Elena Darmenko

Expat Psychotherapist

Coping Skills.
What You Urgently Need to Put into Your Expat Emotional Toolbox

Learning coping skills is a great tool for successful adaptation
"Learning different coping skills is very important for all expats" - as an expat counselor I've heard this dozen, or even hundreds of times. And I do agree. Coping skills are useful and important. But let's figure out, which ones you can learn yourself before you leave your home country, and when you need a professional assistance.

Coping Skill – the Definition

"What even is a coping skill?", "Are they always healthy?", "Can I use them to manage all sorts of feelings?". These are the most common questions I'm asked about coping skills. A term "coping skill" is usually used to describe an activity that is good for a person's mental health. But as psychologist I'd like to add that a coping skill means more an adaptation to an environmental stress; it's based on your personal choice; it gives you the sense of control over your behavior, and a psychological comfort. And that's why it's so important for expats to learn and develop healthy coping skills.

Some people think that coping skills are just a kind of a band-aid solution of a problem. The reason behind is that they're using coping skills when dealing with symptoms, without figuring out where they come from.

From my experience, this doesn't work!

For instance, when you use relaxation techniques for managing anxiety, they might be temporary helpful. But if you learn what exactly causes your anxiety, the effectiveness of any coping skill will become much higher as you will get the control over the situation.

Learning and practicing coping skills, effective in your case, requires time and efforts. You'll need to dive deep into issues that are bother you. And only when you find the source of your problems, you can start coping with it.

Can Any of Coping Skills Be Unhealthy?

Yes, there are a lot of unhealthy coping skills, and we use them occasionally in our lives. Coping skills might be adaptive and healthy, or they might be maladaptive, which means they help someone feel better in a moment, but they are harmful in the long run.

Unhealthy coping skills include procrastination, drug and alcohol abuse, self-harm, risky behavior, violence, etc.

Again, we all use some of these coping skills occasionally, but it's not a smart idea to rely on them as the main way to manage stress.

Types of Coping Skills

There are lots of coping skills you can learn and use depending on your situation and symptoms. It's important to realize that not all coping skills work for all people, so you will probably need to try some to understand which ones work better.

Here I'll name some of the types of coping skills (from physical to social ones) that I help my expat clients to learn.

First and one of the most effective is relaxation. It's especially helpful for all types of anxiety, as its symptoms are felt strongly in the body. However, be ready that it takes time to learn how to relax and soothe and feel calmer. The few relaxation coping skills you can try are deep breathing exercises and progressive muscle relaxation, as well as soothing activities like a warm bath.

Another one refers to mindfulness, as it helps you live in momentum, and enjoy your present rather than get worried about the future. One of the most useful skills you can learn and practice is meditation. My clients report that even 10-15 minutes of meditation every day (morning or evening) help them to feel more grounded during stressful situations.

Healthy ways to express emotions. You'll probably be surprised, but sometimes strong feelings just need to be let out. In this case, the journaling might be very helpful. It allows not only to express your emotions, but also to think about the possible source of a negativity.

Positive activities or social coping skills. When moving oversees, a lot of expats face the feeling of a social loneliness or social isolation, so finding some social opportunities become good coping skills for them. These activities may include volunteering, sports, hobbies, etc. Everything that gives you the sense that you've become a part of a group and you're doing important, exciting, or just fun things together.

As you see, there are many different coping skills you can learn before you leave your home country. You can try and practice physical ones or find information about the positive activities. All this will work for fast and painless adaptation in the new country, helping you to get the most of your moving abroad.