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Coping Statements

Learning how to manage your feelings and behaviors takes work and practice. However, one simple way to get started is to develop "coping statements" to counter upsetting thoughts. Coping statements are somewhat like affirmations, but they are not necessarily positive ideas. Rather, they are realistic or reality based. Coping statements are usually challenges to specific upsetting thoughts, although you can use them any time.

The idea here is to stop yourself whenever you feel upset, like anxious, worried, depressed, angry, guilty, ashamed, frustrated and so on. You can also use undesired urges or behavior, like procrastination, smoking, drinking or drugging as a cue to start the process. Catch yourself, then try to observe what thoughts are running through your mind. Take a sheet of paper and divide it in half vertically. On the left side of the sheet, write out whatever thoughts you have observed.

Once you have identified the offending thoughts, just try changing them. As you get into this more, you will probably want to learn how to dispute or evaluate your thoughts on several levels, but the simple form of this exercise is to change the thoughts in any way that helps you feel or behave differently. Keep trying different alternatives until you find one that works for you. Here are some examples to help you get started:

Upsetting Thoughts                                 Realistic Alternatives

I'm going to fail.                                       I'll probably do all right, but even if I don't, it's not the end of the world.

I can't stand it.                                         I don't like it, but I can stand it.  (If I truly couldn't stand it, I would die--and I know this won't cause me to die!)

I'm going to fail.                                       I'll probably do all right, but even if I don't, it's not the end of the world.

I'll never amount to anything.                      It may be difficult, but if I try, I can accomplish a lot.

I must be a loser because this person doesn't like me.   I want to be liked, but not everyone will like me.

I need love.                                               I want love, but I can live without it.

I need a drink.                                          I want a drink (smoke, eat, etc.) but I don't need it.  I might feel better now, but I'll regret it tomorrow.

I'm going to get fired.                          I might be fired, but probably won't be. Being fired would be a setback, but I can deal with it.       

Hopefully, you get the idea. Try it! I think you will like the results. Not only will you feel better, but you will probably find that you have a lot more energy to put into solving the real problems in your life, not just wasting energy on getting needlessly upset.

By Robert F. Sarmiento, Ph.D

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