Table of Contents
Coping strategies are the things, internally and externally that we do to help ourselves work through crises. Internal coping strategies are the things that we do for ourselves, that don’t require anyone and else and may involve activities, attitudes, and beliefs that help us be resilient. External coping strategies involve others, and can include people in our immediate environment and professionals that we may bring into our circle of coping (such as a therapist.)
Caplan’s Coping Strategies
Caplan (1964) lists seven strategies for helping individuals to cope:
- Actively exploring reality issues and searching for information
- Freely expressing both positive and negative feelings and tolerating frustration
- Actively invoking help from others
- Breaking problems down into manageable bits and working them through one at a time
- Being aware of fatigue and tendencies toward disorganization; while pacing efforts and maintaining control in as many areas of functioning as possible
- Mastering feelings where possible (accepting them when necessary), being flexible and willing to change
- Trusting in oneself and others and having a basic optimism about the outcome
These are explored in more detail below.
Actively Explore Reality Issues
Exploring reality means ensuring that you actually have a reliable view of your situation. This goes back to the concept of ego strength – if you have an accurate view of the situation you’re in a better position to handle it.
Someone who has to drop out of college may believe that they will be doomed to a life of poverty as a result of doing so. While they might have more difficulty achieving their goals, there are other avenues to continuing their college education or making a good living that will help them avoid poverty. For instance, they can attend a community college on a part-time basis, online, pursue apprenticeship or vocational training, self-study, and so on.
Freely Express Positive and Negative Feelings
It’s important that a person can express both positive and negative feelings in order to cope effectively.
Being unable to express positive feelings may indicate that an individual is having trouble seeing the world accurately (as in above) which is something that counselling can help. On the other hand, someone unable to express negative feelings may be the result of someone bottling up their emotions, which can cause difficulty working through those feelings. This may be related to alexithymia, the inability to express feelings with words.
Actively Invoking Help from Others
We know that having available resources is one of the most important protective factors to prevent suicide. Help-seeking is a very important part of your library of coping strategies. This does not necessarily mean seeing a therapist or a doctor – but also reaching out to those in your immediate environment like friends and family, trusted coworkers or other support systems.
Research has shown that the high rate of male suicide is partially explained by a pattern of help-seeking that is characterized by withdrawing from others and trying to deal with things internally rather than externally.
Break Problems into Manageable Bits
This is a common element in effective problem-solving. Many problems can seem so large as to be overwhelming and therefore un-fixable. Someone who has lost their job may feel like it’s impossible to get another one, especially in a rough economy. Breaking “get a new job” down into a series of manageable steps that can be done over a week can make them easier:
- Monday: Create budget to find minimum salary
- Tuesday: Update resume
- Wednesday: Reach out to job network (if exists)
- Thursday: Begin applying to jobs
- Friday: Create learning plan to identify missing skills for desired jobs
- Saturday and Sunday: Begin putting learning plan into place while continuing applying to jobs
As you can see, there is a lot of tasks here – but if you spend a couple hours a day it seems much more manageable.
Be Aware of Fatigue
Fatigue can set in for both helpers and individuals who are in crisis. This is where self-care becomes important: recognizing your own limits and taking time to recharge ensures that you can continue to be be an effective crisis worker.
By pacing yourself when you realize you don’t have the energy to handle both your own emotional issues and those around you will help prevent compassionate fatigue, which can lead to burnout.
Master Feelings Where Possible
Sometimes we don’t have control over our feelings. Although counselling can help us reframe our beliefs in order to gain new perspective and defuse negative emotions, sometimes it is necessary to simply accept that we feel the way we do and then to control our reactions.
Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) focuses on the idea that we have to accept our emotions but that we can control our reactions and responses in order to have the best outcomes.
Optimism About the Outcome
By believing in your ability to deal with your situation and having faith or trust in the individuals who are supporting you, it is easier to deal with the demands of your life. This, in combination with the other internal coping strategies listed here will help you cope effective as you perform crisis work.
Caplan, G. (1964) Principles of Preventive Psychiatry. Basic Books: New York, NY