Coping Strategies for Adults with Disabilities

At some point or another, everybody uses coping strategies to help deal with stressful situations. In fact, around 75% of Americans reported that they experienced a physical or mental symptom of stress within the last month. Because our minds and bodies are so strongly connected, stress can significantly impact us, both mentally and physically.

Common Side Effects of Stress:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Headaches
  • Anxiety and dread
  • Chest pains
  • Impatience and irritability
  • High blood pressure
  • Self isolation
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Nausea

While everyone experiences these feelings at least on occasion, not everyone has to manage their stress while also managing a disability. People with disabilities can more readily experience feelings of frustration and exhaustion while doing everyday activities that people without disabilities typically find easy.

Coping strategies are extremely important—especially for individuals with developmental and intellectual disabilities. Don’t know where to start? Keep reading to learn 7 strategies for stress management!

7 Coping Strategies for Intellectual Disabilities

  1. Maintain a Support System
    Living with a disability is a lifelong journey of adapting to the world around you. Surrounding yourself with like-minded individuals allows you to vent to people who share similar stressors, engage in adaptive activities, and have peace of mind that you have people to support you, no matter what. Having a circle of friends who understand your specific needs is paramount to coping with stress, because it can combat frustration and loneliness. If there aren’t many people around you who understand what you’re going through, there are also many online support groups that people with disabilities can join to share stories and advice!
  2. Engage in Hobbies
    Whether it’s painting, swimming, reading, or playing video games, finding a hobby that is both enjoyable and calming is key to coping with stress. If you find an activity that brings a smile to your face, use it to your advantage!
  3. Take Care of Animals
    Animals have a unique ability to seemingly melt away your stress. Dr. Ann Berger, a physician and researcher at the NIH Clinical Center, stated, “Dogs are very present. If someone is struggling with something, they know how to sit there and be loving. Their attention is focused on the person all the time.” Spending time with an animal has proven to help decrease levels of cortisol (the stress-related hormone), as well as lower blood pressure. Caring for a pet is one of the best ways to give you a sense of purpose, because you are taking responsibility for another being. Plus, it never hurts to have a four-legged companion by your side! If you’re unable to have a pet of your own, there should be plenty of volunteer opportunities at animal shelters in your community. This can also be a passion project that develops into a new hobby!
  4. Watch Your Favorite Show or Movie
    Not only does watching your all-time favorite TV show or movie bring you joy, but it can also calm you down in moments of amplified stress. For example, many people with autism thrive off of routine. Watching a familiar piece of media over and over brings a sense of familiarity and comfort to some people with disabilities. If you already have an understanding of the plot, there is no need to over-analyze or stress. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show.
  5. Spend Time in the Great Outdoors
    If you’re someone who enjoys the outdoors, connecting with nature can be a great coping strategy for when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Either go for a walk with a loved one, take a bike ride around the neighborhood, or just sit down in the yard and enjoy the world around you.
  6. Get Moving
    Any form of physical activity can boost your mood through the release of endorphins, the “happy chemical.” Getting a little bit of exercise that’s adapted to your body’s abilities can help refresh and clear your mind. In fact, there are many adaptive sports teams that you can participate in as an adult with a disability. For more information, check out our previous blogs, 7 Reasons to Join an Adaptive Sports Team and How to Get Started in Adaptive Sports.
  7. Speak to a Medical Professional
    If you’re still experiencing immense amounts of stress that you cannot seem to overcome, it’s important to speak to a medical professional, preferably a doctor or licensed therapist who already knows you and your condition. They can recommend coping strategies that are specific to your disability.

Covey: We’re Stronger Together

Covey, a non-profit organization devoted to enriching the lives of individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities, recognizes the everyday difficulties and stressors in adults with disabilities. We know that building meaningful relationships and growing independence is key to living life to its fullest potential, so we offer several community engagement programs, including Covey Connects, Community-Based Day Services, and Volunteering.

Sometimes, going out of your comfort zone and connecting with others can really reduce your bottled-up stress and foster a happier, healthier lifestyle. We love to watch our participants grow mentally, physically, and socially through our programs and would love to see you at our next event or outing!