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What are coping strategies?

Coping strategies are practical techniques that can help us to manage day-to-day life. We all rely on coping strategies when dealing with difficult emotions, situations or relationships. Some people who get anxious using public transport might listen to music or audiobooks as a means of distraction. Others who are afraid of being in confined spaces might practice deep breathing or visualisation exercises to reduce the feeling of panic.

At times, some voice-hearers might feel completely overwhelmed by their voices, and may feel paralysed and unable to do the things they want or need to do. However, there are many creative ways in which people who hear voices do learn to cope with, manage, or live alongside their voices and emotions. Some people have even found that their voices have given them helpful suggestions along the way, or have proven a source of strength, reassurance or assistance at times of difficulty. Others find that once they start experimenting with different coping strategies, their relationship with their voices can change.

There’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach when it comes to coping strategies – we’re all unique.

On this page, you’ll find a coping strategy toolkit which contains some ideas to get you started. You can find a coping strategy by choosing any of the categories, or you can browse through them all here.

If you’re concerned that some of your coping strategies might be causing you or other people harm, you can skip straight to this section. If you’re feeling hopeless and looking for immediate help, you can jump straight to In crisis? where you’ll find different ideas for how to get help quickly.

Finding a coping strategy that works for you

Voice Collective is a London based charity that specializes in supporting young people who hear voices, see visions or have other unusual experiences. They have been thinking about different ways of coping with distressing voices for a long time, and much of what they have to say is useful for people of all ages. In the view of one of their founders, Rachel Waddingham, it is helpful to think about coping strategies in terms of the function they serve – what it is you want to use them for or to help you do.

 

Voice Collective identify six different types of coping strategy:

Safety strategies
Designed to help you feel calmer, safer and more secure. Useful if your voices threaten you, or make you feel scared or anxious.

Blocking strategies
Can help you block out the voices or make them seem quieter and further away. Useful if you need a break from your experiences or want to concentrate on something else.

Empowering strategies
Designed to change the power balance between you and the voices. Can help you feel more in control of your experiences.

Expressive strategies
Useful when you want to express your feelings and the experiences you are going through. Can be carthartic and/or a way of letting off steam.

Compassionate strategies
Can help you to be kinder to yourself when you’re distressed by your voices, emotions or other difficult experiences. May also involve being compassionate towards the voices themselves.

Connection strategies
Helpful if you’re feeling isolated and alone, or disconnected from yourself, your body or the world in general.

COPING STRATEGY TOOLKIT

In the Coping Strategy Toolkit below, you’ll find some different coping strategy ideas that we have collected through talking with voice-hearers, their friends and families. We’ve chosen to classify them using the Voice Collective system because we hope you’ll find it useful.

I’m worried that my coping strategies are causing me harm – what can I do?

Any coping strategy might become problematic if it comes into conflict with other parts of life, for example, by causing physical health problems, relationship difficulties or financial issues. For example, drinking alcohol might feel helpful in the moment to block out voices- but it can also become a problem in itself.

Understanding the ‘why’ behind the coping strategy can be a starting point for exploring other options. The same coping strategy, drinking alcohol, might be used by different people for different reasons: to block out powerful voices, make the person feel more in control, numb emotions, connect with different memories or feelings, or feel more confident. Identifying why the strategy is being used, and validating it, can open up a conversation or reflection on what other strategies might be used in its place. You can search our coping strategies by theme to look for similar coping strategies.

For people who are worried about their drinking, services such as Drinkline and Alcohol Concern offer information and support, including details of local support groups throughout the UK. Drugwise produce evidence-based information on alcohol, drugs, tobacco and prescription drug dependency, as well as sources of support, and FRANK offer information and advice for young people about street drugs.

Some people use self-harm or self-injury to cope with distressing voices. Self-harm is generally understood as “intentional self-poisoning or injury, irrespective of the apparent purpose of the act” (Nice guidelines). It includes cutting, burning, ingesting harmful substances (including overdosing), skin picking, banging head or limbs, and many more.

Self-harm is sometimes used as a coping strategy, and for some people, it is helpful in the moment, as it can help with blocking intense voices, creating a feeling of safety or control, or expressing big emotions- and many more functions beyond these. Not everyone who self-harms accesses mental health support or primary care (GP or emergency services) because of their self-harm. However, some people find that their self-harm requires medical assistance, or want help to stop or reduce self-harming. Other people look for support or advice around harm reduction so they can reduce the risks involved in self-harm. GPs or mental health services can provide support with this. Specialist self-harm organisations can also provide information and help.

Self Injury Support, a service for women and girls who self-harm, have produced a range of resources on different ways of thinking about self-harm, and alternative coping strategies for dealing with difficult feelings. They also offer a range of support services for women and girls across the UK. The National Self-Harm Network operate an online forum for people of all genders to connect, share experiences and receive peer support, and SelfharmUK offer a range of support services for young people. The Samaritans also offer a confidential, 24/7 support service over telephone and email.

 

See also: In crisis?

 

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