Recently, Solange dropped her latest project, “A Seat at the Table.” The sultry cut, “Cranes in the Sky,” had my Facebook timeline buzzing. After watching the video, I understood why everyone was going crazy. The melody was catchy, the vocals were beautiful, the visuals were creative, the words were relevant and spoke to an important topic; finding ways to cope with sadness.
It’s great that everyone loves this song because it’s powerful and my hope is that you take a deeper look at the valuable message found within the words. Healthy coping skills can be instrumental in finding restoration while unhealthy coping can be dangerous. To bring a professional perspective, I interviewed Dr. Vernée Anthony, PsyD, a licensed clinical psychologist, to discuss coping skills more in depth. Check it out below.
What are coping skills?
Dr V: Coping skills are techniques that we use to improve and/or avoid emotional and physical states that feel uncomfortable to us. We don’t typically enjoy experiencing sadness, rejection, physical and/or emotional pain, etc. As an attempt to change those feelings to more tolerable or enjoyable feelings (e.g. contentment or happiness), we cope by calling a friend, having a drink, isolating ourselves, or going for a run. There are many ways to cope. Some coping strategies are quite healthy and others can be detrimental.
Does coping mean that you’re avoiding the issue?
Dr. V: Sometimes, yes. Distraction is one of many coping strategies. If utilized appropriately, a distraction method can be quite appropriate and beneficial. For example, if you have a breakup with a boyfriend or girlfriend, it might not be the most appropriate time to address your emotions while in a professional setting such as work or while with a client. Sometimes it is appropriate to distract yourself until you have a more suitable time to explore your feelings.
Avoidance can also become problematic as a coping strategy, especially when used in excess. For example, substance use comes to mind. When I help individuals identify what elicits their substance use, it is often an attempt avoid emotions that feel uncomfortable and intolerable (e.g. guilt, despair, loneliness, etc.). This avoidance technique may provide temporary relief or escape. However, unfortunately, the situation that triggered the emotion typically doesn’t disappear and the feelings eventually return. You should seek professional help if the avoidance strategy (e.g. shopping, gambling, sex, etc.) is used so frequently that you lose awareness of your emotions, lose contact with your reality, it becomes an addiction, and/or it begins to have a detrimental effect on other areas in your life (e.g. relationships, employment, finances, etc).
What if your coping skills aren’t working?
Dr. V: If a particular coping strategy doesn’t work for you, try another (healthy) strategy. Sometimes you have to try several different techniques before you find the most effective strategy for you. Be patient with yourself. Skillful coping takes practice.
If you start to run out of ideas, you can independently research coping strategies online, read a self-help book, or seek a therapist for professional help. You don’t have to be in crisis or have a severe mental health issues to use the help of a professional. Whatever you decide to do, just don’t give up.
What is mindfulness?
Dr. V: Mindfulness is the practice of being in the “here and now.” It is a fantastic and healthy coping strategy. When practicing mindfulness techniques, you are not thinking about your past or future. You’re not making interpretations or judgments. Nothing is good or bad. It just is. You are consciously present. You are just being.
We are often distracted by thoughts or in a hurry to complete the next task on our to-do list. If you’re outside walking to your car and not conscious of the present moment you may not notice the cool breeze or warn sun rays on your skin and you might not take in the smell of roses in perfect bloom. Mindfulness can calm anxiety, invite peace, and help you appreciate otherwise missed moments. Conscious deep breathing is also a very effective mindfulness technique. You can take deep breaths, bring oxygen into your body, consciously slow your mind down, and appreciate the moment no matter where you are. Don’t forget, effective use of this skill takes practice, so be patient with yourself.
What are some healthy coping skills?
- Utilize your support system – Ask for help, talk to someone you trust, etc.
- Utilize your higher power/spirituality – Pray, meditate, trust the journey, etc.
- Let it out– Cry, write about it, sing, exercise, etc.
- Self care – Get a massage, eat your favorite healthy food, reward yourself, take a break, etc.
- Problem solve – List your options, set an action plan, etc.
- Distract– read, play video games, exercise, watch a movie, listen to music, etc.
- Reframe your thoughts – Give yourself positive affirmations, talk yourself through it, read a positive quote, praise yourself, etc.
- Increase your awareness and acceptance of your emotions – Focus on the now, see a therapist, read a self-help book, be patient with yourself, be compassionate for yourself, etc.
About Dr. Vernée Anthony, PsyD
Vernée Anthony, PsyD “Dr. V” is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist at the Atlanta VA Medical Center where she helped develop and open the Atlanta VA’s first Substance Use Disorder Domiciliary that activated early October 2016. Dr. V graduated with her PsyD in clinical psychology from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology at Argosy University in Atlanta, Georgia and completed the postdoctoral fellowship program at the G.V (Sonny) Montgomery VA Medical Center in Jackson , Mississippi. While working in the infectious disease clinic and residential substance use treatment program, Dr. V developed the Collaborative Care Model that significantly increased referrals from the residential substance use treatment program to the infectious disease clinic. Her clinical expertise and research interests include; program development and working with underserved populations such as older adults, individuals who are affected and effected by infectious diseases, and Veterans who suffer from substance use disorders.