Self-care and coping skills are both extremely important when it comes to managing your mental health. Both are similar yet used in very different ways.
Self-care is described as actions we take to tend to our emotional, physical, social, spiritual, and mental health needs. Sounds easy huh? But to a person who is struggling with managing their mental health needs this very simple concept can be one that is often overlooked or seems overwhelming.
Let's look at each self-care domain and develop a better understanding as to how it impacts us.
Emotional Self-care: involves acknowledging and processing through what we are feeling. It involves utilizing healthy skills to process difficult emotions such as anger, sadness or loneliness. It also involves being able to establish and maintain healthy emotional boundaries with others. Boundaries that don't drain us but instead help to motivate us to continue focusing on our overall mental wellbeing. Relationships that are not high maintenance but can sustain themselves without the need for constant attention. Relationships that encourage us to be a better version of ourselves and challenge our comfort zones.
Physical Self-care: this involves taking care of our bodies. We can do this by eating healthy and exercising on a regular basis. We also take care of our physical bodies by going to routine medical physicals and taking our medications as prescribed.
Social Self-care: this involves having a healthy social life with a good support network of friends. We need to make time to foster and maintain our friendships.
Spiritual Self-care: this involves engaging in any activities that enhance our connection to the universe through spirituality or feelings of connectedness. For those who are not religious, I think doing activities that give you a feeling of connectedness to the community will also work. Activities such as volunteering or participating in community events.
Mental Self-care: this involves doing activities/puzzles that help to keep us mentally sharp. This can include learning new things, reading books, or watching some great shows.
Ok, we've reviewed Self-care but haven't identified why it's important to our overall mental health. This where I like to use the analogy of self-care being like a suit of armor. By being consistent with your self-care, you build a suit of armor around you that is made out of positive energy, and that armor protects you from the attacks of negativity that life swings our way. It helps to keep you in a more positive atmosphere so things are not as overwhelming.
So what are coping skills and what role do they play in improving our mental health?
Coping skills are strategies, tools, or talents that are used to manage difficult situations and/or feelings. Coping skills are split into two focus groups. These two groups are emotionally focused coping skills and problem-focused coping skills.
Emotionally focused coping skills are skills that are designed to address the emotional responses to negative incidents. Whereas problem-focused coping skills are skills utilized to help with processing problems.
Coping skills fall into six different categories and can be utilized to address emotional focused or problem-focused situations. Self-soothing, distraction, opposite-action, emotional awareness, mindfulness, and crisis plan are the types of coping skills groups that we will explore.
Self-soothing: These are coping skills that involve the five senses. These can include carrying an essential oil of your favorite scent, going outside to feel the warmth of the sun or the breeze on your face or in your hair. It could be keeping a small textured object handy and fiddling with it when experiencing a negative event. I believe that self-soothing coping skills are more effective in emotionally focused situations.
Distraction: These coping skills are ones that are designed to distract your mind from focussing on the stressing event. Some examples include: doing puzzles, counting steps, spelling words backward, or watching a good movie or show. I believe that this skill can help with both, emotionally focused and problem-focused situations. It is a technique to distract us so that we can regroup and process either with a fresh mind.
Opposite-action: This coping skills style deals with doing the opposite of what it is that you are experiencing. An example would be using affirmations to counter your internal dialog or looking at art or inspirational quotes. I believe that this type of coping skill is good for emotional focus situations.
Emotional awareness: These coping skills deal with identifying and processing your emotions. These skills include journaling, mood monitoring, making lists, or doing art activities. This type of coping skill could be useful for both emotional focus and problem-focused incidents. Writing things out or making lists can be very useful and helpful in coping with difficult situations.
Mindfulness: These coping skills involve centering, grounding and/or taking time to be in the present moment. Some examples include yoga, meditation, or grounding exercises. These coping skills can be useful for both emotional focus and problem focus situations. This style of coping gives you the opportunity to put things into perspective.
Crisis plan: This involves having a detailed plan of action to take when emotions and/or problems become overwhelming. It involves having identified individuals to reach out to for assistance and where to go for help in emergency situations. This coping skill is used for extreme situations where one begins to have thoughts of hurting oneself or others.
So, let’s revisit the analogy of self-care being like a suit of armor. Coping skills would be like a shield. A shield designed to protect you from negative and overwhelming situations. The coping skills not only block the blows of negativity but offer you the ability to strike back.
As you can see, self-care and coping skills are different in nature but work perfectly together to help you become a warrior with managing your mental health.