Coping skills. This is a term heard every day in mental health circles when trying to get a handle on anxiety problems. But what are coping skills? What are they designed to do? Do we really want or need them?

Traditionally, the most common coping skills are all targeted at helping you escape the discomfort, fear and distress of anxiety. They may try to distract you, “ground” you, or help you find assistance from people that will help you get away from the anxiety or panic situation. They are offered with the best of intentions, but special evasive maneuvers designed to get you out of an anxious state or to help you “make it” through another panic attack are not really the best options when it comes to long term, durable recovery.

Episode Highlights:

  • (01:40)…What exactly are coping skills?  Traditionally, coping skills are skills, techniques, tips, tricks, rituals, etc that may have been given to you or taught to you by a therapist, counselor, authors or doctors. They are in most cases designed to be used during periods of anxiety, distress, discomfort or fear. 
  • (02:35)…What are coping skills used for?  In most cases, they are used in an attempt to help you stop or get through an anxiety or panic attack. They are designed to help you to feel better quickly.  If ever tried “five ways to stop a panic attack”, ways to ground yourself, repeating mantras, distracting yourself with mints or cold water, or calling a friend to “talk to you down”, you’re familiar with popular coping skills.
  • (04:15)…The grounding method of coping is actually a very good one, particularly for people who may need help emotionally regulating or sometimes have trouble staying in the here and now, but it is often misapplied in the realm of panic attacks and panic disorder and then becomes a counterproductive escape and avoidance mechanism.
  • (05:05)…Most of the coping skills that you are taught or given in the online mental health community are things that will help you prevent, reduce the severity of or help you “talk yourself out of” anxiety or panic.  Is this a bad thing?  No. HOWEVER, if your goal is to RECOVER and not simply to handle, deal or cope with each anxiety episode as they come, these coping skills might not necessarily be helping you reach your long term recovery goals. 
  • (07:00)…When we realize that what we are going through is just a misdirected threat response, we can choose if we want to use coping skills to get us out of that panic quickly OR we can choose to learn how to more effectively navigate our way through anxiety or panic. The latter guides us to a place of more lasting recovery where we learn that we are capable of getting through these attacks on our own.
  • (08:42)…“In my own recovery, I can tell you that coping skills were not helping me AT ALL.” 
  • (09:40)…If you have been trying to use traditional coping skills but are feeling like you are only managing to crawl out of each panic attack, you are probably ready for something more effective and durable than just coping skills. 
  • (11:25)…So, what is more helpful than coping skills? How do we find more durable recovery? Going through the fear/anxiety/panic. The first time you drop the coping skills and you actually work through the fear, that feeling can be amazing. You navigated through it to the other side and now you know you are capable of getting through the fear on your own. That’s what we’re looking for in recovery. 
  • (12:45)…Rather than coping, we focus on the terms: willfully tolerate, acceptance, floating, or surrenderInstead of saying “I’ll use all my coping skills to get through my next panic attack.” , try saying, “I’m just going to surrender to it and let it do what it needs to do.”  Naturally, the anxiety cycle rises, peaks and then falls. 
  • (14:40)…Coping skills attempt to escape from anxiety and try to make it stop each time you panic (temporary relief).  Surrendering teaches us that we are capable of making it through the other side of fear and panic (durable recovery). 
  • (16:00)…It’s harder to not use the coping skills, but the lesson is more valuable and leads to a more productive recovery. 


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Podcast Intro/Outro Music: "Afterglow" by Ben Drake (With Permission)






Founder and host of The Anxious Truth podcast. Therapist-in-training specializing in anxiety and anxiety disorders. Author. Podcaster. Educator. Advocate. Former anxious person.