For the past few years, I have had the honor of volunteering at Adam’s Place, a southern Nevada non-profit group helping children to deal with loss. I work with the adults who have the love and foresight to introduce their kids to the support they can find at Adam’s Place.
Some of the liveliest discussions our group of adults has had over the years concern the topic of coping skills for their grieving children. And guess what? The adults often realize that their own coping skills can also benefit by a tune-up.
To be clear, coping skills help us to handle difficult emotions. They help us tolerate, minimize, and generally deal with stress so that we may achieve a sense of mental or internal order. This is especially relevant right now, when many of us are feeling fatigued by the current events that may be out of our own control.
We all need to access coping skills regardless of what we’re feeling, and why. Before I begin to focus on positive coping skills, I want to discuss some adverse, negative coping skills. I’ve learned from the adults in my various groups that sometimes their children dealt with the grief of loss by overeating, by not doing their homework, or by withdrawing from the rest of the family. One mother shared that her young daughter stopped laughing because her daddy died, and “he couldn’t laugh any more.” As adults, we sometimes make less-than-stellar choices when it comes to our own coping skills. Pretty much anything done in excess can be considered a negative coping skill, like hoarding, gambling, or shopping on Amazon. Believe it or not, even vodka or chocolate can be negative coping skills.
It is therefore imperative that we learn and even more importantly, apply positive coping skills to process our feelings. Here are a few examples that might just work for you, or for your children:
- Practice deep breathing
- Go for a brisk 10 minute walk
- Compliment someone
- Write in a journal
- Scream into a pillow
- Take photos of flowers
- Color or do a jigsaw puzzle
- Rearrange the furniture, or a closet, or a drawer
- Jump rope
Different coping skills work for different people, and for managing different emotions. During the most stressful times in my own life, I’ve found that writing in a journal has been the most effective way for me to transfer feelings out of my mind and onto paper. Writing at night relaxes my brain so that I can more easily fall asleep.
We each need to fill our own toolboxes with coping skills that we can rely upon for a variety of situations. It’s not always feasible to go for a run or take a yoga class, nor would it make sense to close our eyes and breathe deeply while we’re driving in bumper-to-bumper traffic. It’s a trial-and-error, case-by-case situation. Translation? Try something and if it works, keep doing it. If it doesn’t, try something else.
Above all, treat yourself gently.