By: Ema Gavrilovic, LPC

Coping skills is a term that is you hear often in a counseling session. We hear teachers using them in the classroom to manage students who throw tantrums (“Use your emotion flash cards, Johnny”). We hear parents using them to respond fairly to unruly children (“We’ll have a discussion about your behavior after dinner once we are full”). We also hear counselors asking us what coping skills we like to use (“How do you tend to relax after this stressful incident?”). Everybody uses some form of coping skills even if the terminology is unknown. So, what exactly is a coping skill and how can we benefit?

In this series of blog posts, I will talk about coping skills and what they are, how they are used, and when they are beneficial to use. There are many forms of coping skills, but not all coping skill activities benefit everyone. In fact, choosing the right set of coping skills may differ in certain situations depending on the length of time, setting, amount of people present, and the level of stress the event causes. Choosing coping activities that speak to us and ones we are comfortable with using can take a bit of trial and error, but that’s where the joy in learning about ourselves comes into play. Afterall, utilizing ways to cope means different things for different people, depending on their habits, lifestyle, and unique situation.

These activities are generally used quickly in the heat of the moment to destress from a high-adrenaline, high anxiety situation. In general, coping skills that may resonate with the majority of people include meditation or deep breathing, meeting with friends or a support group, exercise, and journaling. Coping skills can be as small a commitment as counting backwards from ten, taking deep breaths to calm down during a stressful situation, and focusing on the countdown instead of the stressful event. They can also be as large as taking a week-long vacation to get away from the immediate event. People cope differently, and certain situations call for different skill sets. Is taking a few days off from responsibilities possible? If yes, then perhaps the coping skill of traveling to escape from a stressful setting and to rebalance away from the usual location may come in handy. If using a lengthy break to recuperate is not possible at the moment, then perhaps something smaller, such as prioritizing time for a hectic schedule to trek through the local forest preserve could be a great option. But what exactly does travel or outdoor nature time have to do with coping skills?

Coping skills is another phrase for self-care.  The ability to appreciate the self through the act of giving ourselves a respite from everyday stressful situations reflects the times we find methods to cope to allow our nervous systems to remember to breathe and relax immediately after or even during a disturbing situation. Thus, these two terms compliment each other. The difference between self-care and coping skills is that the latter can be utilized for stressful situations for immediate gain; to feel less pressured and to decrease mental and bodily tension quickly, to increase mental focus by taking a moment to recover, and to stay focused in a healthy way on the task at hand. Whereas the former is seen as a longer term, preventative approach to mental and bodily repercussions as a result of a busy and stressful lifestyle; self-care acts as a buffer to mental instability and promotes resiliency for future stressful situations through a continuous approach on wellness, and it could mean performing a self-care routine daily, weekly, and not just right after a stressor. Whether that would look like training in hobbies, traveling on the weekends, taking walks in nature, or pampering ourselves, just like coping skills, everyone has the ability to find a unique self-care routine. Of course, to cope with stressors, these self-care activities can compliment our coping skills “toolbox,” such as leaving a stressful situation to take a walk outside, and to come back 15 minutes later with a more level-headed approach.  

In the next blog post, I continue with the coping skills theme and go in-depth on the different types and ways to utilize them. If you’d like to try your hand on coping skills, don’t hesitate to schedule your free 15 minute phone consultation with Owens today! Just call (847) 854-4333 or email the office staff at We look forward to introducing a coping skills session for you!

Ema is accepting new clients at the Lake in the Hills, Warrenville, St. Charles and Schaumburg locations.  She can be reached at or by phone at (847) 854-4333 extension 3015.