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Coping skills and strategies are the actions and behaviors that help someone deal with difficult situations and the distress they feel as a result.


A simple fact of life is that we are going to experience uncomfortable emotions at some point.

Unexpected life events, difficult relationships or unmet expectations can cause us emotional stress such as anxiety, frustration, or sadness. While certain factors may be outside of our control, how we handle emotional stress is something we CAN control. Coping skills and strategies are the actions and behaviors that help someone deal with difficult situations and the distress they feel as a consequence of difficulties faced.

Follow the graphic below to consider if you need to change your situation or your emotional way of coping.

Physical Abuse Cloud 3

If you have gone through any kind of trauma in
your life, particularly as a child, chances are you’ve
developed means of coping that helped you
survive. Often times though these coping skills
are unhealthy and can be harmful later in life.
Some examples of unhealthy
coping skills can be:

Substance use/abuse
Social Withdrawal/Difficulties
Over/Under eating
Sleep Issues
Negative thinking toward self
Seeking validation from others
If you recognize some of these coping
mechanisms within yourself, it may be time
to honor the fact that these helped you
through a VERY hard situation. If you are ready
to continue your journey towards growth and
healing, the next step is to consider learning
new coping skills that could be more helpful.
Next Steps

Learning new coping skills is absolutely possible. However it takes some work.

You are literally re-wiring your brain to respond to stress in a new way, and training your brain takes repetition and intentionality. So practice, practice, practice and keep going!


Everyone is unique in how they handle stress or painful emotions – what works for you may not work for your best friend.

This is why it is important to figure out which strategies work best for you so that you can build resiliency in the face of challenges.

The goal is to find healthy outlets that can help with overwhelming emotions and avoid unhealthy activities that end up being negative (harmful) in the long run.



These types of coping skills allow you to escape
from the current stressor or difficult emotions.

• Write, draw, paint, take pictures
• Read a book
• Do a puzzle, board game, card game
• Listen to music, sing, dance
• Play with a pet
• Clean or organize your environment
• Listen to a podcast
• Watch a movie or play video game
• Use sensory tools – fidget cube, outty, slime, etc.



These types of coping skills help to change toxic
and negative thoughts into positive ones.

• Journal (hopes, dreams, ideas and feelings)
Need Ideas? Click Here
• Write list of goals (1 week, 1yr, 5 yrs, 10…)
• Make pros/cons list for decisions
• Memorize a quote that inspires you
• Pray or meditate
• Write out the things you CAN control and those you CAN’T
• Use a Mental Health App
• Write list of positive thoughts for each negative thought you have



These types of coping skills help to release tension
in your body and build positive hormones.

• Exercise
• Get out in nature
• Do something relaxing (take a bath, facial, etc.)
• Do grounding exercise
• Deep breathing
• Do catharsis activity (rip paper into pieces, punch pillow, cry)
• Do a ‘try not to laugh’ challenge
• Get sleep or rest



These types of coping skills help you to connect
to another human being/loved one

• Reach out to a friend
• Write a letter to someone you care about
• Play with a pet
• Establish healthy boundaries
• Look into volunteer opportunities
• Reach out to a support hotline



Download and print out this helpful worksheet to make your own
list of Healthy Coping Skills.

Try various ones to see which fit you the most. And keep trying! Sometimes it
takes a while for the habit to catch on. Remember, you’re re-wiring your brain,
so give yourself some time. But as you utilize these new skills you will be able
to face those difficult life experiences head on.

Grounding techniques are strategies that can help a person manage their traumatic memories or strong emotions.


Grounding techniques are strategies that can help a person manage their traumatic memories or strong
emotions. The goal is to decrease the intensity of a body’s stress response and to allow a person to
reduce negative thoughts or flashbacks. By focusing on the present moment, a person can detach from
the pain of the past and lessen the anxiety of the unknown future. These techniques are often used by
counselors or health providers to guide someone that has experienced trauma, but the exercises can be
used by anyone that is interested in reaching a calmer state of mind.

Let’s talk a little bit about the SCIENCE behind how
grounding works. Our brains are fundamentally designed
to help us survive.
You have probably heard about the body’s response to
stress being FIGHT-FLIGHT-FREEZE, right?
There are certain emergency response sections of our brain
that automatically prompt our bodies to react to danger;
Everyone is unique in how they handle stress or painful emotions – what works for you may not work for your best friend.

This is why it is important to figure out which strategies work best for you so that you can build resiliency in the face of challenges.

The goal is to find healthy outlets that can help with overwhelming emotions and avoid unhealthy activities that end up being negative (harmful) in the long run.

Grounding techniques help your body to be more relaxed and help re-focus your thoughts into the present moment.

Just like coping skills, grounding exercises are highly personal. It may take a little time and some practice to find the techniques that work best for you.

Here are a few strategies to try:

Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories.


Gaslighting is a form of psychological abuse where a person or group makes someone question their sanity, perception of reality, or memories. This can be intentional and sometimes unintentional. Either way, it is not OK!

Gaslighting can take many different forms and can happen within various types of relationships. Victims of gaslighting may feel exhausted or simply confused after talking with the abuser. That is the goal of the abuser, as it is a form of control. This can be harmful to the victim, as it may impact their functioning, self-esteem, and mental health.

• Telling others dishonest things about you
• Making you feel like you are over-reacting
• Lying to you directly
• Twisting your words
• Making you feel your thoughts are unimportant or are invalid
• Making you feel guilty about your own opinions
• Avoiding taking any type of blame
Gaslighting should be taken seriously
as it is never ok to be pushed to the point of questioning your own
perceptions and memories.


gaslightingAfter learning about what gaslighting is, you may be wondering if it is happening to you. Individuals who are victims of gaslighting may start to feel as though they have lost control of their feelings and their confidence levels may be lower. You may start to wonder if something is wrong with you or think that others are not pleased with you. You may not feel capable of doing things that you typically would because you do not want to do something wrong. Heightening your awareness of these symptoms may help you identify things that your abuser does not want you to discover.
Remember, the goal of the abuser is to make you feel like you are not sure of yourself and your thoughts. Depending on the person and your relationship, they may be very good at twisting things around, making you feel like the bad person, or lead you to question your worth.

So far, we have reviewed what gaslighting is and how to identify if it is happening to you. It is also important to be able to identify when situations do not necessarily involve gaslighting. It can be easy to think that someone disagreeing with you or giving you feedback that you do not agree with is gaslighting.


It may require you to deeply think about a situation that you had with a person you suspect is your abuser. What did this person say to you that made you feel the way that you did? Does this person provide only negative and confusing feedback to you? What happens when you challenge what they say (what is their response)? Does this person validate you in any way?

Most importantly, ask yourself if you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned under “What Is Gaslighting?”.

If you are still unsure if you are being gaslighted, speak up! Tell someone that you trust what is happening and get their perspective on the situation. It is ok to ask for help when you do not know the answer!


You may be thinking, how do I handle an abuser who is gaslighting me? It will be important for you to maintain a grasp on reality and question things that do not seem right.

There are a few approaches that you can take, which include:
• Keeping a journal to keep track of things that happened. Remember to keep this in a safe place that cannot be found. Text or email a friend if you cannot keep a physical journal.

• Take photographs of things that you do. That way you can avoid being tricked into thinking something else happened.

• Remain focused on collecting evidence and do not argue with your abuser to avoid further manipulation.

• Talk with others and share your experiences! This can be done with someone you trust (family member, close friend, therapist). If you do not have those types of support, it is ok. There are supportive hotline and chatlines that can talk with you about what you are experiencing.


Below you will find different resources with links to articles and videos to help you continue to navigate this topic. Taking steps to educate yourself on gaslighting can help you better identify warning signs and increase your ability to take action.

Toxic stress is overwhelming and causes us to relive the feelings of fear, anxiety, and negative emotions connected to past or present traumatic experiences.


“I’m so stressed out!”

How many times do you think this to yourself or say these words in pure frustration? Monthly? Daily? Everyone feels stressed from time to time. Stressors can help you distinguish what is safe versus what is unsafe.

At one time or another, we have all felt stress. We all know that feeling where your heart and mind races and you get that sudden rush of energy prompting you to react to whatever the situation calls for – this reaction is known as the “fight or flight” response.

When we experience stress, our bodies send messages to our brains to release certain hormones that tell us what we need to do next.

Luckily, stress isn’t always a bad thing. Stress can give you the push and endurance to take action, when you need. Stress can give us that little bit of extra oomph to get things done and keep us moving forward. However, as helpful as stress can be at pushing us towards progress, there is a darker side to stress.
Stress can become unhealthy when we are continually exposed to the things that trigger our stress response and cause trauma inside our minds & bodies. This kind of stress overwhelms our senses and causes us to relive the feelings of fear, anxiety, and negative emotions connected to past or present traumatic life experiences. This emotionally paralyzing stress is known as toxic stress.

Normal stressors are healthy. They come and go with time and change, but toxic stress builds and stays with us constantly. When living with toxic stress, our brain is rewired to be in a constant state of alert and danger that overrides our ability to reason, to cope with change, and to problem-solve effectively.

If physical safety is not an issue, the next thing to do is to assess are our thoughts. Take a moment to stop, assess the stressors, and consider our most pressing needs.

It can be helpful to ask ourselves, “Do I need to change my situation, or do I need to find a way to cope better with the situation?”. Coming to this answer can help guide our next steps and how we approach them.

Toxic stress keeps us in a constant emotional state of walking on eggshells with no perceived relief in sight.

Over time, toxic stress can wreak havoc on our physical and mental health.

Lost hope can usher in the dark clouds of depression and anxiety making us feel even more stuck. When experiencing toxic stress, nothing feels like it is within our control, and we feel powerless in the narration of our own lives. It may feel like there is no way out and it will last forever… but that does not have to be the case.

While we may not always be able to completely change the situation or control the reasons we are feeling toxic stress, there are some things that we can do to help alleviate some of that pain and pressure that are within our control.

Of course, immediate safety takes priority. If you are feeling toxic levels of stress due to physical danger, do not hesitate to reach out for emergency support and get away from the situation.

One of hardest lessons in life is realizing that we cannot truly control the behaviors, perceptions, and reactions of someone else.

Instead, focus on the one sure thing that you can control — which is you. You can control your own perceptions, reactions, responses, and ultimately, your selfcare. Take small steps every day and make one positive change to your routine. We all know this is easier said than done.

Toxic stress gives us tunnel vision to only see the bad, but with practice and time, things can feel less overwhelming. And that’s a good start. Making one positive change a day and maintaining control over your reactions, you will find handling these stresses easier.

It’s important to recognize that you do not have to handle toxic stress by yourself; help is available, personally or professionally.

People are social creatures and are meant to have meaningful relationships. This means that we share the good, bad, and ugly tof life with one another. Toxic stress can make us feel like we are on a deserted island but we don’t have to do this alone.

Some of us worry about the burden we place on others, but the truth is the people in our lives truly want to be there for us when we need them. We just have to be willing to acknowledge we need help and then ask for it. There is nothing more comforting or powerful than the words, “I understand. I am here for you. You are not alone.”


Amidst the struggles of every day life and the difficult experiences that threaten to overwhelm our bodies’ stress response system, it can feel like our world is ending. With time, supportive coping skills, and with a helping hand of someone who cares, the dark clouds of toxic stress can and will lift, bringing on brighter days.

For additional information on toxic stress,
please explore Harvard’s Toxic Stress resource.

What we experience in life will often influence our thoughts, feelings and actions.


What we experience in life will often influence our thoughts, feelings and actions.

What we THINK affects our FEELINGS and ACTIONS
How we FEEL affects our THOUGHTS and ACTIONS
How we BEHAVE affects our FEELINGS and THOUGHTS

When we’ve faced difficulties and trauma, sometimes these thoughts,
feelings and actions can be unhealthy.
Unhealthy Thoughts
No one loves me
I don’t deserve to live
I should quit
I just can’t
I’m not good enough
Everything I do is wrong
There’s no hope
It’s my fault
I’m a bad person
I’m weak
I’m stupid
Unhealthy Actions
Don’t ask for help
Stop trying
Hurt others
Make a bad choice
Choose not to do something
Push others away
Self harm
Give up
Run away
Suicide attempt
Unhealthy Feelings
When we work to change these responses to the positive, great things start to happen!
Healthy Thoughts
I’m loved
I am deserving
I should try
I totally can
I’m good enough
It’s ok to make mistakes
There’s always hope
I’m capable
I’m a good person
I’m strong
I can control…
Healthy Actions
Ask for help
Keep trying
Help others
Make a good choice
Pursue something hard
Start healing
Face fears
Confide in others
Healthy Feelings


So how can we put this information to use to adjust the cycle from negative to positive? One hack might be to influence our THOUGHTS with positive self-talk and affirmations.

When you hear negative things about yourself, it can be easy to believe those things, but that doesn’t make them true. Positive self-talk can improve the way you see yourself, help you be more optimistic, and can help you feel less depressed or anxious.


RECOGNIZE Be aware of the negative
things you are telling yourself.
QUESTION Evaluate the evidence for the negative thoughts. Could you do anything to change what you feel bad about? What would you tell a friend who believed these critical things about themselves?
REPLACE Write down those negative thoughts, and replace each one with a positive attribute that honors you. Be realistic, what are your strengths?
Examples to try.
Negative Examples
You’re worthless and selfish.
You are terrible with school work.
You never listen to anyone.
You’re broken.
Positive Examples
I have value and care about others.
I’m doing my best and I’m good at writing.
My friends think I am good listener.
I am healing and getting stronger every day.

Another way of helping your body go from the negative to the positive is to hack its natural hormones to influence how you FEEL. We all have “happiness chemicals” in our body that help us to feel good. Engaging in certain activities can activate these in your body leading to improved mood.

Completing a task
Doing self-care activities
Eating good food
Celebrating little wins
Celebrating others’ wins
Playing with a dog
Time with loved ones
Holding hands
Hugging your family
Give a compliment
Sun exposure
Walking in nature
Laughter exercise
Essential oils
Watching a comedy
Dark chocolate

“…thank you very much for all the resources you’ve been helping me realize are around. I probably would have never found them on my own…”

– 15 year old Non-Binary teen

“You were so helpful today I wish you the best. You really deserve the world just know your actually making a change in the world.”

– Teen girl facing emotional abuse amid domestic violence

“Thank you so much honestly you might be the first person that’s EVER been so helpful and nice. You’re an angel!!!”

– 14 year old girl with history of physical, emotional, sexual abuse in family

“Thank you, I was crying for a bit during this but I feel better now. thank you for being here for me, I really needed your help and I’m so glad that you were here for me.”

– 15 year old genderfluid with emotional abuse and family instability

“thank you for talking to me i really wanted to talk about this to someone and i cant trust anyone else”

– 15 year old female teen

Thank you. It took alot of pride to get on here and talk about this. i wasnt confident if i should have or not. I really appreciate this. i really needed someone to talk to.

– 16 year old genderfluid teen


We’ve compiled a list of some frequently asked questions based on the interactions we have with teenagers just like you. Simply click on the question to see the answer.

Who do I report child abuse to?

Every state has an agency that investigates child abuse and neglect that occurs within the home. Sometimes, they are called Child Protective Services (CPS) or Department of Child Safety (DCS), but their main job is to provide help to families and keep children safe. You can find the reporting number for your state HERE or contact the Childhelp hotline to talk through a situation.

How do I know if I am being emotionally abused?
Emotional abuse can be complicated. Typically, it is a pattern of behavior or verbal actions that impair a child’s emotional development and sense of safety. Examples of emotional abuse can include harsh criticism or degradation, threats, rejection, or withholding love/support. Unfortunately, it can be difficult to prove emotional abuse, and each state has different policies for how to investigate or intervene. But that does not mean someone cannot get help for the pain that emotional abuse can cause, so do not hesitate to reach out for help from a trusted adult or contact the hotline to speak to a counselor.
I want to go live with my friend’s parents/other family, can I do that?
Parents have a right to the care and custody of their children so they would have to give their consent for this to happen. However, in situations of abuse, Child Protective Services (CPS) may work with a family to determine arrangements that keep everyone safe.
What will happen if I run away?
Running away can be dangerous. If you are under 18, the police will most likely require you to go back home unless there is clear evidence that there is a risk of immediate harm or serious injury to a child. If you are being abused, it is important to notify the police/Child Protective Services (CPS) of the abuse so that an investigation can take place. Another great resource that provides confidential advice and referrals to local support is the National Runaway Safeline: call 1-800-786-2929 or text 66008.
Can my parents take away my devices?
Yes, parents do have a right to take away devices or determine privileges.
When can I be emancipated?
Emancipation is a legal process that releases both the rights and the responsibilities of the care and custody of a child from their parents. Each state has a process for a minor to apply for emancipation from their parents . Generally there are certain requirements that must be met so that a judge can determine if it is appropriate to terminate a parent’s rights and responsibilities; the minor may be required to show that they can care for themselves and handle the responsibility of secure housing and financial stability. The application process can take awhile, so keep that in mind if you are close to the age of 18. You can search online for the details of the emancipation process for the state you live in.
I have a friend online and I think they are being abused, but I do not know where they live. How can I help them?
If you gather more information such as the state they live in, the school they attend, or their address, then we can help you find the appropriate agency to make a report to. You could also try to encourage your friend to talk to a safe adult (relative, teacher, coach) or encourage them to contact the hotline so that a counselor can help them explore their options in a safe and confidential way.
Will my parents go to jail?
Situations of extreme physical abuse and sexual abuse may involve criminal charges. For the majority of child abuse reports, Child Protective Services (CPS) will work with a family to offer support and resources to reduce incidents of abuse and neglect.
Will I be put in foster care if I make a report?
Child Protective Services (CPS) uses removal from a home as a last resort and it is considered when there is evidence of serious danger to the life and health of a child. Typically, they will try to keep families together by providing services in the home and monitoring the situation. It is dependent on state laws and regulations but their primary goal is to keep children safe.
Do I have to give my name when I call Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Many states will take an anonymous report, but it would be important to ask that question when you call. If they do not allow anonymous reporting, you can also ask how your identity can be kept confidential.
I’m a minor and an adult online just sent me some pornographic pictures, what do I do?
This is illegal and there are a few things that you can do. Depending on the platform you are on, you should report the person/profile directly to the site you are on. If you know who they are you can contact the local authorities. If you do not know their identity, you can contact The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or fill out an online form at cybertip.org.

This can be a scary situation to handle, so reaching out to an adult that you trust is also recommended.

I sent someone private pictures of myself but now they are threatening to post them on the internet/tell my parents unless I send more, what do I do?
This is illegal and the person making the threats should be reported to the authorities. We strongly encourage you to talk to your parents/guardian and have them help you contact law enforcement. If you know the person’s identity you can contact the authorities. Whether you know their identity or not, you can call the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children at 1-800-843-5678 or fill out an online form at cybertip.org.
Will Child Protective Services (CPS) do anything if my parents are on drugs?
Parental substance abuse is included in the definition of child abuse or neglect in many states, especially when it is related to the following circumstances: lack of supervision or adequate care of the child, exposing a child to dangerous substances or items, and manufacturing drugs in the presence of a child. Contact your local Child Protective Services (CPS) for additional details if you are concerned about a child.
I think a neighbor is abusing their kids, do I call the police or Child Protective Services (CPS)?
Police are the correct option if you think a child is in immediate danger since they are the quickest emergency response. You can also contact Child Protective Services (CPS) to discuss the situation and see if they can conduct an investigation with the family.
I am over the age of 18 but I still live in a home with my parents and they are abusive, what can I do?
Typically, Child Protective Services (CPS) can only intervene with youth under the age of 18. If you are being physically harmed the police would be an appropriate option to address safety. Each state also has programs that can help young adults find housing, job placement, or other support services. Contact the hotline to talk with a counselor about finding those support programs.


Click on each of the 3rd party resources tabs below to see some of the additional resources we are happy to share.


Your teen years can be an amazing time of growth, learning and building dreams for the future. Trauma, such as abuse, neglect, and other Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) can make achieving your dreams difficult. You deserve safety, peace, and the opportunity to feel secure and capable. This space was created for YOU. Explore who you are and what you can do to work towards becoming the person who you want to be.

Your cell, tablet, or laptop can be the portal to connecting with a caring counselor. Whether you are helping a friend, trying to learn more about
issues on your heart and mind, or you just need a safe place to talk about your experiences and concerns, we are here to help.

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This project is supported by the Administration for Children and Families (ACF) of the United States (U.S.) Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) as part of a financial assistance award totaling $6 million with 100 percent funded by ACF/HHS. The contents are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the official views of, nor an endorsement, by ACF/HHS, or the U.S. Government. For more information, please visit the ACF website, Administrative and National Policy Requirements.