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What to Do When Your Go-To Coping Strategy Doesn't Work


There is a certain calm in painting. I never thought I’d like it. Even now after trying it a few times, I’m not particularly creative or talented, but it has its appeal. Mixing colors, making broad marks, starting completely over on a blank canvas – there is comfort in the process. Sometimes, I paint as an outlet for anxiety. Last week, though, it really only made things worse. I picked up a paintbrush looking to turn the chaos in my head into something structured, pretty, calm, inspiring, but the blue was too black, the black too gray, the lines slightly crooked, the circles uneven and it all mattered too much. I walked away frustrated, defeated and just as anxious as before.

The thing is, sometimes coping skills don’t work. Sometimes, you paint an entire canvas and you still feel just as anxious and overwhelmed and upset and confused as you did when you started. Sometimes, it just doesn’t help.

You can’t paint the anxiety away.

You can’t paint the anxiety away, not always, not completely. It doesn’t work like that. All you can do is try another tool, another coping mechanism and another and another and another until finally one works. I know you can because if you’re reading this article, you want it enough to keep trying. If you’re here, there is a part of you that still wants to be better no matter how many tries it takes. If you are trying a coping skill at all, there is a part of you that is hopeful. Don’t give up on it. You can’t paint the anxiety away, but you can’t starve it away or cut it away or sweat it away either. Choose to hope. Choose to try.

Take a breath. Pick up the paintbrush, or the yoga block, or the gardening hoe, or whatever you use to cope, and start again. You’re doing a beautiful job.

Getty Images photo via marzacz