Coping Skills For Therapists That You Can Quickly Use to Reduce Anxiety Between Sessions?
Raise your hand if you have felt anxious and overwhelmed recently, either while seeing a client or in between sessions. You are not alone. Worldwide, we have collectively experienced fear, sadness, and insecurities facing a global pandemic, and as a clinician you’ve felt the brunt of the pandemic with an increase in clients experiencing depression, anxiety and stress. While the pandemic may have grown your practice, it has most probably also exhausted you and perhaps you have had to adopt new coping skills, or you’ve forgotten about coping skills all together? Perhaps you’re telling clients what to do, but in practice your not following it yourself? If you’re needing a reminder, below are some top coping skills for therapists and clients to use practically anywhere.
Skill 1: Name it to tame it.
As a clinician, you may know that it can take less than 5 seconds to have a physical feeling and identify the emotion attached to it. Once we recognize the feeling and pinpoint an antidote, we can take action to ease the reaction. Name the feeling to tame your response.
Skill 2: Breathe.
How many times have we heard that before? This is an invaluable remedy to many distressing physical and emotional feelings. Deep diaphragmatic breathing does not necessarily come naturally. Focus on a “4-square breathing” technique in which you take in a deep “belly expanding” breath, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and count 4 seconds before starting again. You can also briefly step outside and breathe in the fresh air, or smell a calming lavender scent. Either way, find your way to “mindfully” breathe.
Skill 3: Be Mindful if You Have a “Full Mind.”
Get out of your head! If your thoughts are steering you in the wrong direction, put on the brakes, stop the stink’n think’n, and become present in the moment. As you may know, when we experience anxiety, we are usually ruminating over the past or worrying about the future. Use the present as a present for you to open up a new focus of attention. Look around you. Can you gradually find 5 things you see, 4 things to touch, 3 things to smell, 2 things you hear, and one thing you can taste? You have controlled your thoughts by redirecting your objective.
Skill 4: Jumping Jacks.
Have you tried deep breathing, but your heart still returns to racing? Catch up to it. Get going and do 50 jumping jacks, or 25 push-ups (or if you are really crazy, 30 burpees). Not only will this refocus your thoughts, but your brain will also be tricked into thinking the increased heart rate is due to exercise. You will gain a sense of equilibrium both physically and psychologically. Extra points earned for the little exercise that releases endorphins, which helps relieve pain and reduce stress.
Skill 5: Chew Gum.
You heard (read) that right! And, how easy is that? Here’s how it works. When we are chewing, our salivary glands produce saliva to help dissolve food. The reptilian part of our brain equates salivating with safety. Think about it. When a rabbit is in the wild, eating the berries on the bushes, and it feels the presence of prey around, it stops chewing, becomes afraid, and the fight or flight response kicks in, automatically stopping salivation. Animals will stop eating when they feel they are about to be eaten. When the threat has disappeared, the rabbit feels safe and will resume eating, and thus salivating. Using this knowledge to your benefit, the next time you feel a little uneasy, get those salivary glands working and grab some Hubba Bubba, and start chewing away.
While the pace of society decreased, our distress does not have to increase. Use these tips and tricks to combat your anxiety anywhere. Know your thoughts, control your feelings and own your destiny.
Additional Coping Skills for Therapists to Use:
Read the following articles if you’re looking for some more tips on navigating being a clinician during a pandemic:
- Caring For Ourselves While Caring For Others
- How to Stay Connected and Beat Isolation in Private Practice
- 6 Signs You’re Suffering From Therapist Burnout (And 3 Things You Can Do About It)
Sue is a licensed clinical social worker specializing in trauma, self-defeating thoughts/behaviors, and mood disorders. Sue works in private practice in the Chicagoland area. She has extensive experience working with teens, adults, couples, and families through counseling, teaching, and in inpatient and outpatient mental health settings, including; psychiatric units, detox centers, and a residential treatment facility for women.When not trying to save the world, she enjoys running and, spending time with her children, husband, and retired racing greyhounds.