What Does it Mean to Cope?


Have you heard the terms “cope” or “coping strategies”? It’s helpful to know what these terms mean and how they can be useful in your life. Difficult things happen in our lives all the time. “Coping” is figuring out ways to deal with or work around these challenges. It is the way that we adjust to the difficulties or disappointments that come our way.  A “coping strategy” is a tool or method used to make ourselves feel or respond better when we experience emotional challenges or a difficult situation.

In the beginning of our lives we look to the adults around us for coping support and advice for handling challenges and hardships. For example, a young boy is tagged out in a kickball game. Maybe he feels upset and doesn’t know how to calm down from the disappointment.  He goes to his teacher to express his frustration and the teacher tells him to breathe, take a minute to calm down and remember that he’ll get another chance in the next round of the game.  In this situation, breathing, taking a break and putting the disappointment into perspective are all coping strategies.  The boy learns about these options (coping strategies) from the teacher but he will eventually learn to use these and other tools on his own; often without even thinking about it!

Over time, we get to know what works and what doesn’t to face problems and challenges. This allows us to handle more and more complex challenges on our own. Most of the time, learning about coping/coping strategies happens naturally and unconsciously.  It usually goes something like this – we assess the problem (we try to see how a particular problem is similar to or different from problems we’ve faced in the past), try to understand why it’s challenging and then we identify tools within ourselves or in our environment that we can use to get through it.  Know that not all methods of coping work for everyone and not all methods work in every type of situation. If one way of dealing with a problem doesn’t help us, the next time we might try something new until we find what works and helps us manage the challenge at hand. This is what “learning from your mistakes” means!

It’s difficult to get good at coping if there’s always someone else who helps you fix the problems you encounter. You can get better at coping by trying it! The more you try to work through issues on your own the easier it will become. With each new experience coping on your own, your confidence will grow. Confidence in your ability to cope will make it easier to try new things and test out new situations.

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