Coping statements are one of my favourite things! They are like secret little anxiety busters you can keep in your metaphorical back pocket to be whipped out when needed. That is why they are always one of the first things I teach to new clients, because who doesn’t want an on-the-stop boost to help fight anxious thoughts?
So what exactly is a coping statement? In a nutshell, a coping statement is any short, succinct sentence you can say to yourself to help remind your brain and your body that things are not necessarily as they seem. It allows breathing space so that you can look at a situation with greater objectivity and from a less emotional stance. Think about Nike: Just do it. It’s a phrase that everybody knows, and whether or not Nike knew it at the time, this is a coping statement: a short statement to psych the brain and body into handling an aversive situation.
If you’ve ever been hit by a panic attack, or even just an extreme moment of heightened anxiety, you know the wave of physical symptoms you can experience: body or face feeling flush, mind racing, palm sweating, heart rate accelerated. Imagine now that you could remind yourself to “ride the wave”. Go with the experience and ride it into shore, knowing it won’t last forever (even though it may feel that way!) and that, while uncomfortable, it won’t actually harm you. The other option in this situation, which is to fight the symptoms and perhaps try to avoid or escape the anxiety-causing situation or thought, is known to increase anxiety and make symptoms worse. “Ride the wave” is a popular coping statement in my practice.
Another way to combat the anxious “I can’t do it!” and “I should be able to handle this!” thoughts that come with high anxiety is to remind yourself that you have, in all likelihood, successfully handled this exact situation (or ones similar enough) in the past and that you can do it again, even if it’s uncomfortable. Statements such as, “It might not be pleasant but it won’t kill me” or “Worse things in life have happened” can come in handy here as gentle reminders that yes, while this situation may not be our favourite, this too shall pass, which, by the way, is another favourite coping statement in my practice.
Creating your own coping statement is a fun challenge to see what works for you and what needs to be tossed or revised. Having more than one type of statement for use in different situations can also be helpful. A “Just do it”-style inner-speech (such as, “Come on Sally – pull your socks up! You got this!”) might work better in situations of anxiety caused by adversity, whereas something more like, “Sometimes life just sucks, and that’s okay. I’ll get through this, just like I have in the past” might work better in other situations.
So go ahead – what are your coping statements?