Life can be beautiful, but it is also stressful. There are finances to manage and deadlines to meet. As Charles Dickens said, "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times." And, although you might feel calm, cool, and collected during the high points in life, you might need some support when you experience some of the more challenging aspects. After all, you're only human.
Coping strategies can be used to build a self-help tool belt that can help you manage your thoughts, emotions, and physical sensations when you experience a stressful event. There are many different coping strategies out there, and you'll probably find that your self-help tool belt looks different from other people's and that's okay. What's important is that you equip your tool belt with strategies that work for you, and you can use these free, printable coping skills worksheets to get you started on your journey.
Coping Skills Worksheet 1: Your Relationship to Stress
Stress can cause people to experience various side effects. For example, you might notice some physical changes in your body when you become overwhelmed, such as a quicker heart rate or warmth in your face. In addition, you might experience some mental and emotional changes, as well. When you are confronted with a challenging or unpleasant situation, you might start to feel angry or begin to have a series of negative thoughts.
All of these examples showcase different reactions to stress, all of which are perfectly normal. And, if you haven't guessed it, everyone experiences stress differently, which is why it's important to understand how stress affects you.
You can use this worksheet to check in with yourself whenever you are feeling stressed. It can help give you a better idea of events and situations that might be stressful for you, as well as help you track how you react to them both mentally and emotionally.
Use this worksheet as follows:
- Wait until you experience a stressful, challenging, or unpleasant event. This can be anything from getting stuck in traffic to spilling coffee on your favorite shirt.
- Turn to the worksheet and reflect on how you are feeling. You don't have to do this during or immediately after you experience stress. However, try and set aside some time to reflect as soon as you are able to do so, to give you the best information about how you are feeling in that situation.
- Use the prompts that are given to identify the cause of your current stress. Then, check in with yourself. Write down any physical or emotional changes you are experiencing in the appropriate boxes. Finally, analyze how you are feeling as a whole, and rate your stress level out of 10 in the final box.
- Repeat this exercise throughout the course of a week. Then, reflect on the aspects of your life that have caused you stress. Which events caused you the most stress? Are you surprised about the results? Do you experience more physical or emotional changes?
- You can use the information you collected to mentally prep yourself for the next time you enter into a similar situation.
- Then, practice coping strategies that are geared towards relaxing the mind or releasing tension from the body based on what you need.
The more you learn about the situations that cause you stress, the more you can build up your resilience to them. And, this information can give you the insight you need to make decisions that are best for you. For example, if you know that being around a certain person is a cause of stress for you, you can make choices to limit your interactions with them, set boundaries, and keep your mental health safe, instead of forcing yourself to push through.
Coping Skills Worksheet 2: Explore Different Strategies
There are several different ways to cope with stress whenever it arises. What's good about a wide variety of helpful strategies to choose from is that you can explore the different options and find the ones that work for you.
In addition, you might find that some coping strategies work best when you are dealing with a specific kind of stressor. For example, if getting caught in traffic creates a lot of stress for you, you might find that doing breathing techniques in the car helps you feel more relaxed than planning to work off those jitters at the gym later.
Use the worksheet as follows:
- Think of a situation that causes you stress that you hope to find a coping strategy for. You can look to your responses in Worksheet 1 for ideas, or simply use a situation that comes to mind or that you have experienced recently.
- After, think about how you typically respond to this stressor. What actions do you take while you are confronting it? How does it make you feel physically and emotionally? What do you do afterward to address your thoughts and feelings?
- Next, brainstorm ways that you think might help you cope with this situation in the future. For example, you might come up with ideas like taking a step back, calling a loved one, or practicing some breathing techniques.
- After you have a list of potential coping strategies, choose one to practice the next time you are in that specific stressful situation. You can circle or highlight it to remind yourself that that is the current strategy you are trying.
- Then, test it out. If the coping strategy you chose was to take a break when confronted with that stressful situation, then follow through with that commitment.
- Return to the worksheet and rate how stressed you felt after you used the strategy. How was the experience for you? Did you feel more or less stressed afterward? Did you run into any challenges with that coping strategy? Does this strategy feel like a good fit for you to turn to in this situation?
- If the first coping strategy you tried didn't seem to provide the wind-down you were looking for, that's completely fine. You have other strategies from your brainstorm that you can try when you are confronted with the stressor the next time.
- Keep trying different coping strategies until you find the ones that fit you. You might discover that some strategies are helpful in every stressful situation. Or, you might find that you prefer to lean on specific coping skills depending on the situation.
- Repeat until you have a solid list of coping strategies that you know you can turn to and rely on.
Although there are several constructive coping strategies you can turn to, there are also some negative ones. For example, some people might turn to alcohol or other substances to help them escape or unwind from stressful situations. These kinds of unhelpful coping strategies don't show people that they can sit with, experience, and cope with stressful situations. Instead, they are a way to escape thoughts and emotions, rather than building up resilience to them.
Coping Skills Worksheet 3: Challenge Your Thoughts
Everybody has negative thoughts now and again, and stressful situations can increase the likelihood of them. Negative thoughts are often based on inaccurate ways of thinking and false perceptions or beliefs people have about themselves or the world around them. When a negative thought follows this inaccurate pattern, it is also known as a thought distortion.
As difficult as it might sound, you can't believe everything you think. When a person makes a mistake, is running late, or doesn't perform the way they were expecting, it can be easy for their mind to wander into negative thoughts about themselves or the future.
These thoughts can create false generalizations that can make people more stressed, anxious, or even depressed. When you challenge your thoughts, you can stop the distortion in its tracks and prevent it from growing into a greater source of stress.
Use the worksheet as follows:
- Focus on whatever unhelpful thought you are currently facing.
- Write down the situation or events that lead you to have that thought. This could be something stressful that you just encountered or a challenge that you had to face earlier in the day that has popped back into your mind.
- Next, gather evidence that supports your thought. What facts can you find that could be used to prove it? For example, if your thought was, "I'm a bad mom," you should look for evidence that upholds this claim. Maybe you were late to pick your child up from school.
- Then, gather evidence that contradicts the thought. What evidence is there that doesn't support it? Maybe you drove your kiddo to every soccer practice last week, helped them with their homework, and were only late to pick them up because there was a traffic accident.
- Compare the evidence. Did you find more evidence that supports the thought or that contradicts it? Is the evidence that you wrote down truly factual, or are they possibly other thought distortions that aren't rooted in any evidence?
- Use the comparisons above to determine whether the thought is true. If you have more evidence that contradicts the thought, then it might be a distortion.
- Finally, change the thought. For example, if your original thought was, "I'm a bad mom," but the evidence you gathered doesn't support this statement, then change it to more accurately reflect the situation. Maybe you change the thought to "I'm late to pick up my kids sometimes, but I love and support them the best that I can."
- Repeat whenever a negative thought arises.
On some occasions, you might find that you have more evidence that supports the negative thought. In these instances, reflect on the evidence you have collected and make sure that it is accurate. Then, turn to a coping strategy to help you manage your emotions and begin to make a plan about how to address the issue.
Develop Coping Skills That Work For You
In life, there is rarely just one remedy to solve a problem. People are complex, and often, several strategies must be employed in order to combat stress. These worksheets are just one of many ways to cope with the effects of stress and modify your lifestyle so you can improve your mental, emotional, and physical well-being.
Changing one's lifestyle and habits can take time. Stress is often interwoven into your thoughts, emotions, and lifestyle. It takes practice and patience to work through all the reasons you might feel stressed and discover strategies that help you cope in healthier ways. It might be challenging, especially in the beginning, but don't give up! Every time you practice a strategy, you're one step closer to making it a habit.