Medically reviewed by Angela Sheddan, FNP
Written by Our Editorial Team
Last updated 3/20/2023
Looking for coping skills for mental health? You’ve come to the right place.
Mental illnesses are alarmingly common health problems that can have a significant impact on your quality of life and well-being.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), nearly one in five American adults live with a mental illness. An estimated 31 percent of the adult population faces an anxiety disorder at some point in life, with 8.4 percent affected by major depressive episodes every year.
If you’re one of the tens of millions of U.S. adults affected by mental illness, it’s vital to establish healthy coping skills for dealing with your symptoms and remaining focused on your daily life.
Understanding how to cope can help you effectively deal with difficult situations and gain control over your emotional health.
It can also give you the insight you need to take action and, if needed, seek support from a mental health professional.
Below, we’ll go over nine positive coping skills for mental health you can use to successfully deal with difficult times in your life, stressful situations, negative emotions and challenging moments in which your mental health symptoms just feel like too much to handle.
We’ll also explain how working with a mental health provider can help you make progress toward feeling better and gaining more control over your mental health issues.
One of the most interesting things about discovering how to cope with mental health challenges is that many of the best coping mechanisms aren’t complicated or difficult.
In fact, for many people, the simplest methods of coping are often the most effective at reducing the severity of mental health symptoms and giving you more control over difficult emotions.
In other words, you don’t need to read and memorize a mental health textbook to learn how to develop healthy coping strategies for depression, anxiety or psychological stress.
Ahead, we’ll share nine simple but effective coping skills for mental health you can use whenever you feel anxious, depressed or just overwhelmed by life — from breathing exercises that only take a few minutes to long-term approaches, such as taking part in therapy.
Feeling stressed, concerned or as if you’re about to panic? Deep breathing is one of the best coping mechanisms for mental health.
It involves taking slow, deliberate breaths to calm your mind and reduce the severity of negative feelings in stressful, anxiety-inducing situations.
Over the years, researchers have looked into the effects of slow, deep breathing as a relaxation technique, with generally positive results.
For example, research has found that diaphragmatic breathing — an approach to breathing that involves using your stomach, not solely your chest — might trigger a relaxation response in your body and reduce levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol.
One popular breathing strategy for dealing with stress and anxiety is the 4-7-8 technique, which involves inhaling through your nose for four seconds and holding your breath for seven seconds before slowly exhaling as you count to eight.
Our guide to 4-7-8 breathing for anxiety goes into greater detail about how you can practice this technique for stress relief and better emotional well-being.
Mindfulness is a mental state that involves focusing solely on the present moment, without any judgment on your thoughts and feelings.
Experts have studied the effects of mindfulness meditation for a long time. Some research suggests it may offer benefits for reducing the severity of anxiety, depression and severe stress.
There’s also some evidence that mindfulness meditation might help promote healthy sleep — an issue many people with mental health issues struggle with.
Understanding how to practice mindfulness meditation is a valuable skill, especially if you have an anxiety or mood disorder. It’s something you can practice as needed, whether on a daily basis or whenever you feel overwhelmed by life.
Our guide to practicing mindfulness discusses how you can learn to be more mindful, as well as how mindfulness can help you reduce emotional stress and promote mental well-being.
Sometimes, the most effective technique for dealing with emotional distress is a quick workout, bike ride or walk in the park.
Physical exercise has countless benefits for your mental and physical health. Contrary to what many people think, you also don’t need to exercise that much — or at an extreme intensity level — to experience noticeable benefits from exercise.
For instance, as the NIMH explains, just 30 minutes of walking per day can help to boost your mood.
If you’re struggling with mental health, try making exercise part of your daily routine, even if it’s just a quick workout at home.
Our guide to exercise and mental health covers the emotional benefits of staying active in more detail, including how fun activities such as walking, performing yoga and bodyweight exercises can help with sleep and self-esteem.
For many people, one of the most effective ways to successfully cope with a mental illness is to learn more about it, including how it can affect your daily life and personal well-being.
If you’ve been diagnosed with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or a similar mental disorder, try to educate yourself about your symptoms and the impact that they have on your mental stability, feelings and day-to-day life.
Understanding your mental disorder can help you separate yourself from thoughts and feelings that emerge as a result of your mental health status.
Not only can this make it easier to understand how your mental illness affects you, but it’s also an important technique for avoiding blaming yourself for things that may not be completely within your control.
Just like other aspects of your life, the more educated you become about your mental health, the more equipped you’ll be to develop important mental health skills for coping and improving your well-being.
Another effective skill for dealing with mental health issues is learning to reframe harmful, challenging or uncomfortable emotions.
Reframing involves looking at situations or feelings that frustrate you, cause stress or worsen your mental health symptoms from a different angle.
For example, instead of letting an inconvenience or personal setback make you feel stressed, you can reframe it by thinking of it as something that’s already happened — but also something you can learn to live with.
By reframing your emotions, you can turn situations that cause stress or frustration into great opportunities to grow and develop as a person.
Caring for yourself is one of the most crucial coping skills for mental illness. It’s particularly important if you have a mental disorder that affects the way you think, feel or behave.
One of the most important things you can do to promote mental and emotional health is to practice self-care. This means actively caring for yourself, from maintaining a regular sleep schedule to prioritizing your needs each day.
Developing self-care habits is a skill — one that you can work on gradually by focusing on small, consistent improvements.
Our list of self-care tips for women shares simple but effective self-care techniques you can add to your routine to manage feelings of anxiety and depression, prioritize the things that make you feel happy, and ensure you don’t let your needs fall too far down on your personal to-do list.
Many mental health disorders can cause you to isolate yourself socially and avoid contact with friends and family.
When you limit your contact with other people, it can become easy to ruminate — meaning you focus solely on events and issues that cause you to feel depressed, anxious, stressed or unhappy.
One of the most effective coping skills for dealing with stress, anxiety and other mental health issues is to open up to your friends, family members and other people who care about you.
This can mean scheduling time to spend with others, even if you might not feel like being in a social environment. It can also mean learning to talk to people you trust, such as your partner, close friends or family members, about how you feel.
Our guide to telling someone you’re depressed explains why it’s important to talk openly about your mental health, as well as how you can open up about your mental health difficulties to the people you care about.
While it may not seem like a skill, learning how to avoid drugs and alcohol — both of which can make mental health issues worse — is an important part of becoming mentally healthy.
Although alcohol and illegal drugs can numb your emotions in the short term, both are linked to increased stress in the long term. Using drugs or drinking can easily create new problems, in addition to making your existing emotional issues more severe.
One way to avoid alcohol and drugs is to create new behaviors to replace going out at night or spending time in bars and clubs. This could mean going to daytime events in your area, joining a support group or setting aside more time for your other hobbies.
Alternatively, if you think you may have a substance use disorder (SUD), reaching out for professional help can be a great first step toward gaining control over your actions and living a mentally and physically healthier life.
Finally, one of the most effective ways to successfully cope with mental health difficulties is to seek help from an expert.
Talking to a psychiatrist can help you to learn if you have a mental disorder, and if so, access effective treatment. This could mean using mental health medication, participating in therapy, making changes to your lifestyle or a combination of approaches.
We offer psychiatry online as part of our range of mental health services, allowing you to talk with a mental health expert and access treatment from the privacy of your home.
We also offer online therapy, letting you connect with a professional counselor and talk about whatever’s on your mind, whenever you feel like you need it.
Life can sometimes be frustrating and stressful. Add a mental illness into the equation, and it’s easy to feel overwhelmed, unhappy and, in many cases, unable to manage successfully.
Coping skills aren’t a replacement for medication or psychotherapy, but they can have a major positive impact on your ability to deal with mental health symptoms and become more resilient in situations that take a toll on your emotional well-being.
If you suffer from a mental health disorder and want to get started with coping skills, try adding the mental health coping methods above into your routine.
Over time, you might notice you’re more able to process strong emotions without feeling stressed, frustrated or overwhelmed by life.
If you think you might have a psychiatric disorder and want to seek help, you can connect with an expert online by taking part in a mental health consultation.
You can also learn more about how to successfully treat mental health disorders in our detailed guide to seeking help for your mental health.