You might be wondering... Are coping skills 'okay' to use when you're working to recover from anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia? Better yet, are coping skills for anxiety actually helpful? Josh and I have both struggled with panic and agoraphobia in the past, and we have similar views on coping skills. So I sat down with Josh, a former sufferer turned therapist, to discuss coping skills and whether or not they're actually helpful.
Josh was on the 7th episode of the podcast, where we talked about what agoraphobia is and how to recover! And I'm so excited he's back today to talk with us about all things coping skills. So let's get started!
Coping Skills for Anxiety Disorders - Are They Helpful?
What Are Coping Skills?
Coping skills are actions, behaviors, or techniques that help you get through difficult situations without them becoming too overwhelming. Josh gave some examples of copings skills, which might look like:
Practicing breathwork or meditation before public speaking
Setting boundaries with family members
Giving yourself time to rest
But Josh also brought up something really important... For those with anxiety disorders, coping skills can quickly turn into compulsive behaviors. This might look like turning to coping skills to 'save' you from intense anxiety, creating rituals around coping skills, or feeling the urge to use coping skills out of fear of something bad happening.
When Coping Skills Can Be Helpful and Unhelpful
When used correctly, coping skills can be really helpful to our mental health! But when coping skills become compulsive, they stop being helpful. So you might be wondering... how do I know if my coping skills are helpful? Josh says that an easy way to identify an unhealthy coping skill is if you find yourself using a coping skill "just in case" you feel anxiety, or as a way to avoid feeling the uncomfortable sensations of anxiety. And I completely agree!
One of the many unhealthy coping mechanisms that Josh and I talked about was ice cubes. You'll often hear people in the mental health space recommend using an ice cube to help you ground yourself during a panic attack. And this isn't helpful for a few reasons...1) You don't always have ice in the middle of a panic attack and 2) you're teaching your brain that there really is danger present and it's only safe if it has ice! And this can be applied to so many different coping skills, like avoiding certain places, foods, and situations. When we use unhealthy coping skills and struggle with disordered anxiety, it actually reinforces the belief that we're in danger when we experience anxiety and panic.
Helpful Tips To Willfully Tolerate Anxiety
When we start to practice feeling the uncomfortable symptoms of anxiety without reacting or responding, that's when our brains start to realize that they aren't in any danger. And when this happens, the uncomfortable symptoms start to go away! At first, it might feel like things aren't getting better. But it's important to give your body and mind time because what you're doing is challenging! With time, the symptoms start to pop up a whole lot less. When it comes to willfully tolerating anxiety, we talked about some really hopeful things to remember:
Become aware of when you're using an unhelpful coping skill
Allowing yourself to experience anxiety is a success, not a failure!
Experiencing anxiety is just an opportunity to start rewiring your brain
Practice dropping the unhealthy coping skills slowly over time
In the episode, Josh shared something particularly helpful I wanted to leave you with:
"The reason why coping mechanisms for disordered anxiety don't work is that the whole point of overcoming disordered anxiety is to teach the threat response that anxiety itself is not danger."
I hope you enjoyed this week's conversation because I certainly did! Make sure to tune in and listen to the full episode to soak up all of the helpful knowledge, practical tips, and tools!
How To Connect With Josh:
Free resources, The School of Anxiety, & all the things: Head here!
On Instagram: @anxietyjosh