Coping skills

Squared Breathing 

Photo by Kelvin Valerio on

Katie Donahoo

Breathing techniques are some of my favorite strategies to teach in sessions. They are so helpful and useful in a variety of situations. Breathing strategies are great because you can use them both in the moment to manage overwhelm and on a regular basis to help decrease stress and anxiety as part of your self care routine. Squared breathing can be used during morning meditations, to relax in the evening before heading to bed, or throughout the day to manage minor stressors. 

Bring your attention to your natural state of breathing. Notice the rise and fall of your chest as you breathing in and out. When we become anxious, stress, nervous, or worried our breath tends to stay in our chest and our rate of breathing increases. This leads to shallow, short breaths that increase your heart rate and blood pressure. Our goal is to interrupt this process. Therefore, it is important that you breath deep into your belly by utilizing your diaphragm. Imagine breathing in through your nose and the air going down your throat and filling you stomach like a balloon. Notice how your belly expands on the inhale rather than your chest. When exhaling be sure to blow out forcefully enough that you can hear your breath escape your lips. Squeeze your stomach muscles to get every last bit of air out that you can before holding the exhale. 

In squared breathing you will inhale, hold, exhale, and hold while counting to 4 and then begin again. It helps to imagine breathing in as if you are smelling flowers and blowing out as if you are blowing out the light of a candle.  See the diagram below for a visual aid.

Practicing breathing strategies, even when you are not stressed, can help prevent overwhelm and increase the likelihood you will be able to implement the strategy when needed. Take a few moments every day to practice deep breathing in the squared breathing format.

Coping skills

4 Tips for Reducing Anxiety & Depression 

Katie Donahoo

Photo by Nathan Cowley on

Anxious and depressed symptoms are common throughout the lifespan. Everyone has felt stressed out, overwhelmed, sad, and lethargic. Individually these symptoms are often manageable with a few coping strategies. Here are a few tips to keep your symptoms of anxiety and depression under control. 

  1. Sleep and Wake Cycle – Maintaining a healthy sleep and wake cycle can make the world of difference. It’s common knowledge that sleep can be one of the most impactful health benefits not only for physical well being but for your emotional well being too. When you stick to a healthy sleep and wake cycle your body will be at it’s best. To do this try to wake up and lie down at the same time each day. After a while your body’s natural rhythm will adapt and you will find yourself getting tired just before you bedtime. You will likely also notice yourself waking up around the same time daily feeling more refreshed and energized than when you stay up late and sleep in. If you keep your sleep and wake cycle similar on days off you will have more success staying on the cycle than if you allow yourself to stay up several hours later thinking you will just sleep in the next day. 
  2. Look Good Feel Good – It’s easy to skip taking a shower or doing your makeup when you are feeling down. But if you are trying to fend off a depression then taking the time to get ready in the morning can make a big difference. When we feel clean, attractive, and put together we have more energy and our self esteem is lifted. When we think we look good we feel better about ourself and our interactions in the world. When we feel good it’s easier to have a positive outlook on the day. I’m not the kind of person to put too much emphasis on my looks, but I know that when I’m starting to feel down about myself or my life putting effort into these areas will impact my emotional state so I do it. Take a moment a think about the last time you really put effort into your morning routine. Wearing your favorite outfit, looking in the mirror ad liking what you saw, the pep in your step as you headed off for the day. When we look good we feel good; so put on your favorite outfit and notice the difference it makes. 
  3. Touch Base – Humans are story telling creatures. We talk to others to express all kinds of emotions. Think about the last time you had great news, you probably told everyone you know and their mother. It feels good to talk about what is going on in our lives and it’s your brains way of helping to process information. If you are feeling anxious or depressed challenge yourself to touch base with a friend, loved one, sibling, or co-worker. Simply stating what is going on with you can alleviate some of your feelings. Often acknowledging our emotions diminishes their impact. You may not be able to solve whatever problems you may be having in life, but like Mr. Roger’s said “If it’s mentionable it’s manageable. So get out there and start mentioning your feelings. 
  4. Go Outside – Step out of your house, apartment, trailer, whatever and get into nature. You don’t have to go for a woodland hike or a stroll on the beach to get in touch with nature. Sit on your porch, stoop, curb, etc and take a few deep breaths. Nature is where we belong. Take off your shoes and walk in your grass, pick up some leaves or run your hand over a bush. Spending time outdoors can help you regulate your emotional state. If you have a beautiful, nature filled area great! If you live in a more urban area don’t worry about it. Breath in the fresh air, look up at the sky, feel your feet planted to the earth. Reconnect with the world around you and you will notice a change in yourself. 

These tips are not intended to replace counseling or medications you may be taking. Adding these routines and tips to your day to life will not fully treat anxiety or depression. Tips to reduce anxiety and depression come in all forms. If you are suffering with contact anxiety or depression please seek professional help. Healing is possible, help is available. 

Coping skills

Take 5

Photo by Ari Alqadri on

By Katie Donahoo

Coping skills are the things you do help yourself manage and regulate your emotions in a moment of overwhelm or dis-regulation. Coping skills can be anything from taking a deep breath, coloring, or doing a physical activity. Often, coping skills are some of the first things individuals learn when coming into counseling. Many people do not know how to regulate their emotions and this can be what brings them into counseling in the first place. Not all coping skills are created equal and not all skills work effectively for all people.

The Take 5 is a version of a grounding technique I learned long ago. Grounding techniques are coping strategies that help to alleviate anxiety, panic, and overwhelm by utilizing the 5 senses. This strategy takes less than 5 minutes to complete and can be easily remembered by assigning one of your senses to each of your 5 fingers. By utilizing each of your senses you bring yourself to a physical and mental state of relaxation. Give it a try.

Sight: Take a moment to look around you. Find 5 objects and state out loud the name and color of 5 objects. For Example – green grass, brown chair, orange leaf, blue house, red shirt.

Sound: Close your eyes and tune into your sense of hearing. Listen closely. Can you name 5 sounds you hear? For Example: a car driving by, foot steps, ticking clock, male/female voice, papers rustling.

Touch: Walk around the space you are in and find 5 various objects that you can touch. Pick up each object and speak the description of how the object feels in your hands. For Example: velvety pillow, rough rock, smooth and cold table top, waxy leaves on a plant, the heaviness of a blanket. Alternatively you could tune into your body and identify things you feel touching your body in this moment. For Example: wrist watch, back against a chair, rings on your fingers, shoes on your feet, waistband of your clothing, etc.

Smell: Look closely at your surroundings. Can you find 5 things to smell? Quick tip; they do NOT have to smell good. For Example: lotion, chapstick, room spray, your shoe, the trash can, etc.

Taste: While difficult in some settings finding 5 different tastes can be very helpful. Challenge yourself with this one. For Example: describe the taste in your mouth before tasting anything else, gum, candy, chap stick on your lips, soda, tea, coffee, water, salt, sugar, etc.

Did you try it? How do you feel? Pretty silly I’d imagine if you weren’t experiencing any anxiety when you tried it. As with most skills, the effective use of coping strategies increases with practice. The more frequently you check in with yourself and utilize a skill the better you will be able to implement it during a time of great need. Challenge yourself to have some of the harder to find items required for this kind of strategy with you in the places where you experience the most anxiety: school, work, in your car.

If you struggle with recurrent panic attacks please seek professional help in managing your symptoms. Severe anxiety and panic attacks can be extremely disruptive to life function. Help is out there. Help is here. Reach out to Blue Elephant Counseling by registering for a free consultation today.