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My Treatment Didn’t Prepare Me for This: What to Do When None of Your Coping Skills Are Working

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought with it a mental health crisis – people everywhere are struggling with hopelessness and anxiety. Many are facing very core fears like putting food on the table, making rent, and keeping themselves and their loved ones safe. For people who live with a mental health condition, the unpredictability of everything may be especially difficult.

We all have coping skills that we rely on to feel better during tough times. If you’re finding that your go-to techniques just aren’t working to reduce your stress, sadness, anxiety, or whatever else you’re dealing with, you aren’t alone. Some popular coping skills may simply not be accessible for you right now. Things like working out at the gym, getting dinner at your favorite restaurant, or physically going into the office might not be options. Other strategies, like journaling or talking to a friend, are doable – but you may find that they suddenly don’t work as well as they used to. 

As we’re all facing COVID, the fight for racial justice, and a number of other external stressors, it’s normal to be struggling with your mental health. And it’s okay that some of your reliable coping skills may not be effective. We get used to certain coping skills, and they work in certain contexts – but if you’re in a new situation, they might not!

Life in 2020 seems to be throwing new challenges at us on almost a daily basis--something we’ve never experienced before. It’s not your fault or a problem with your brain – it’s the accumulation of everything else going on right now. Our world has shifted dramatically in a very short time and many people are using all their energy to just get through the day.

While it can be defeating to realize that your “toolbox” of coping skills isn’t useful right now, there’s a flip side: strategies that haven’t worked in the past may work now. Whenever you hit a wall with your coping strategies, you can add more. This can be especially frustrating if you feel like you’ve tried it all, but remember, the situation you’re coping with right now is different from ones you’ve coped with in the past. If you tried meditating a few years ago and didn’t find it helpful, think about giving it another chance. The same goes for skills like breath work, yoga, spending time outside, practicing gratitude, and any other coping strategy that you haven’t yet tried during these times. Small things can and do help in the long run, like sticking to a routine and setting boundaries for yourself.

Processing your feelings with someone else can be particularly effective right now. While constant video calls can be exhausting, you might find a vulnerable and honest conversation about how you’re struggling to be refreshing. Many of us are going through similar challenges and hearing that others are right there with you is powerful.

You may also want to learn more about practicing self-compassion and acceptance. It’s okay to acknowledge that you’re reaching your limit, whether that means you have no more energy to call a friend or that you’ve been patient with your family all day and are about to explode. Constantly pushing yourself to “be fine” often adds more stress and frustration. There isn’t one way you’re supposed to deal with life right now – times are tough and many circumstances are beyond your control.

It’s important to not give up or assume that all hope is lost. Even though you can’t eliminate negative feelings, you can learn how to manage your emotions in a healthy way. Mental wellness takes effort, especially in the face of distressing external circumstances. You can find more tips for maintaining your mental health during COVID-19 on our Wellness & Coping Skills page.