness is about grounding and reconnecting with your body so your mind can also be in the present moment. 

This can be effective at breaking worrying mental thought patterns.

Use your imagination and daydream

Your imagination can be helpful in many ways!

Imagining positive future events can increase happiness and decrease depression

Using your imagination to imagine a fear (in a safe way) can reduce your anxiety around that fear

Mental rehearsal (visualising yourself doing a particular task) can actually help you perform the task better

Daydreaming about your friends, family or partner can increase your feelings of happiness and connection with them

“Athletes use mental rehearsal to help them get better at a sport or skill!”

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

Why do imagination and daydreaming help?

Your brain loves to have adventures and imagine things! 

Worrying is one way your brain uses its imagination. But, daydreaming is the flipside of worrying.

In fact, when you imagine something, the same parts of your brain ‘light up’ as if you actually experienced it.

So, if you imagined hearing your favourite song, the same part of your brain lights up as if you actually heard your favourite song. Pretty neat, huh?

Engage your 'smart brain'

Your smart brain can temporarily ‘go offline’ when you are stressed, which is why you might find it hard to think clearly or make a decision.

But your smart brain loves making mental connections and learning! 

Reading, writing, planning, problem solving and organising all engage your ‘neocortex’ or ‘smart brain’.

Doing things your smart brain is good at is a great way to re-engage your smart brain.

This can really help calm down your feelings of stress and anxiety.

“If you are feeling anxious, asking for help might make you feel even more worried. If you are feeling depressed, you might feel like things are hopeless and getting help won’t make a difference. 

Your feelings are valid, but they aren’t necessarily true. Asking for help can make a big difference, even when it doesn’t feel that way!”

– Amanda, Kids Helpline Counsellor

Talk to someone you trust

But if talking to family and friends feels too hard, you can try Kids Helpline counselling. You can do it from anywhere, at any time and you don’t have to be face-to-face. Plus, you can be anonymous if you like.

Counselling assists and supports people by helping them:

  • Think about things in different ways
  • Learn about patterns in your thoughts and behaviours
  • Create a safe place to support a calm, learning environment, which can reduce your stress and anxiety
  • Promote positive changes in your brain through exploring alternate perspectives and options
  • Be supported to try new strategies
  • Create positive behaviour change through repetition and practice of new strategies

Why is it sometimes hard to ask for help?

When you are experiencing a mental health issue, talking is hard. 

In fact, mental health issues can actually make changes in the brain that make it harder to talk about or ask for help. 

This is known as ‘help-negation’.

Even if it feels like nothing or no one can help, it's still important to try. If the first attempt at getting help is unsuccessful or even unhelpful, try again. Getting the right support can make all the difference!

If you’re struggling to cope, talking to a counsellor can really help!

Kids Helpline is available 24/7.

If you want to learn more coping strategies or figure out what coping strategies might work best for you, give us a call, start a WebChat or send us an email today.
 

This content was last reviewed 09/04/2020

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