Welcome to our special section, Thrive on Campus, devoted to covering the urgent issue of mental health among college and university students from all angles. If you are a college student, we invite you to apply to be an Editor-at-Large, or to simply contribute (please tag your pieces ThriveOnCampus). We welcome faculty, clinicians, and graduates to contribute as well. Read more here.
What’s your favourite coping skill? Video games? Jogging? Taking a nap? Each of us have our own repertoire of coping skills which we use to help us cope better with difficult situations, whether it’s extreme boredom, an urge to self-harm, or anxiety before a class presentation. Although the seriousness of the situations and their impact may vary individually, experience tells me that there’s a surprising overlap in what we find helpful.
In one of my volunteer roles as Crisis Counselor with Crisis Text Line, ‘99 Coping Skills’ is one of my go-to referral resources to share with texters. Think that’s a whole lot of coping skills? Not so, because most of our toolboxes are filled with a variety of coping skills, and even our favourite coping skill likely won’t be equally helpful in all situations. I recently pulled up this list to see how many of the 99 coping skills I had used myself or am still using, and the results surprised me. So I’m sharing the list with you (with added commentaries from yours truly). Here are the next 10 on the list:
12. Paint your nails, do your make-up or hair.
I can’t say that any one of these has ever been my personal coping skill, but I’ve heard they can do wonders to shift your mood. And I can see they are relatively inexpensive, too. For me, getting a haircut comes pretty close, because hair can be a powerful and effective means of expression and a minor change can make a huge difference in how we look (and how others see us, for better or worse). I remember dreaming about having blond hair in my early teen years (please don’t ask me why). A few years later, I got my wish when I had my hair dyed platinum blond—the best thing I’ve ever done in my entire life!
I love singing. Although there aren’t too many career paths I’ve never considered, for many years I thought I was pretty much destined for a career in entertainment. My ‘singing’ has gone through numerous phases over the years, but in recent years I’ve had certain songs stuck in my head which then would play on repeat for hours. In other words, I rarely sing out loud these days, but there’s something to be said about the joy from belting out a song at the top of my lungs. Maybe I should do that today…
14. Study the sky.
I’m a night person, so perhaps looking up at the night sky would be best for me. Actually, visualising a pitch-dark night sky in my head is my go-to trick to fall asleep. You could say that it soothes me. It certainly takes me away, albeit temporarily, from whatever troubles me on the ground, under the sky. Oh, I don’t need a telescope, by the way. I just use my imagination.
15. Punch a punching bag.
I think I used to have a toy, which was basically a standing, air-filled punching bag that keeps bouncing back. Often it bounced back way more quickly than I could knock it back so it would hit me in the face, but it was super fun nonetheless. I feel like punching a punching bag as an adult is much more intentional though, and it can be an effective exercise and stress reliever, in the same realm as martial arts.
16. Cover yourself with Band-Aids where you want to cut.
I personally haven’t used this coping skill, but would be interested in hearing from others who have.
17. Let yourself cry.
Firstly, I have no trouble letting myself cry, although it’s been a while since the last time I really, truly cried. Grief comes to mind, especially for men (“boys don’t cry,” anyone?). I don’t know about anyone else, but the times I’ve cried in the past, it was my natural reaction or response to something, like a movie, a story, or an event. In other words, it simply happened, just like I’d laugh at a joke. And each time I cried, my mood changed for the better. So there.
18. Take a nap (only if you are tired).
For this PA student, sleep is most certainly a precious commodity, and even more so these past few weeks as our cohort is less than three weeks away from starting our clinical rotations. Talk about being simultaneously excited and terrified! I rarely have time for a nap, but when I do, there are certain rules for making the most of it: no more than one hour, and rarely past late afternoon. Still, taking a nap can be hit and miss for me because more often than I like, I’d wake up feeling groggy and no better than before. But when it works, just 30 minutes of nap can make me feel so refreshed and re-energised.
19. Take a hot shower or relaxing bath.
To be frank, I’ve never been a bath person, or for a hot shower for that matter. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was in a bathtub. But interestingly, I can see the appeal of a “relaxing” bath enhanced apparently with the use of scented candles and extra bubbles (yes, I’ve seen this in movies countless times).
20. Play with a pet.
Let me see…in my book, having a pet is much like having a baby because with either, you have a very real and serious responsibility to do all you can to take care of another life. In other words, it’s unlikely that I’ll be putting myself in charge of caring for either anytime soon. But please don’t let this put you off adopting a pup or a kitten, because they’re often a source of unconditional emotional and practical support and part of your family!
21. Go shopping.
I’m not nearly as enthusiastic about shopping now as I once was, but retail therapy still works although the concept and practice of shopping has shifted quite a bit in recent years with the advent of online shopping. In saying this, I think retail therapy tends to be most effective when you go to a brick-and-mortar shopping centre, where you can actually try on different clothes, touch and feel the products, and be around other human beings. Experience also tells me that shopping can enhance your mood even when you don’t necessarily buy stuff.
99 Coping Skills. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.yourlifeyourvoice.org/Pages/tip-99-coping-skills.aspx
Subscribe here for all the latest news on how you can keep Thriving.
More on Mental Health on Campus: