Coping Strategies for Difficult Times

Coping Strategies for Difficult Times

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What is a coping strategy?

A coping strategy is something a person does or thinks in a threatening situation to avoid negative impacts on their well-being. Here are some examples:

  • Mark tends to give Tina a lot of advice. It bothers Tina. In order to stop Mark from giving her advice, she says “Mark, it makes me feel stupid when you give me advice and that makes me angry. I’d appreciate it if you would stop.”

  • When Marie is under a lot of stress, she gets the urge to harm herself. To divert her attention and help relax, she goes online to watch funny videos and animal videos. Once she’s not stressed anymore, her desire to harm herself goes away.

  • At the end of the day, Peter often thinks about all the things he could have done better at work. That’s why he goes for a run first thing after getting home from work. It clears his mind and helps him have a more relaxed evening.

Everyone has their own strategies

Everyone has their own coping strategies. In fact, it can be helpful to have several as a single strategy may not work in all situations. A strategy that works for one person might not work for another.

If one strategy doesn’t work, try another. It’s important to try several and identify which ones work best. Here are some strategies categorized based on five needs:

  • Taking action
  • Calming down
  • Staying motivated
  • Surrounding yourself
  • Protecting yourself

Strategies to take action

Taking action can be helpful when dealing with difficult situations. Coping strategies for taking action are things you can do to make you feel better. Here are some examples:

  • Talk about what’s wrong rather than keeping it bottled up
  • Call someone you trust
  • Spend time with someone you trust
  • Get some exercise (walking, running, weight training, etc.)
  • Keep a journal
  • Use a punching bag or speed bag
  • Go shopping
  • Do some cleaning
  • Organize, sort, or put things away
  • Play basketball, kick a soccer ball, hit golf balls or baseballs
  • Write a letter or an email to someone (without necessarily sending it)
  • Dance
  • Go for a bike ride
  • Make or build something
  • Plan an event
  • Make something for someone you care about

Strategies to calm down

Calming down can be helpful when you’re feeling stressed and/or anxious. Coping strategies for calming down are things you can do to cool off or take your mind off things. Here are some examples:

To go out

  • Go see a movie
  • Go see a show
  • Go for a drive


To stay in

  • Watch a feel-good movie or TV show
  • Watch animal videos
  • Read a book
  • Listen to music
  • Play videogames
  • Take a nap
  • Cook


To enjoy the outdoors

  • Go to the park
  • Go for a hike in the forest
  • Do some gardening

To make art

  • Paint, draw, or make any kind of art
  • Play a musical instrument
  • Colour some pictures or mandalas
  • Sing
  • Knit, crochet, or sew
  • Memorize a poem, play, or song
  • Play with modelling clay or playdough


To do things that make you feel good

  • Do aromatherapy
  • Do some stretching, yoga, or Pilates
  • Make yourself a hot drink
  • Take a shower or bath
  • Play with or pet an animal
  • Put on makeup or do your nails
  • Make a list of your favourite songs


To take time to reconnect with yourself

  • Do breathing exercises (cardiac coherence)
  • Meditate
  • Do self-hypnosis
  • Pray
  • Gaze at the sky
  • Find a quiet place to think about the situation
  • Let yourself cry
  • Look at things with a sense of humour


To give your brain a workout:

  • Do a crossword, hidden word, or spot the difference puzzle, etc.
  • Play with blocks or do a puzzle
  • Play a board game

Strategies to stay motivated

Staying motivated can help boost morale when you are feeling depressed. Coping strategies for staying motivated are things you can do to improve your well-being. Here are some examples:

  • Dream about how you’d like to arrange the rooms in your house
  • Make a list of the important things in your life
  • Talk to someone you care about
  • Visualize life after the problem has been solved
  • Read inspiring stories
  • Watch an inspiring film
  • Visit a place of worship
  • Do a project that’s close to your heart
  • Make a list of your strengths

Strategies to surround yourself

Surrounding yourself with people you trust can be helpful in overcoming your problems. Coping strategies for surrounding yourself with the right people are things you can do to get support during difficult periods. Here are some examples:

  • Call a caring family member who’s ready to lend a helping hand
  • Spend time with a trusted friend who has a calming influence
  • Talk to a supportive colleague who can give good advice
  • Chat with a fellow support group member who has been through similar experiences and understands you
  • Contact a worker at a community organization or community services center (CLSC) who can help you see things from a different perspective

Strategies to protect yourself

It’s important to protect yourself when you feel you are in crisis or danger. Coping strategies for protecting yourself are things you can do to make sure you stay safe in difficult periods. Here are some examples:

  • Surround yourself with people you trust
  • Go to a public space
  • Visit a friend
  • Contact a suicide prevention centre
  • Contact a crisis centre
  • Go to a hospital or call 911
  • Use less alcohol
  • Use less drugs
  • Remove potential means of acting on suicidal thoughts

A tool for implementing strategies

The My Tools section can help you implement coping strategies to regain control and feel better in difficult times.