Coping Strategies

Understanding coping strategies

The coping strategies survivors adopt as a child or young person are often used into adulthood. They can help manage the strong feelings and changes in arousal which are common with trauma. While coping strategies are often protective at first, they can become less helpful, over time. Some coping strategies can even pose risks to health. Coping strategies form pathways in the brain and these become the person’s ‘go to’ (default) responses during times of more stress and trauma. A person may not even be aware of using them.

It is important to acknowledge the purpose of coping strategies and respect the role they play. When people experience trauma, they cope as best they can. Coping strategies don’t only help a survivor to manage their distress but they also help them to reduce their feelings of being overwhelmed, helplessness and powerlessness.

What are some coping strategies?

Some examples of coping strategies are addictions and compulsive behaviours such as alcohol, drugs, over- and under-eating, gambling and extreme performance with sport or work. Some people engage in self-harm or are suicidal. Others struggle with anger and aggression. Some people withdraw, avoiding social interactions and events, or shut down and dissociate. These coping mechanisms are all ways to try and manage the strong emotions which trauma can cause. These habits can also lead to health problems.

Regardless of a person’s coping strategy it is important to understand and respect them, while also progressively acknowledging their potential harm. If you recognise some of these coping strategies in yourself or someone you are supporting, the first step is to understand them and respect their role in survival.

It is critical for you not to try to remove your coping strategies or those of another person until different resources are available to help with coping. These include inner resources to help manage strong feelings, changes in arousal and any triggers. Building safe and trustworthy support networks can also help you or the person you are supporting to feel secure and contained.

Man Sitting on Sand Facing Body of Water

Understanding ‘Window of Tolerance’

  • When people are in a trauma response, they are outside of their ‘window of tolerance’.
  • The window of tolerance is the level of arousal at which people can function at their best.
  • You can learn to widen your ‘window of tolerance’ or support another person to do so.
  • When this happens, it can be easier to cope and manage strong emotions and behaviours.
  • It can also help to better manage triggers over time.
  • You or the person you are supporting can develop new coping strategies over time – coping strategies which are less challenging and risky.
  • Seeking professional support can help you in this process.

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Coping Strategies, Impacts and Healing