• Studio ATAO

Learning Healthy Coping Skills with Laura Green

Updated: Jul 8, 2020



Episode 4: Learning Healthy Coping Mechanisms


Studio ATAO’s Community Skillshare is a virtual learning series that tackles specific, actionable and pertinent topics with subject matter experts. Each season (1-4 episodes) is centered on one main topic and is paired with a thorough resources document (such as this one) with additional information and relevant links. Community Skillshares take place on Studio ATAO’s IG Live and we will announce upcoming episodes via our Instagram.

This particular resources document was compiled by Studio ATAO’s core team for our Skillshare with Licensed Professional Mental Health Counselor Laura Green, MEd. Laura’s work is rooted in understanding and improving the mental health and wellbeing of individuals in the food and drinks industry, particularly through responsible education and thorough examination of the culture of the industry.

We hope Laura’s Skillshare Session and this resource document will be a useful guide for those interested in learning more about therapy and how it can help. Please feel free to share this resource widely with anyone who you think may need it.

This is a living, evolving document and is not exhaustive of all resources. If you have suggestions on how we can better improve this document, we would love to hear from you at hello@studioatao.org.

If you’ve benefited from this free resource and want to give back to our community, we are also raising money for Laura’s chosen charity Support Staff! You can donate via their page here.

If you are enjoying the series and want to help support our team at Studio ATAO, you can become a monthly patron of ours at Patreon or send us a one-time gift via GiveLively. We sincerely thank you for your generosity and support.

Table of Contents

  • Video of Community Skillshare Episode 4

  • Understanding Coping & Coping Mechanisms

  • Learning Healthy Coping Mechanisms

  • Additional Mental Health & Coping Resources

Video of Season 3 Episode 4 with Laura Green

Understanding Coping & Coping Mechanisms

Coping is an ongoing process that helps your mind and body mitigate the effects of challenging situations, or stressors, whether they are internal or external.

Coping mechanisms are the strategies that we use in our coping process. Coping mechanisms can be intentional and/or automatic, meaning that sometimes we are aware that we're using coping mechanism(s) while other times they are more subtle, automatic, or unconscious.

Coping mechanisms are grouped by coping styles (also referred to as ‘coping skills’) and categorized as either active or avoidant. They can also be grouped into segments by coping type.

Coping Styles

Problem-Focused (a.k.a “Instrumental”): Expending energy and gearing your coping mechanisms to focus on the source of the stressor and find different ways to problem solve for what caused the original issue.

Emotion-Focused: Expending energy and gearing your coping mechanisms to focus on handling your emotions and feelings in reaction to the stressor.

Active or Avoidant

Active Coping: Involves an awareness of the problem or situation causing stress and conscious attempts to either reduce the resulting stress, eliminate the source of the stress, or both. (Positive Psychology)

Avoidant Coping: Characterized by ignoring and avoiding the problem or situation causing stress. Even if the person is aware of the problem, they may be in denial about its effects and are not taking active steps to solve the issue or reduce the stress caused.

It is worth noting that while active coping is a better overall strategy, there are instances (especially for short term coping) where avoidant coping may be useful to give the person some space and time to prepare for a more final coping solution.

Coping Type (from Positive Psychology)

  • Adaptive Mechanisms: Mechanisms in these groups are positive mechanisms that help people effectively deal with their stress.

  • Attack Mechanisms: These mechanisms attempt to displace the stress or discomfort a person is feeling onto another person or people.

  • Avoidance Mechanisms: As the name implies, these mechanisms involve avoiding the issues that are causing stress.

  • Behavioral Mechanisms: Behavioral coping mechanisms are attempts to change what the person does in order to more effectively deal with their stress.

  • Cognitive Mechanisms: Unlike behavioral mechanisms, cognitive mechanisms involve a person trying to change the way he or she thinks in order to deal with stress.

  • Conversion Mechanisms: These coping mechanisms are attempts to change or transform the problem into something else (e.g., focusing on the positive to make it a positive situation instead of a stressful one).

  • Defensive Mechanisms: Including denial, repression, projection, displacement, regression, rationalization, sublimation, reaction formation, compartmentalization, intellectualization

  • Self-Harm Mechanisms: These are the least effective of coping mechanisms, as they result in harm to ourselves

Coping Mechanisms

There are many different examples of coping mechanisms. It’s important to note not all coping mechanisms are effective; ineffective coping mechanisms, called maladaptive coping, may actually exacerbate the problem and cause additional lingering issues. Some of the more familiar coping mechanisms include: (adapted from UCLA)

Humor. Pointing out the amusing aspects of the problem at hand, or “positive reframing” of the situation. (Problem-Focused, Active, Adaptive, Cognitive, Conversion)

Seeking support. Asking for help, or finding emotional support from family members or friends. (Problem-Focused, Active, Adaptive)

Relaxation. Engaging in relaxing activities, or practicing calming techniques. (Emotion-Focused, Active, Adaptive)

Adjusting expectations. Anticipating various outcomes to scenarios in life may assist in preparing for the stress associated with any given change or event. (Problem-Focused, Active, Adaptive, Cognitive)

Denial. Denial is usually maintained by distractions, such as excessive alcohol consumption, overworking, or sleeping more than usual. (Emotion-Focused, Avoidant, Behavioral, Defensive - Maladaptive)

  • Self-Soothing. Behaviors that may turn into an unhealthy addiction if used improperly and/or too frequently (e.g. eating junk food, drinking alcohol, using drugs, playing video games)

Self-blame. Internalizing the issue, and blaming oneself beyond just taking responsibility for one's actions. (Problem-Focused, Active, Cognitive, Self-Harm - Maladaptive)

Venting. Venting is the outward expression of emotions, usually in the company of friends or family. In moderation it can be healthy; however, ruminating on the negative can lead to strained relationships over time. (Problem-Focused, Active, Defensive - Maladaptive)

Learning Healthy Coping Mechanisms

What is considered a “healthy” coping mechanism is very personal to the individual. In general, coping mechanisms that actively confront the stressor and help the individual to grow are ideal while those rooted in escaping the situation or numbing our emotional response are not.

There is a strong relationship between substance use and maladaptive coping mechanisms. In particular, alcohol -- which is legal and widely available -- is a behavior used for coping mechanisms like denial, avoidance, escapism, self-harm. Sadly, it is especially prevalent in the hospitality industry. Not only does the consumption of alcohol facilitate feelings of community and support when it's consumed, but it helps to calm us down, decompress, and as a depressant helps us feel more “relaxed”. Coping mechanisms that include substance use become problematic when it impedes on our ability to work, tend to our relationships, and complete everyday tasks.

Also worth noting is the differences between 1. substance misuse, using a substance in a way that’s not consistent with the legal or medical guidelines (e.g. using prescription painkillers recreationally), 2. substance abuse, when the use of a substance starts to impede everyday functioning (e.g. experiencing health issues, being unable to carry out everyday responsibilities, causing problems in relationships, and/or withdrawal symptoms) and 3. addiction, when an individual is physically dependent on a substance and seeks it out despite knowing its destructive properties, and sometimes even under dangerous conditions, while giving up other important aspects of their life (e.g. losing custody of a child, being fired and evicted).

When the coping mechanisms we default to inhibit personal growth, or make us feel even more unsettled or stressed, we must decide if we want to change them to be more beneficial. At this stage, you may want to take a deep breath and think about what you want to do in that moment and ask yourself some key questions:

  1. What is my current coping mechanism(s) of choice?

  2. Why is my current coping mechanism(s) harmful to me? What behaviors does it prompt, and what is the harm inflicted by those behaviors?

  3. How do I feel after I utilize my current coping mechanism(s)?

  4. How would I like to feel after using a different coping mechanism(s)?

  5. What types of coping mechanisms are available to me, that I gravitate towards?

  6. How can I implement these new coping mechanisms into my life?

Positive Coping Mechanisms & Behaviors

Positive coping, defined as coping mechanisms and styles that result in less stress and better emotional, physical, and mental health, are learned and built over time. It often requires a certain level of maturity and an ability to accept one’s own faults without resorting to self-blame. (Positive Psychology)

Below are some positive, healthy coping mechanisms and some corresponding behaviors. These are by no means exhaustive, but a good place to begin your journey in finding the right coping skills that work for your stressors.

Seeking support. Asking for help, or finding emotional support from family members or friends. (Problem-Focused, Active, Adaptive)

  • Finding a new therapist

  • Setting up a regular time to talk to close family or friends

  • Hiring a coach or some form of professional health

Relaxation. Engaging in relaxing activities, or practicing calming techniques. (Emotion-Focused, Active, Adaptive)

  • Meditation

  • Journaling

  • Squeezing a stress ball

  • Cooking a meal

  • Setting a bath

  • Practicing breathing exercises

  • Engaging in a hobby

  • Listening to music

Problem-solving. Focused on locating the source of the problem and determining solutions. (Problem-Focused, Active, Adaptive)

  • Establishing healthy boundaries (see here for our resources document about that)

  • Putting together action plans for certain stressors

  • Creating to-do lists

  • Learning different time management or productivity techniques

  • Learning positive self-talk

  • Reducing your workload

Physical recreation. Regular exercise, such as running, or team sports. (Emotion-Focused, Active, Adaptive, Behavioral)

  • Running

  • Sports

  • Yoga

  • Dance

  • Going for a walk

Once you’ve tried a new coping mechanism, consider how it made you feel if you enjoyed that feeling. What was the payoff in reduction of stress and anxiety versus the effort expended in engaging in the behavior? As you experiment over time, you’ll likely naturally gravitate towards a set of coping mechanisms that are most effective for you. Keep in mind these may change over time, so allow yourself flexibility in continuing to work different coping mechanisms into your everyday life.

Additional Mental Health & Coping Resources

Substance Abuse Helplines

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration Helpline operates 24/7 at 1-800-662-4357

Partnership for Drug Free Kids offers text, email or call scheduling

National Drug Helpline operates 24/7 at 1-844-289-0879

Other Helplines, Hotlines, Text & Chat Lines

National Suicide Prevention Hotline operates 24/7 at 800-273-8255. It is also available in Spanish and for the deaf or hard of hearing.

National Domestic Violence Hotline operates 24/7 at 1-800-799-7233. If you cannot speak safely, you can text LOVEIS to 22522 or log in online for a confidential chat. All services are available in Spanish.

California Warm Line operates 24/7 at 1-855-845-7415 for non-emergency mental and emotional support for California residents.

Teen Line operates 6-10pm PST at (800) TLC-TEEN or via text ("TEEN" to 839863).

The National Eating Disorders Association (NEDA) helpline operates Monday - Thursday 11am to 9pm ET, Friday 11am to 5pm ET. Online chat is available Monday - Thursday 9am to 9pm ET, Friday 9am to 5pm ET.

Los Angeles Department of Mental Health Access Line operates 24/7 at (800) 854-7771

New York City’s NYC Well Hotline operates 24/7 at 1-888-NYC-WELL or via text (WELL to 65173)

Crisis Text Line operates 24/7, text HOME to 741741

Chat & Support Groups

Supportiv: A free, 24/7, anonymous online peer support network chat group.

Bridge Club: An online and in-group support network for women and non-binary individuals interested in sobriety.

Project Return: A peer-to-peer support network for the greater Los Angeles area.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) NYC Metro Support Groups: Social and support groups in the great NYC area.

Online Resources & Directories

Help When You Need It: An online directory to find local listings of services (both private and public) such as domestic violence assistance, mental health services and more.

Psychology Today: A online media site and licensed therapist directory.

Calm: A mobile phone app offering select free meditations, sleep stories, movement exercises and music that can be soothing during this stressful time.

Coa: An online class network offering free classes to manage through COVID-19, led by therapists.

Affordable Therapy Options

NYC: Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy

Southern California: Southern California Counseling Center

Nationwide: Open Path Collective

Donate & Support

If you’ve enjoyed this Skillshare episode and want to give back to the community, we are raising money for Laura’s chosen charity Support Staff! You can donate via their page here.

If you are enjoying the Community Skillshare series and want to help our team at Studio ATAO, you can become a monthly patron of ours at Patreon or send us a one-time gift via GiveLively. We thank you for your support!

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