The ABC’s of Coping

As any therapist new and old will tell you, discussing the usefulness of coping skills is vital with clients of all ages.  I personally tend to have these conversations with my clients more often than some therapists do with theirs, as I now have a couple of years of working partial hospitalization under my belt (and for those who may not know, this is a rather high level of mental health care as opposed to a client who comes in for once weekly outpatient therapy).  Regardless, coping skills are important for every client (and, well, every person in general).  I say this because everyone has those things that make them tick.  “Things” referring, of course, to a multitude of issues: whether they be relational with certain people, or merely situational (examples may be “I feel angry when my boss belittles me in front of other co-workers, so I take a walk around the building to cool off,” or “I feel disappointed when I receive a bad grade at school, so I listen to my favorite songs on the bus ride home to clear my head.”)


I wrote in the past about emotional intelligence, and ways to incorporate little changes into your life to live with a higher “EQ”, if you will.  Having a good list of coping skills is very important to this concept of emotional intelligence, as it is not only important to recognize your emotions accurately and appropriately, but also to cope effectively rather than acting on impulse and doing something that may carry negative consequences.


A fun and helpful exercise that I complete with my teenage clients in therapy groups is called “The ABC’s of Coping Skills.”  The object of the exercise is to fill a piece of lined paper with as many coping skills for every letter of the alphabet as you can possibly think of.  What is a bit outside the box about this exercise is that you don’t have to stick to the run-of-the-mill “I take deep breaths or use a stress ball” approach to brainstorming coping skills.  If you like to bake cookies to help yourself handle strong emotions, list that under the letter “B.”  I’ve had clients list everything from “tacos” under the letter “T” (because sometimes, eating a taco can be therapeutic) to “dancing” under the letter “D” (which is a little more obvious to the average person…but you get the idea.)  We take a set amount of time and see how many letters can be filled with anything that the client can think of to cope with strong emotions.  I’d like to challenge the blog readers to do this exercise, to see how many letters you can fill yourself.  I’ve created a list of my own below for some helpful hints.  Remember, these lists can be highly individualized and contain as many unconventional or fun ideas as you like (with some exceptions that I get into in the next paragraph).  At the end of the day, you know yourself best.  What works for you when you are feeling that rush of negative emotions?


As a disclaimer, I also make a point to tell clients (and will tell all blog readers, too,) that I stay away from listing things like “wine” under “W” or “smoking” under “S” for obvious reasons.  I am not totally misguided in thinking that people don’t use these things to cope.  However, the important thing to note is that the list should be filled with positive items that do not alter your state of consciousness (because as happy as that third glass of Merlot may make you after a long day, substance use does more to cloud judgment/insight than to help anyone “cope” effectively).  With that being said, it is also perfectly okay to be creative and list food items like “ice cream” under “I”.  But please understand that there is a difference between moderate ice cream consumption and eating 4 bowls of Ben and Jerry’s after a bad breakup…because “it’s a coping skill.”  There is a line to be drawn with the frequency and intensity of all coping skills that one has.  I understand very well the importance of balance and would not discourage anyone from engaging in activities that make them happy; however, any one thing done too often or with no moderation at all is never helpful in the long run.

So with that being said and holding that idea in mind, I now present my example list and wish everyone happy coping skills brainstorming!  (Also, I would like to extend thanks to all of my fellow partial care therapists/awesome co-workers who showed me this group idea…because “we’re all in this together.”)


A: apple picking, art projects, archery

B: baking, beach trips

C: coffee breaks, crocheting, crafts, cooking your favorite meal, counting to 10

D: diving, dancing, drawing, deep breathing

E: exercising, eating your favorite meal or snack

F: fishing, farming, fireworks show, fencing

G: gardening, golfing, grounding exercises

H: hiking, hula-hooping

I: incense, “I” statements

J: joking with a friend, jumping rope, journaling

K: kicking a soccer ball, kite-flying

L: laughing, listening to another person’s perspective

M: making plans with friends or family, movies, music, mindfulness

N: naming your problem out loud, nail salon appointment

O: offering to help a friend, origami

P: paper planes, puzzles, photography

Q: quilting, “quiet time”

R: running, reading, road trip

S: sightseeing in a new city, squeezing a stress ball, silly putty

T: taking a 5 minute break, talking out your problem, telling a story

U: understanding another’s perspective, unplugging from social media

V: validating your feelings (or someone else’s), vacation planning

W: walking, warm baths/showers

X: xylophone playing, x-box gaming

Y: yo-yo, yoga

Z: zumba, zoo trip

-Diandra Meloni

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