Five coping strategies backed by science

Today, October 10, is World Mental Health day. I’m no mental health professional but the topic of mental health is something I care deeply about.

To acknowledge this day, I’d like to share with you 5 science based coping strategies.

Whenever we feel bad, we naturally want to do things that make us feel better. But often our first impulses are not the most helpful. We reach for comfort food, binge watch TV series or retreat into games.

This list of five positive coping strategies backed by science is compiled by Dr Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and creator of the course “The Science of Well-Being” at Coursera. If you prefer video, check out her 7 minute clip on YouTube.

1. Exercise

Research has shown that 30 minutes of cardio every day is just as effective at boosting our mood as anti-depressant medication. Not only that, it was more effective than medication in keeping depressive symptoms from coming back after the depression lifted.

2. Practice Gratitude

You can train your mind to focus on happier things, simply by paying attention to the kind of things you are grateful for. Try writing down 3-5 things you are grateful for every night before going to bed, it’s a very good start.

3. Sleep

Sleep hygiene is always important, but even more so when there are adverse stuff going on in life. Having a proper way to wind down in the evening, avoid distracting tech and going to bed at a decent hour helps us get the rest we need.

4. Get Social

Research says that happy people prioritize and schedule social time with others, even in very busy periods. Unfortunately a common tendency when feeling a bit down is to withdraw, but we would often be better off fighting this tendency and start to connect instead. The simple act of being with other people can make us feel better.

5. Be with your emotions

Laurie mentions the meditation technique popularized by Tara Brach called RAIN

  • Recognize what is happening
  • Allow the experience to be there, just as it is
  • Investigate with interest and care
  • Nurture with self-compassion

This is a way of dealing with negative emotions while we have them, as an alternative to pretending they don’t exist or push them away.

Very often, the mere act of identifying a feeling and where it comes from diminishes its strength significantly.

I’ve experienced several times that I had a crappy feeling and as soon as I told my husband about it and why I felt that way, the feelings melted away. Like when I resisted them, they were brewing at the back of my mind and became stronger. But speaking them out loud made them lose power.

In Swedish we have this saying that “if you drag the trolls out into the sun, they burst”.

Spread some light by sharing these strategies

This year is not over yet, but it has already given us plenty of opportunities to practice our coping strategies. Help your fellow human by sharing this list with them.

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