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Coping Skills for Anxiety and Depression (Read Time: 6 mins)


Anxiety, Depression, Coping skills, coping mechanisms, low mood, stress

I am looking for coping skills…

This is something that I have heard quite often in my work with people when they tell me they are experiencing either symptoms of anxiety or depression. Truth is, there are almost as many ways to cope with these negative feelings as there are reasons that we experience them in the first place.

Anxiety and depression are similar to that annoying couple that wear the same track suit, where we find one, the other is not often far behind. That is the bad news. The good news, however, is that what we do for anxiety can help with depression and vice versa. This is because they act very similarly.

Anxiety is future based and takes our brain on a runaway train of ‘what-ifs?’ Such as, ‘what if I leave the house and a piano falls on my head, and what if I am late for work and then what if I get fired, and then what if I can’t pay my rent…’ It can be EXHAUSTING.

Depressive thoughts act similarly but are based in the past. When we can not get past a persistent thought about something that has already happened and we are stuck; this is also known as rumination. For example, ‘my goldfish died 6 months ago and I am such a terrible goldfish owner and I can not be trusted to look after anything, I am completely irresponsible, nobody should ever trust me…’ again, EXHAUSTING.

So what do anxiety and depression do to our body? Well, when we are faced with a stress response in our life, our body releases two hormones: adrenaline and cortisol. Neither of which are healthy long term. This is also part of the ‘Fight or Flight’ response. This is something that was very helpful as cavemen, but not so helpful in modern society. Here is why, when we were cavemen and roaming the earth and came across a sabre tooth tiger, our instinct to fight or flee kept us alive. However, we have this same stress response to a myriad of other stimuli in modern society, our phone won’t turn on, my car won’t start, I am going to be late for work, etc. Society has shifted and there are more invitations for stress while our bodies have not evolved at the same pace.

We have a finite amount of room for stress in our lives. Imagine your stress ‘reservoir’ like a large barrel. Every time we experience something stressful, we fill the barrel a little bit more. But once we get to the top, it can take something very small for the barrel to overflow. When this happens, we may have a response that does not match the stimulus. We may stub our toe and we yell at the dog, or throw the remote control for example, or we may even take it out on loved ones. In the aftermath, we may start to think that we are ‘crazy’ because our response seemed so out of line. You are not crazy, this is normal to have such a reaction when we are highly stressed. However, we are always responsible for our actions and our behaviours, so we need to take accountability for them, even in this state.

So what do we do to cope?

Finding the root cause of your stress, anxiety, or depressive symptoms is ideally where you want to get to by working on this yourself, or with a trained professional that can help you navigate this. However, to manage the feelings and symptoms, we can start to incorporate coping skills.