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Coping Skills Training


Healthy coping skills can help anyone deal with stressful situations in life. Managing stress improves physical and psychological health and affects one’s ability to perform well. 

Coping Skills Training helps individuals manage uncomfortable or anxiety-provoking situations, ranging from normal problems (test taking, giving a public talk, getting a divorce) to diagnosed disorders (severe anxiety, phobias, PTSD). 

Certain coping strategies work best for specific issues or emotions, but may not work the same way for different people or for different problems. Going for a walk might help one person calm down, but lead to another’s obsessing about the problem; or the walk may work when sad, but not when angry.

Candidates for CST are those struggling to practice healthy coping skills or find themselves relying on unhealthy coping skills. A therapist can work with a client to develop healthy coping skills tailored to the situation. Taught skills can not only calm stress without avoiding the issue, but can also be used throughout life. 

Approaches to coping skills training 

There are two approaches to healthy coping skills: emotion-focused or problem-focused. Choosing the right approach often depends on the situation and one’s specific needs in the moment. 

  • Emotion-focused coping helps individuals deal with difficult feelings in ways that may soothe, temporarily distract or minimize distress, especially when changing the circumstances is not feasible. A woman grieving the loss of a loved one cannot undo the loss, but can look after herself in a healthy way. It’s also important to understand, while relieving distress makes sense, coping strategies should be more than distractions from reality. Instead, they can help change one’s mood.
  • Problem-focused coping helps eliminate or minimize stress either by changing a circumstance, removing something stressful from one’s life; or by changing a behavior to address a problem head-on. 

Emotion-Focused Coping Skills

Problem-Focused Coping Skills

Caring for oneself, such as spending time in nature, taking a bath, drinking tea or getting a haircut.

Exercising or engaging in activity, something enjoyable like taking a walk, doing yoga or playing a sport, reading a book, listening to music; or task-oriented, like cleaning the house, weeding the garden or cooking a meal.

Practice mindfulness and use relaxation strategies, including listing what one is grateful for, looking at vacation pictures, playing with a pet or writing in a journal; or practicing meditation, breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation

Asking for support from family, friends or professionals

Creating a to-do list

Engaging in problem-solving and establishing healthy boundaries

Walking away and leaving a stress-inducing situation

Working on better time-management


Coping skills are often more reactive to situations as they occur. One feels bad, one does something to cope. Research shows, however, proactive strategies can more effectively anticipate and then manage future obstacles. Proactive coping has been found to be an effective way to help people deal with both predictable changes, like a decline in income during retirement, and unpredictable ones, like the onset of a chronic health condition.

Proactive coping

Proactive coping is planning ahead and considering useful skills for coping with stressful life events or undergoing a major change. With advance preparation, people can rely on coping skills to cope with circumstances that might be derailing and thus feel better equipped to effectively manage future obstacles. Proactive coping can also be used to deal with unexpected life changes, such as a major change in health. 

Unhealthy coping skills to avoid

Coping skills that provide momentary relief can create bigger problems. Examples of unhealthy coping skills:

Drinking alcohol or using drugs: Substances may temporarily numb one’s pain, but are more likely to introduce new problems. 

Overeating: Food is a common coping strategy, but can also lead to an unhealthy relationship with food and health issues. 

Sleeping too much: Sleeping offers a temporary escape without resolving the problem.

Venting to others: Talking to close family or friends is a healthy way to gain support, develop a solution or gain perspective. Research shows, however, repeatedly venting can keep one stuck in a place of pain.

Overspending: For some, “retail therapy” may be a way to feel better, but for others shopping can become unhealthy.

Avoiding: Healthy coping strategies can become unhealthy if used to avoid the problem.

Learn more about Behavior Therapies offered at CFI…



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