10 Healthy Coping Skills
When you are having an intense emotion, it can be hard to know what to do. Unfortunately, many people with BPD turn to unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to cope with emotional pain (e.g., sex addiction, obsessive pornography, self-harm, substance use, or aggression). Want to replace unhealthy habits with new, healthier skills? Try some of the coping skills listed below.
1. Play Music
Play music that creates an emotion that is the opposite of the one you are struggling with. For example, if you are feeling very sad, play happy, upbeat music. If you are feeling anxious, play slow, relaxing music.
2. Do Something
Engage in a highly engaging activity. Television or computer activities do not count here — these are too passive. Instead, take a walk, dance, clean your house, or do some other activity that gets you engaged and distracts you from your current emotions.
3. Call Someone
Reaching out to others can really help when you are struggling with strong emotions. Call a supportive friend or family member. If you don’t have someone in mind that is supportive, call a helpline (for example, in the U.S. you can call the National Suicide Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK).
Are you a religious or spiritual person? If you are (or even if you’re not but have considered trying), praying can be tremendously helpful in times of extreme stress.
5. Ride It Out
The peak of most strong emotional reactions (and the urges to engage in harmful activities, like self-harming or drinking, that can go along with these reactions) last for a few minutes and then begin to subside. Grab an egg timer from the kitchen, and set it for 10 minutes. Wait the 10 minutes, and practice riding out the emotion.
6. Be Mindful
Practice mindfulness of your emotion. Notice the emotion you are having, and let yourself experience it as a wave, without trying to block it, suppress it, or hold on to it. Try to accept the emotion for what it is.
7. Breathe Deeply
Sit or lie somewhere quiet and bring your attention to your breathing. Breathe evenly, slowly, and deeply. Watch your stomach rise and fall with each breath.
8. Take a Warm Bath or Shower
Try to lose yourself in the sensations of the warm water, the smell of the soap, etc. Allow the sensations to distract you from the situation you are upset about.
9. Ground Yourself
When emotions seem to be taking you out of the current moment (e.g., you are starting to feel “zoned out” or can’t see anything else going on at the moment), do something to ground yourself. Grab an ice cube and hold it in your hand for a few moments, snap a rubber band against your wrist, “snap yourself back” into the moment.
10. Help Someone Else
Do something nice for someone else. It doesn’t have to be something big; you can walk to the nearest store, buy a pack of gum, and give the cashier a smile and say “have a great day.” It may sound silly, but small gestures like this can really reduce emotional pain.
I realized recently that I’ve been afraid to let go of my addictions.
For most of my life I’ve depended on them for immediate relief from stress, anger, loneliness, boredom, anxiety, fear, and the list goes on. My addictions were reliably consistent—I always felt relief when I acted out. Of course, that relief was fleeting and was always quickly replaced by remorse, self-loathing, and an increase of everything I was trying to avoid in the first place.
I think my addictions are like hot water. Life happens and sometimes it stinks. Sometimes it really hurts. It’s as if the pain of this life makes me feel cold and desperate for warmth. As it turns out, hot water feels pretty darn amazing when I’m cold.
When I take a hot shower on a cold winter morning I like to take my time. It feels great. Why would I ever want to step out of that warm shower?
My addictions have been my hot shower. I’ve become completely dependent on them. I’ve used them—pornography, lust, and sex—in a futile attempt to warm my soul from the cold pains of my life.
Turns out hot water is not a good way to stay warm.
Hot water only warms me so long as I’m immersed or doused in it. The second I step out of my warm shower, the warmth immediately begins to leave my body. In fact, the warmth leaves my body faster than it would have otherwise. It leaves faster because my body is wet.
When my addictions were at their worst, I was desperately trying to stay in my warm shower as constantly as possible. I didn’t know how to deal with life any other way. When I attempted to abstain from my hot shower the cold quickly became unbearable. I thought I needed the hot water and couldn’t survive without it.
Today I know that my God has the power to keep me warm. He has the power to calm my soul and soothe my wounds.
Yes, I could turn to my addictions for a quick hot shower. Such a course of action would be a guaranteed instant fix… except for the part when the hot shower ends and I suddenly find myself bare, exposed, and freezing. When that happens, I’ve historically done one of two things out of desperation: turn on the hot water again, or turn to my God for warmth and healing.
Today I truly stand all amazed at the love Jesus offers me. He never turns me away from His warmth. He never tells me to go away. He is always there for me when I sincerely seek Him.
Today I am warm and I am learning to depend on my God for warmth, strength, and health. I need Him! I need Him more than I need my addictions. My addictions will never warm me or take care of me the way my God does. My Heavenly Father loves me infinitely and eternally.
Looking back, I do feel regret that I didn’t learn this sooner. But I also feel so grateful that I know it now. I feel so grateful that my Father in Heaven has never and will never give up on me. He’ll never abandon me. I struggle to express what that means to me. It’s changed my life.
I no longer depend on hot showers for warmth. Today I depend on my God, and He always provides. I love Him!