Create a Coping Strategy
Create a Coping Strategy
“If you aren’t in over your head, how do you know how tall you are?” ― T.S. Eliot.

     Are you feeling stuck in a sense of anxiety or depression?  Often, people will feel both anxiety and depression concurrently.  One of the common features of feeling stuck, and unable to shift away from these emotions, is fear and panic.  We can be so focused on how horrible it is to feel these emotions, that we can lose sight of what they each are and how they each affect us.  I believe that we need to recognise these aspects of any emotion we may feel unable to shift, for that awareness will create an opportunity for us to regain control over them.

     So, how do we achieve this?  Try the following exercise:

  1. You will need to get four sheets of paper and two different coloured pens.  Let’s imagine you are using a blue pen and a red pen. One pen will be for the first sheet, then one for the second and so on.
  2. Take the first sheet of paper and write across the top: Symptoms of Anxiety.  Then draw a line from top to bottom, down the centre of the sheet of paper, creating two equal columns.
  3. At the top of the left hand column, write the sub-title: Physical Symptoms and at the top of the right hand column, write the sub-title: Emotional Symptoms.
  4. Now, think for a few minutes about how anxiety affects you physically and then emotionally.  These are symptoms.  Write as many of these symptoms into each of the columns, accordingly.  An example might be that you might write ‘Tense shoulders’ in the Physical Symptoms column and you might write ‘Fearful’ in the Emotional Symptoms column.
  5. Once you have listed all of the symptoms you can think of, in each column, step back and just read through what you have written in each column.  Become familiar with these symptoms.  What do you think about your lists of symptoms?
  6. Now, pick up the second sheet of paper and at the top, in the other coloured pen, write the title: Action Plan.
  7. Then, as before, create two columns underneath the main title by drawing a line, from top to bottom, down the centre of the page.
  8. As before, entitle the left hand column and right hand column with sub-titles.  These will be: Plan for Physical Well-Being and Plan for Emotional Well-Being.
  9. As before, take time to just think about your symptoms; physical and emotional.
  10. Next, write down one action that you can take for each symptom you have written on the other sheet of paper.  For example, if you wrote ‘Tense Shoulders’ as a symptom in your physical symptoms list, on the Action Plan sheet of paper, in the column entitled Plan for Physical Well-Being, you could write: When tense, relax my body.  For the emotional symptom of feeling fearful, you could write: distract myself by phoning a friend for a chat, in the Plan for Emotional Well-Being column.
  11. Complete the exercise by creating an action for each symptom you identified on the first sheet of paper.  Once complete, your second sheet of paper will now be your wonderful ‘coping strategy’ for when you have symptoms of anxiety.
  12. Now repeat the exercise on the subject of Depression, using the remaining two sheets of paper.

     It will be your responsibility to put your action plans into practice.  Remember, ask someone you know for help, if you need to.  For example, you could have someone help you to identify your symptoms or help you to create your action plan, if you feel in some way unable to complete that part of the exercise.  The answers will still have to be yours, but talking it through with someone can help you to find the words you need.

     It is always okay to ask for help.  It may be that you need the help of another person to actually carry out an action plan task.  For example, phoning a friend.  Talk to a friend about this and ask them to be the person you can phone when in difficulty.  They will most likely be very willing to help you, if they know that it is part of your coping strategy and that chatting with them could, sometimes, help you out of being stuck in difficult emotions.

     Take a few minutes to look at what you have completed:

  • You have identified physical and emotional symptoms of anxiety and/or depression.
  • You have created an action point for each symptom.
  • As a whole, your lists of action points are your coping strategy.
  • This means you have designed your own coping strategy.
  • Well done.  Smile.  Be proud of this step forward and feel self-confidence improve.

If you give this a try, I would love to hear from you about how you found this exercise and about the outcome you achieved once you followed your coping strategy.  Please come back and post a comment below, to let me know.

(C) Dean G. Parsons. 2019.





  • This was an interesting as well as a productive activity. Well done.

    • Thank you, Phil. Your comment is much appreciated. Thanks for reading. Dean.

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