Cognitive-Behavioral Coping Strategies

Cognitive-behavioral coping strategies have been found to be effective for a wide range of symptoms that many people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) may experience, such as depression, anger, sadness, and anxiety.

These methods are also healthy coping mechanisms for dealing with uncomfortable emotions, relaxing your muscles, making decisions, and even setting goals.

Overview of CBT

therapist with young woman

Tom M Johnson / Blend Images / Getty Images

Before discussing specific cognitive-behavioral coping strategies, it is important to first understand what cognitive-behavioral therapy is. Cognitive behavior therapy is often used to help people with their PTSD, as well as a number of other psychological conditions.

Cognitive-behavioral treatment is one that is based on the idea that psychological problems arise as a result of the way in which we interpret or evaluate situations, thoughts, and feelings, as well as our behaviors.

Diaphragmatic Breathing

Diaphragmatic breathing also called breathing retraining or deep breathing is a very basic cognitive-behavioral coping strategy for managing anxiety. It is a simple technique, but it can be very powerful. Diaphragmatic breathing can be used as a way to manage your anxiety.

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Using cognitive-behavioral relaxation exercises can be an effective way to reduce your stress and anxiety. One relaxation exercise called progressive muscle relaxation focuses on a person alternating between tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. In this way, relaxation is viewed like a pendulum.

A complete relaxation of your muscles can be obtained by first going to the other extreme (that is, by tensing your muscles). In addition, by tensing your muscles (a common symptom of anxiety) and immediately relaxing them, the symptom of muscle tension may become a signal to relax over time.


Self-monitoring is a very basic cognitive-behavioral coping strategy, and it is pretty much at the core of all of the cognitive-behavioral coping strategies described here. In order to address a problem or a symptom, we need to first become aware of it.

Self-monitoring can help with this. There are a number of steps to self-monitoring; however, the steps can easily be learned and quickly applied to your life.

Behavioral Activation

When people feel depressed or anxious, they may be less likely to do the things they enjoy, and therefore, it is important to learn how to be more active. Behavioral activation is a way to do this.

The goal of behavioral activation is simple. It helps people get more active in areas of their life that are pleasurable and enjoyable. Being more connected and involved with these experiences can improve your mood.

Decision-Making Pros and Cons

When faced with a decision, we sometimes may feel paralyzed or trapped. We may not know what is the best choice. One way to move forward is to weigh the short- and long-term pros and cons of a situation. Doing so can help us identify the best path (that is, a path that is associated with low risk and is consistent with our goals and priorities) to take.

Cognitive Restructuring

Cognitive restructuring is a common cognitive-behavioral coping strategy. How we evaluate and think about ourselves, other people and events can have a major impact on our mood. Cognitive restructuring focuses on identifying negative thoughts or evaluations and modifying them.

This may be done by gathering evidence for and against certain thoughts. By modifying our thoughts, we may be able to improve our mood and make better choices with regard to behaviors.

Setting and Managing Goals

It is very important to have goals in your life. Goals (or things that you want to accomplish in the future) can give your life purpose and direction, as well as motivate healthy behaviors focused on improving your life. However, goals can also be very overwhelming and a source of stress.

Therefore, you have to be careful when you set goals. It is important that goals are approached in a way that improves your mood and quality of life, as opposed to increasing distress.

Was this page helpful?
6 Sources
Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. National Institute of Mental Health. Post-traumatic stress disorder. Last revised 2020.

  2. Fenn K, Byrne M. The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. InnovAiT. 2013;6(9):579-585. doi:10.1177/1755738012471029

  3. Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adultsFront Psychol. 2017;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874

  4. Safi SZ. A fresh look at the potential mechanisms of progressive muscle relaxation therapy on depression in female patients with multiple sclerosisIran J Psychiatry Behav Sci. 2015;9(1):e340. doi:10.17795/ijpbs340

  5. Hirano M, Ogura K, Kitahara M, Sakamoto D, Shimoyama H. Designing behavioral self-regulation application for preventive personal mental healthcareHealth Psychol Open. 2017;4(1):2055102917707185. doi:10.1177/2055102917707185

  6. Hirayama T, Ogawa Y, Yanai Y, Suzuki SI, Shimizu K. Behavioral activation therapy for depression and anxiety in cancer patients: a case series studyBiopsychosoc Med. 2019;13:9.doi:10.1186/s13030-019-0151-6