You know the movie (or book) “Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day”? I love that movie! So funny and relatable! Around the time the protagonist’s father catches his shirt sleeves on fire during a job interview and his brother spectacularly fails his driving test and totals the family car, I am laughing so hard I can’t breathe! Seriously, if you haven’t seen it you should watch it. Preferably at the end of a horrible day. You will soon be laughing and might decide your day wasn’t so bad after all.
Anyway, that’s kinda how my day felt today, starting off before the sun rose when I ran open-eyed into a pine tree branch! Ouch! As my day progressed it got me thinking about coping skills. Coping skills are so important, they are the foundation of self-care and something so fundamental to counseling that I raise the topic often with clients, sometimes multiple times a day in different sessions.
While there is often no behavior or action that can take away pain or fix all problems, coping skills are a great place to start. By learning new and varied coping skills and utilizing different approaches to manage difficult, stressful, depressing or even traumatic situations, you take a little more ownership of your experience which can be empowering as well as comforting.
Coping skills are as varied and individualized as people. From watching TV, to cleaning or organizing, to taking a bubble bath or deep breathing, there are lots of different ways to cope with life in a healthy way. There are also some not so healthy ways to cope such as overeating, compulsive spending, or using drugs or alcohol. But that’s a topic for another blog post. I love watching the way the family copes in “Alexander:” they kick some things around and acknowledge how awful their day was without judgment, blame or minimization (I’m not sure how much the restaurant owners appreciated their trash cans being kicked around, but hey, I’m not judging). They express empathy and support for each other and then move on and try to make the best of it. They use coping skills!
This is actually very similar to a very basic but powerful coping skill that I often encourage clients to work on because it helps increase self-awareness, self-acceptance and self-care (yes, that’s a lot of “self”…which is exactly the point!). I encourage them to ask themselves a simple question multiple times throughout the day: “What am I feeling and what do I need?” After identifying the emotion with clarity, next, honor and accept the feeling without judgement. Without judgement means acknowledging that your emotion is neither good nor bad, neither is it weak or stupid to feel that way. It is simply a human emotion. Next, decide what you need in that moment. Do you need a nap? Do you need to cry? Do you need a vacation? Or do you need to resolve an argument? It’ll be different for different situations. Experiment. Try something new, it might work wonderfully! And if not, try something else!
When my day started with an eye-full of pine needles at the crack of dawn, what I needed in that moment was to stop for a minute or two (an obvious choice as I was temporarily blinded!) to get re-orientated and acknowledge how much that hurt and was exceedingly unpleasant. When you nearly lose an eye, what do you need? What is your best coping skill?