< Trauma Headquarters - Stress Coping Skills
An Online Community and Special Needs Resource

Trauma HQ

   Stress Coping Skills
   Symptoms of Stress
   Contact Us











































Positive and Negative Stress Coping Skills

As you read this page, I want you to be looking at your child, your spouse, and YOU.  It is important you do not leave yourself out of this one.  In fact, first you are going to concentrate on you.  We are all human, and every human being uses these skills.  So be honest with yourself. 

Yes, everything on this page applies to your child as well.  It applies to anyone who is human.  That means it applies to you, your spouse, your children, your family members, strangers, friends, etc.

It is going to be real easy to see the coping skills your child or spouse use.  They will stand out like a sore thumb.  You will find yourself saying, "Yep. That is what my kid does.  Yep. I told you.  Hey, my spouse does that."  You will have a big desire to tell your child this and then expect him/her to stop using negative coping skills.  I'm sorry to say it won't work that way though. Your child will probably rebel against you if you approach it that way.  But, you should  have your spouse read this page as well. 

Both you and your spouse should read this page, identify your negative stress coping skills individually and sit down and discuss them together.  Then pick some positive coping skills you would like to work towards to replace the negative ones.  If your spouse does not want to do this, that is ok, you still need to do this.

Yes, I know, your child uses mostly all negative coping skills and the behavior is driving you nuts!  You think some of these skills are because your child has been diagnosed with Reactive Attachment Disorder, ODD, Bipolar, etc. and they are part of that disorder.  At times it can sure look that way.  But these skills are not part of RAD or other diagnoses, they are negative stress coping skills.  I'll say that again.  These behaviors are responses to an overload of stress and are negative stress coping skills.  So when you are told or think your child does this because he/she has RAD or some other diagnosis (other than PTSD), you are being misled.  Your child does this because that is how your child learned to cope with stress.  Even a small amount of stress like deciding between a hamburger or chicken nuggets can cause your child to go into a negative stress coping response! 

It's kinda like which came first, the chicken or the egg?  Well in the case of RAD, ODD, etc., the stress came first and keeps building and growing bigger and bigger.  If a person remains in high stress situations for a long time, the body forgets what to do when out of the stress.  You must re-teach your body what to do and how to calm.  This is an involuntary function of the nervous system.  Again, this is an involuntary function of the nervous system. 

Stress hinders a person's ability to attach. If you want your child to attach, you first have to learn the extent of your child's stress and work to calm his/her stress.   A child will only be able to attach when that child is calm and safe. 

If you have been living in a lot of stress from parenting these children for the last few years, then you know exactly what I am talking about.  You have been so stressed out that it is very difficult to relax and enjoy life anymore.  You may even have developed PTSD by now!  The majority of parents do develop PTSD!  Well, with that said, it is time to take care of yourself and time to get you out of the vortex and heal the PTSD.

I know, you just want to stop the behavior in the kid right now and then work on yours, as most of yours will disappear then. I know.. I know.  But you can't do it that way.  In time you will be ready to help your child turn negative coping skills into positive ones, but right now you have to concentrate on yourself!  You can not even concentrate on your spouse!  You have to concentrate only on yourself right now.  You can discuss this with your spouse,  Hopefully your spouse will do this for him/herself as well, and then the two of you can discuss this and begin to recognize the coping skills in each other and work with them.   

Then start observing the negative coping skills your child and the people around you display (at the school, at work, at the store, neighbors, etc.).  Just observe.  In the beginning, just observe and contemplate.  Remember, your main focus at this point is to recognize your own negative coping skills and to pull yourself out of a negative coping skill the minute you recognize one.  When you recognize one in someone else (your child included), for right now, just observe and contemplate.  Don't forget, just observe for right now. Just recognize the behavior for what it is, a negative stress coping skill.

Right now you just have to take care of yourself.  You have to find your negative coping skills and work to replace them with positive coping skills.  Yes, you will begin to recognize the stress coping skills in your child.  When this happens remember, you must remain calm and not allow the stress coping skill to pull you in the vortex.  For now, just recognizing it in yourself, your child, and others is a big step!  You are going to first start with your own and concentrate on making your life as calm as you can, even though you live in a chaotic atmosphere with people constantly using negative stress coping skills.  It is going to be tough, but you can do it! 

Most people cope successfully with 98% of their stressors.  We make hundreds of adjustments each day and manage most situations quite well.  Wow, that means it is only 2% of your stressors that are driving you nuts!  Oh, that is encouraging!  That puts it in a more manageable perspective.  That simple 2% has grown very large and damaging.  So all you have to do is start working on reducing the impact of that 2%.

Usually no single strategy will be effective in managing all of life's challenges.  That is why we need a variety of coping skills.  Most people use three or four favorite coping styles over and over again (copers to rely on regularly to get through most tough situations).

Every one of your coping mechanisms work, or you wouldn't use it again!  Yes, this is true for your child as well.  Every one of his/her coping mechanisms works and reduces his/her stress.  This is why no matter what you do, your child keeps doing what he/she does!  His mind/body needs immediate relief of the stress, and coping skills provide that. His unconscious mind will continue to do the same thing no matter what you do.  This is why  consequences have so little effect on the child.  Also, remember here, that every one of your coping mechanisms work too, and your unconscious mind will try to keep using them.

But some copers have a high cost.  We call these negative copers.  They bring immediate relief from tension but the positive effects don't last long, and the negative side effects are often quite serious.

Most negative copers are effective short-term stress relievers, but they create additional problems if repeated over a long period of time or in response to too many stressors.

Below is a list of stress coping skills.  A coping skill can be positive or negative.  Negative coping skills cost you every time you use them.  They will mask the problem.

Negative Coping Skills

Alcohol (Drink to change your mood.  Use alcohol as your friend)
Denial (Pretend nothing is wrong. Lie. Ignore the problem)
Drug Use (Abuse coffee/aspirin/medications.  Illegal drug use.)
Fault finding (Have a judgmental attitude. Complain. Criticize.)
Illness (Develop headaches/nervous stomach/major illness.  Become accident-prone.
Indulging (Stay up late, sleep in.  Buy on impulse. Waste time.)
Passivity (Hope it gets better. Procrastinate. Wait for lucky break)
Revenge (Get even. Be sarcastic. Talk mean)
Stubbornness (Be rigid. Demand your way. Refuse to be wrong.)
Tantrums (Yell, mope, pout, swear. Drive recklessly)
Food (Binging. Go on a diet. Use food to console yourself, ice cream, chocolate, comfort foods, etc.)
Smoking (Smoke to relieve tension. Smoke to be "in".)
Withdraw (Avoid the situation. Skip school or work.  Keep feelings to self.)
Worrying (Fret over things.  Imagine the worse)

Identify your negative coopers.  What do these copers do for you?  What does it cost you when you use them?








Positive Coping Skills


  • Breathing (Breathing is the easiest to learn and provides the fastest results!)

  • Getaways (Spend time alone.  See a movie.  Daydream.)

  • Hobbies (Write. Paint. Remodel. Create something.)

  • Learning (Take a class. Read. Join a club.)

  • Music (Play a instrument. Sing. Listen to your stereo.)

  • Play (play a game. Goof off. Go out with friends.)

  • Work (Tackle a new project. Keep busy. Volunteer.)

  • Laughing

  • Hugs

  • Pets (Pet Therapy.  Pet therapy can be very helpful to adults and children.  If using this to help a child, make sure the child is supervised at all times with a pet.  Never leave a child alone with a pet.  In an unsupervised situation the child could easily become stressed and hurt the pet.)


  • Balancing (Balance time at work and home. Accept the good and the bad.)

  • Conflict Resolution (Look for win/win solutions. Forgive readily.)

  • Esteem Building ( Build good Family feelings. Focus on personal strengths.)

  • Flexibility ( Take on a new Family roles. Stay open to change.)

  • Networking (Developing friendships with other families. Make use of the community resources.)

  • Togetherness (Take time to be together. Build family traditions. Express affection.)


Along with improving your ability to relax, you must assess diet and other strains on your body.

  • Exercise (Pursue physical fitness, job, swim, dance, or walk. Aerobic exercise can reduce anxiety up to 50%)
  • Good nutrition (a well balanced diet will improve your ability to appropriately respond to stress.)
  • Sleep (Get an adequate amount of rest each night.)
  • Caffeine (Reducing caffeine intake will help you manage your anxiety. 2 cups of coffee doubles the epinephrine level).


  • Affirmation (Believe in yourself. Trust others. Give compliments.)

  • Assertiveness (State your needs and wants. Say "no" respectfully.)

  • Contact (Make new friends. Touch. Really listen to others.)

  • Limits (Accept other's boundaries. Drop some involvement.)

  • Linking (Share problems with others. Ask for support from family and friends.)


  • Imagination (Look for the humor. Anticipate the future.)

  • Life planning (set clear goals. Plan for the future.)

  • Organizing (Take charge. Make order. Don't let things pile up.)

  • Problem Solving (Solve it yourself. Seek outside help. Tackle problems.)

  • Relabeling (Change perspectives. Look for good in a bad situation.)

  • Time Management ( Focus on top priorities. Work smarter.)


  • Biofeedback (Listen to your body. Know your physical limitations.) 

  • exercise (Pursue physical fitness. Jog,  swim, dance, or walk.)

  • Nourishment (Eat for health. Limit the use alcohol.)

  • Relaxation (tense and relax each muscles. Take a warm bath. breath deeply.)

  • Self-Care (Energize your work and play. Strive for self-improvement.)

  • Stretching (take short stretch breaks through out your day.)


  • Commitment (Take up a worthy cause.  Say "yes." Invest yourself meaningfully.

  • Faith (Find purpose and meaning.  Trust God.

  • Prayer (Confess. Ask forgiveness. ray for others. Give thanks.

  • Surrender (Let go of problems.  Learn to live with situations.)

  • Valuing (Set priorities.  Be consistent.  Spend time and energy wisely.

  • Worship (Share beliefs with others. Put faith into action.)

The above are techniques that are reliable stress relievers without the negative side effects.  These skills can be used over and over again for a variety of stressful situations.

Now pick a positive stress coper that you can do as soon as you recognize you are using a negative one.  Write the positive coper next to the negative one.  Write "I will work to replace "(name of negative coper)" with "(name of positive coper).

After doing this, post what you are comfortable sharing in our forum under stress.  Talk about how you will change a negative response into a positive one with others on the stress forum.