Looking for ways to improve your quality of life? Learning healthy coping skills on one’s own can help both adults and children improve and maintain their emotional well-being. The three skills described below have been shown to be particularly effective at improving overall quality of life.
- Mindfulness: When you practice mindfulness, you stay in the present moment, experiencing it in a nonjudgmental way. Sharpen your mindfulness skills by doing mindfulness exercises regularly. Try a deep-breathing exercise and focus on the sensations of the breath. Pay attention to the physical sensations of everyday activities. When washing dishes, for example, notice how the soap feels, the warm water, the texture of the dish towel. Incorporate mindfulness into your daily routines. You may be surprised by how it changes your experience of the activity. Be patient and try not to become discouraged if you get distracted; like everything, mindfulness gets easier with practice.
- Recognize your level of distress: Use a scale to measure the intensity of your emotional distress. The Subjective Units of Distress Scale (SUDS) is a tool used to subjectively rate one’s level of distress. Picture a thermometer where 0 (at the bottom) is feeling calm and peaceful with no distress, and 100 (at the top) is feeling overwhelming negative emotions that are difficult to manage. The goal is to be attentive to your emotional state and aware of your “temperature” on the thermometer. You will learn to recognize when your distress level is rising, so you can apply healthy coping mechanisms to reduce the intensity of your negative emotions and return to your baseline.
- Reduce vulnerability: Reducing your emotional vulnerability to stressful events can help you keep your SUDS level lower by acting as a preventative measure. One important way is to take good care of your overall physical health. Use “PLEASE” skills from Dialectical Behavior Therapy (a form of psychotherapy that emphasizes acceptance of difficult emotions and techniques for relieving them): treat Physical ILLness; Eat healthy balanced meals on a regular schedule; Avoid mood-altering substances (unless prescribed); Sleep properly; and Exercise.
Routinely check in with yourself. Ask yourself, “How am I feeling right now? What is my SUDS rating?” The more in tune you are with how you feel, the better able you’ll be to manage your emotional responses to stressful events. It is easier to intervene and manage distress when it is at a low level. The higher your distress gets, the more difficult it is to think clearly, to apply healthy coping mechanisms, and to reduce the intensity of your emotions. In addition to the three coping mechanisms discussed above, others to try include relaxation techniques, distraction, pleasurable activities, acceptance, and reaching out for support, if necessary.
Yael Yankelewitz, LCSW, is an Englewood Health behavioral health social worker with the Englewood Health Physician Network who sees patients at Bergen Medical Alliance.
Posted September 18, 2020