PTSD Coping CBT Coping Skills and Strategies By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD Twitter Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. Learn about our editorial process Updated on June 24, 2022 Medically reviewed Verywell Mind articles are reviewed by board-certified physicians and mental healthcare professionals. Medical Reviewers confirm the content is thorough and accurate, reflecting the latest evidence-based research. Content is reviewed before publication and upon substantial updates. Learn more. by Akeem Marsh, MD Medically reviewed by Akeem Marsh, MD LinkedIn Twitter Akeem Marsh, MD, is a board-certified child, adolescent, and adult psychiatrist who has dedicated his career to working with medically underserved communities. Learn about our Medical Review Board Print Table of Contents View All Table of Contents How CBT Works Diaphragmatic Breathing Progressive Muscle Relaxation Self-Monitoring Behavioral Activation Listing Pros and Cons Cognitive Restructuring Setting and Managing Goals FAQs CBT coping skills involve dealing with negative emotions in a healthy way. They provide strategies for getting through difficult situations with less tension, anxiety, depression, and stress. CBT coping skills help you deal with uncomfortable emotions (anxiety, depression, etc.) so you can feel better physically, make better decisions, and more. These cognitive strategies are especially beneficial for individuals with certain mental health conditions, such as by helping reduce symptoms in people with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). Before discussing specific cognitive coping strategies, it's important to first understand how CBT works. This gives some insight into how the various CBT coping skills can help relieve anxiety, sadness, and other distressing emotions. How CBT Works Tom M Johnson / Blend Images / Getty Images Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) 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. When these interpretations and evaluations are negative, it can lead to unhealthy behaviors. CBT works by changing unhealthy behavioral patterns by changing the interpretations that lead to them. It also teaches you the skills and cognitive strategies needed to better cope with whatever life throws your way. Here are a few CBT coping skills that have this result. Diaphragmatic Breathing Diaphragmatic breathing, also called breathing retraining or deep breathing, is a basic cognitive coping strategy for managing anxiety. It is a simple technique but can be very powerful. Diaphragmatic breathing involves pulling your diaphragm down while taking a deep breath in. You should see your abdominal area rise with each breath, which is why it is sometimes referred to as "belly breathing." Reducing Stress With Diaphragmatic Breathing Progressive Muscle Relaxation Relaxation exercises can be an effective way to reduce your stress and anxiety. One such exercise is called progressive muscle relaxation (PMR) and involves alternating between tensing and relaxing different muscle groups throughout the body. With PMR, complete muscle relaxation is obtained by first going to the other extreme (that is, by tensing your muscles). In addition, by tensing your muscles—a common anxiety symptom—and immediately relaxing them, over time, the symptom of muscle tension may become a signal to relax. How to Do Progressive Muscle Relaxation Self-Monitoring Self-monitoring is another basic CBT coping skill. To a large extent, is at the core of all 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. With this awareness, we can then take action to regulate our behaviors so we have more positive outcomes. How to Develop and Practice Self-Regulation Behavioral Activation When people feel depressed or anxious, they may be less likely to do the things they enjoy. Therefore, it is important to learn how to be more active. Behavioral activation is a CBT coping skill that helps with this. The goal of behavioral activation is simple. Get more active in areas of your life that you find pleasurable and enjoyable. Being more involved with and engaged in these experiences works by improving your mood. How to Instantly Lift Your Mood Listing Pros and Cons When faced with a decision, we can sometimes feel paralyzed or trapped. If this occurs, we may not know the best choice. One way to move forward in situations such as this is to weigh the short- and long-term pros and cons of a situation. This cognitive coping strategy can help us identify the best path to take—that is, a path that is associated with less risk and is consistent with our goals and priorities. Cognitive Restructuring Cognitive restructuring is a common CBT coping skill. How we evaluate and think about ourselves, other people, and events can have a major impact on our mood. This cognitive strategy focuses on identifying negative thoughts or evaluations and modifying them. Cognitive restructuring involves gathering evidence about certain thoughts, recognizing how they may be misinterpreted or distorted, then replacing them with more positive affirmations. By modifying our thoughts, we can improve mood and make better choices with regard to our behaviors. Positive Affirmations for Anxiety Setting and Managing Goals 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, they can also be very overwhelming and a source of stress. Because of this, you want to be careful when setting goals. This CBT coping skill involves approaching your goals in a way that improves your mood and quality of life as opposed to increasing distress. This could be by setting smaller goals versus bigger ones, for instance, or breaking larger goals down into more manageable chunks. How to Set and Manage Goals A Word From Verywell CBT coping skills can help you better handle and manage difficult emotions and situations. They work by changing how you interpret feelings and events. You can use CBT coping skills for anxiety, stress, depression, and more—providing some much-needed relief. Frequently Asked Questions What coping skills can CBT teach? CBT coping skills teach you how to better deal with difficult situations, such as how to relax your body (so your mind can also relax), also changing how you look at circumstances and events so you have more positivity. These processes use the same types of strategies like those used in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Learn More: CBT Types, Techniques, and Benefits How do you improve cognitive skills? Regularly practicing cognitive coping strategies such as these can help improve your skills. It can also be beneficial to work with a mental health professional as they can focus directly on improving your CBT coping skills in the therapy session. Taking care of your physical health, such as through a healthy diet and exercise, can also help improve your cognitive health. Learn More: Types of Therapists and How They Help How can CBT coping skills help with anxiety? CBT coping skills such as cognitive restructuring can help change thought patterns that lead to anxiety. Other skills, like diaphragmatic breathing and progressive muscle relaxation, help relax your body when in an anxious state, thereby reducing your feelings of anxiousness. Learn More: Ways to Cope With Anxiety 7 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. American Psychological Association. Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT). Fenn K, Byrne M. The key principles of cognitive behavioural therapy. InnovAiT. 2013;6(9):579-585. doi:10.1177/1755738012471029 Ma X, Yue ZQ, Gong ZQ, et al. The effect of diaphragmatic breathing on attention, negative affect and stress in healthy adults. Front Psychol. 2017;8:874. doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2017.00874 Safi SZ. A fresh look at the potential mechanisms of progressive muscle relaxation therapy on depression in female patients with multiple sclerosis. Iran J Psychiatry Behav Sci. 2015;9(1):e340. doi:10.17795/ijpbs340 Hirano M, Ogura K, Kitahara M, Sakamoto D, Shimoyama H. Designing behavioral self-regulation application for preventive personal mental healthcare. Health Psychol Open. 2017;4(1):2055102917707185. doi:10.1177/2055102917707185 Hirayama T, Ogawa Y, Yanai Y, Suzuki SI, Shimizu K. Behavioral activation therapy for depression and anxiety in cancer patients: a case series study. Biopsychosoc Med. 2019;13:9.doi:10.1186/s13030-019-0151-6 National Institute on Aging. Cognitive health and older adults. By Matthew Tull, PhD Matthew Tull, PhD is a professor of psychology at the University of Toledo, specializing in post-traumatic stress disorder. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Speak to a Therapist for PTSD Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.