Self Care vs Coping Skills: What are the Differences and How They Help

Sarah-Valin Bloom, LCSW

Quartet Health Clinical Director

April 30, 2020

Self care routines are always important, but times of prolonged stress or disrupted access to our regular routines highlight the value of maintaining consistent self care. Self care can be defined as any healthy, deliberate activity intended to nourish your mental, emotional, and/or physical wellbeing. Self care is something that we do regularly to help maintain optimal health and wellness in all aspects of our life.

Coping skills may be an integral part of a self care routine, but there are differences between the two. Coping skills are activities or behaviors we have learned, or may do naturally, that we utilize in the moment to help manage stressful situations or overwhelming emotions. Regularly utilizing healthy coping skills is an integral part of a self-care routine.

Developing a Self Care Routine that Works For You

Self care should be personalized to meet your specific needs. What works for one person may not work, or be relevant, for another. When you first begin, think of those things you find most helpful or valuable. Then consider your lifestyle and what you can reasonably sustain. The initial focus may simply be starting a routine. Over time, the addition of various self care strategies may enhance your feelings of optimal health and help maintain it. It is important to note that self care routines may change, as your needs and lifestyle change. Your goal is always to keep a balance of all your systems — mental, emotional, and physical.

Thinking About Your “Go To” Coping Skills

Coping skills are the tools that people use to help manage and navigate stressful situations or moments of being overwhelmed. A commitment to regularly utilizing healthy coping skills is an important and integral part of self-care. People often default to the skills they practice regularly; those most accessible. This is why it is important to cultivate healthy skills during moments that feel more manageable. When we are under stress, we default to old or easy patterns. Sometimes, those “easy escapes” can prove harmful in the long term, including excessive TV watching, spending, substance use, food, shutting down, or lashing out. If you find yourself using these activities in excess in an effort to feel better or manage stress, it is important to think of healthy alternatives that you can reasonably access and start to practice right away. If some of these less healthy habits feel like too much to tackle alone, reach out for support through friends, family, and/or a mental health professional.

When thinking about the self care routine and coping skills you would like to use or develop, the most important thing to consider is what works best for YOU! Be kind and have compassion for yourself as you build these things into your day-to-day. Keep in mind that it is helpful to be as consistent as possible. With practice your default becomes the healthy skills and activities you have cultivated. Below are some examples to consider. A link to some wonderful videos that can serve as great support when managing anxiety and other stressful emotions is also included.

Examples of Self-Care

  • Maintaining healthy boundaries with others
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Regular movement — some form of exercise (can be as simple as walking)
  • Eating nutritious foods and balanced meals
  • Keeping scheduled therapy or other appointments
  • Taking prescribed medications regularly, as directed

Examples of Healthy Coping Skills

  • Taking a deep breath and counting to ten before responding
  • Stepping away and taking space to collect your thoughts
  • Reaching out to a friend, family member, or therapist for support
  • Using distractions to keep your mind busy elsewhere (reading, craft projects, cooking, etc.)
  • Link to free Toolbox Series resources from Debbie Augethaler

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