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‘Coping’ describes all the different things people do to manage problems or difficult situations. Whether it’s a major life drama or just a minor ‘first-world problem’, how we choose to cope has a big impact on the potential outcomes and our mental health in the long term.

This can help if:

  • you're having a hard time and you don’t know how to deal with it
  • you’re having difficulty coping with change and setbacks
  • you want to be better prepared to deal with future challenges.
Girl standing in kitchen with mug looking out window

Different types of coping strategies

Coping strategies can be both positive and negative. For example, if you’re going through a tough time, a negative way of coping is to use drugs or alcohol to ‘numb the pain’. This kind of coping may provide a quick fix, but often it will make things worse in the long run. Choosing positive coping strategies, like the ones listed below, will help you to manage and reduce stress in a way that won’t be harmful in the long term.

Finding the right coping strategies

Here are some ways to find the best coping strategies for you:

  • Write a list of the types of situations that you find difficult to manage.
  • When a stressful situation arises, try one of the strategies listed below.
  • Keep notes on how it went – which things worked and which didn’t.

You’ll probably find that some strategies work better than others in reducing your stress and helping you to manage. This may depend on the particular situation. With each experience or challenge you face, figure out which strategies work well for you, and which situations favour certain strategies over others.

Coping strategies to try

  • Ask a trusted friend or family member for help and support. Sharing your thoughts with someone else may bring some relief, and might help you work through the problem.
  • Write down how you’re feeling. This can really help to clarify things when you’re feeling strong emotions. Write in a journal and keep it handy, so that you can look back at what you’ve written.
  • Prioritise self-care. Exercise, meditate, listen to music – or whatever it is that makes you feel good - even if it’s just for five minutes a day.
  • Take time out from situations that make you feel stressed or angry. End the conversation, leave the room for a moment, and don’t resume talking until you feel calm and ready.
  • Use positive self-talk to overcome negative thought patterns.
  • Reduce your load. Sometimes you just have to accept that you can’t do everything. Make a list of the things you need to accomplish, and adjust your schedule according to how you feel each day. It’s okay to be busy, entertained and challenged, without feeling overwhelmed.
  • Consider the big picture. When you’re going through a stressful situation, ask yourself: ‘How important is this? Will it matter in the long run?’
  • Learn to forgive. Move on from hurt, regret and anger. Whether you’re angry at yourself or someone else, it doesn’t help to hold on to negative feelings such as resentment.
  • Hone your communication skills. If you know how to communicate clearly, it will help prevent a problem occurring or a conflict escalating. It could also help eliminate the initial cause of the stress.
  • Build your optimism. Choose to focus on the positive side of things, even when something goes wrong. It can be hard to do, but if you practise, it’s likely to become easier.
  • Practise gratitude. Take five minutes each day to identify three things that you’re thankful for. Write them down so you can look at your gratitude lists when you’re feeling down.

What to do if you’re really struggling

You don’t have to work this stuff out on your own. Counsellors are great at helping you build and develop coping skills. They’re also good to talk to if you prefer not to talk to friends or family, or if your problems are making it hard to carry on with your day-to-day stuff. Learn more about where to find services and professionals.

If you want to hear from others, you can talk to other young people on our forums or watch this three-minute video about young people coping with feeling sad, stressed and anxious.

What can I do now?

  • Learn about forgiveness and how it contributes to happiness.
  • Find out about self-talk and how it affects your mood.
  • Get personalised support options with the ReachOut NextStep tool.
  • Avoid using alcohol or drugs to cope with difficult emotions.