How to develop healthy coping mechanisms and shun away the unhealthy ones

Healthy coping mechanism

We all go through difficult situations and problems in our lives and have different ways to deal with them. Heartbreak for a person could be as stressful as losing a job for somebody else, whether it is physical pain or mental, it affects a person’s overall health. That’s when the bodies coping mechanism kicks in, making sure that the person overcomes the situation as fast as they can and however possible. 

While the bodies coping mechanism is already in action, often people also become mentally vulnerable and indulge in different ways to come out of it. Furthermore while dealing with problems people get involved in unhealthy habits like taking drugs, overeating, smoking or drinking, etc. This not only affects their mental health but their physical health as well.

Nevertheless, a person can find temporary solace in unhealthy habits that may help for some time but can create huge problems in the long run. It is important to understand that a person can get involved in things without realizing the long-term impact on their overall personality.

If you or someone you know is stuck in such behavior then this article will help you in realizing the unhealthy habits or patterns you might be involved in. We will also be discussing the ways to overcome it, so stick to the end.

Let’s begin with understanding the coping mechanisms and how it works.

What is a coping mechanism?

Have you ever been in a situation where you have gone through a bad phase of your life, and after a few months or years, wondered what happened and how did you come out of it? We will tell you what happened, when you go through hard times, your body automatically starts working towards making you feel better. How? By activating the body’s coping mechanisms. 

A coping mechanism is any technique that you use to cope with a situation. It could be anything that you use in dealing with your problems like in case of excess emotions – you may cry or start drinking or smoking or something else.

All you try to do is to come out of the bad feeling you are facing, the hurt of losing a loved one, or maybe not getting that promotion you were so hopeful of. 

During critical times a person often seeks peace, in an attempt to find calmness, they turn to whatever way they find is useful for them. It includes both good and bad ways which in future becomes the habit. Bad habits come under unhealthy coping mechanisms. 

But before discussing it any further, let’s have a look at different types of coping mechanisms

There are many coping strategies that are developed over the years. But, we will focus on the strategies given by Wayne Weiten, who wrote many books on Psychology and gave different theories.

  • Appraisal-focused coping strategies

In this situation, you try to distance yourself from the issue, by thinking about something else, or a different goal or values, often people try to look for humor in such situations to see the positivity in it. 

  • Adaptive behavioral coping strategies

Here, the focus is on understanding the problem and learning the ways to manage it. So when the next time something like this happens again, you already know what needs to be done. 

  • Emotion-focused coping strategies

Where you try to focus on reducing your emotional reaction towards a situation. This can be done by speaking to a friend or family member. You can also indulge in relaxation techniques. 

Apart from the above-mentioned, there are a few more strategies that can also be used in coping with difficult circumstances. Such as – 

Reactive coping – This happens when you accept the outcome of the situation like the loss of a relationship or losing a job. You accept the end result and no longer expect a different outcome of the same situation. 

Proactive coping – This happens when you think of the outcome as an opportunity to work on yourself, in order to prevent the stressful event from happening again in the near future. 

What are unhealthy coping mechanisms?

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When difficult things happen in life, either people stay strong or break down, both are fine as both require your coping mechanisms to come into effect. It is your body’s way of dealing with pressure. Furthermore, in doing so we take the help of external factors. Some indulge in productive behavior whereas others try to cope in a way that isn’t healthy. It is important to understand that there is no shame in taking help as we all have different ways of coping. However, what needs to be taken into consideration is you do what is right for your well-being. 

Sometimes the things we do to numb the pain only create more pain.

David Peace, English writer.

Time and again people have lost the track of their lives in critical situations by taking the wrong paths like using drugs, smoking, drinking, or not accepting what has been done, etc to name a few. This is also a part of coping mechanisms, the only difference is that these all fall into the category of unhealthy. 

Unhealthy coping mechanisms are the negative ways in which a person tries to heal themselves or get a hold of the situation which drains out their energy and affects their body physically, and mentally. These are considered unhealthy as they don’t do any good to the body but only harm. 

Let’s discuss it in detail

Using drugs or alcohol 

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People generally tend to fall for drugs or alcohol when they are depressed or sad. They want to either run away from a situation or a feeling and all these tactics seem to be their escape from reality. 

They provide temporary relief to a person by decreasing the intensity of the pain or hurt they experience. But, they aren’t a permanent solution as once they become normal they feel depressed creating an endless cycle of drinking and forgetting. 

Indulging in drugs or smoking
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Usually, they start out on a small amount which eventually turns them into addicts. As we know alcohol or drugs are not good for the body instead it does more harm than one can imagine. This also mentally exhausts a person interfering with their thinking ability. 

Losing one’s appetite or eating too much

Overeating - unhealthy coping mechanisms
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In order to numb their feelings people generally take out their stress on food. They indulge in eating junk food daily in order to avoid their feelings.

Similarly, some people lose their appetite when worried or tense. They avoid eating as they are so engrossed in their thoughts they couldn’t realize if they are hungry or not. This affects their overall health as a lack of energy not only makes them sick but also compromises their thinking process, preventing them from logical thinking.

Living in Denial

When things get tough, people start rejecting the problem, they do not accept whatever happened to them, and that can trigger anxiety in them. They push down their feelings deep down and wouldn’t let them appear on the surface.

Not accepting the problem is the same as running away from it which may feel good for a short period of time but it isn’t good in the long run. Keeping such feelings inside for longer can become a serious issue. This type of behavior often comes out in dramatic ways like a sudden outburst. 

Denial can be a most useful, temporary shield. Unfortunately, such flimsy armor will not last a lifetime. It is best to face your past and do so quickly before your past returns to face you.

André Chevalier

Repeating the pattern in mind

Whenever something doesn’t go according to plan, we think about it again and again wondering what went wrong. But, this behavior of repeatedly thinking about the same incident over and again is not healthy. 

You may first indulge with the hope to find out the loophole but this cycle can make you depressed and more stressed out. It is also found that people who repeat such behavior have a lower level of confidence as compared to those who do not.

Spending without thinking

Shopaholic
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It is also found that people find their relief in indulging in meaningless activities like shopping unnecessarily or spending money on unwanted things, they are called shopaholics.

In a report that was published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology, it is noted that shopping is associated with an alleviation of sadness. In some cases, this behavior is recognized as  Compulsive Buying Disorder (CBD). 

Aggressive behavior

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Aggressive behavior is another type of unhealthy coping mechanism that often leads to unintended consequences, where a person can harm someone mentally and physically.

It is usually noted in people with anger issues as they can’t manage their anxiety or stress of any kind and which comes out in the form of anger that can later turn into aggression. This behavior is the result of impulsive thinking which disrupts a person’s logical senses and makes them unreasonable. 

Self-harm

Self harm - unhealthy coping mechanism
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This kind of behavior is usually noticed in people who are dealing with emotional pain that they can’t express to the concerned person or to anybody. In this a person tries to do self-injury by either cutting, hitting, or burning a part of their body. This gives them temporary relief which later on can become a major issue. 

Dr. Barbara Stanley, Director of the Suicide Intervention Center at the New York State Psychiatric Institute, says “that for some people, self-injury is one of the first steps toward suicide. Individuals are experimenting and toying with death. But, others have no intention of killing themselves. In fact, they may be using self-injury in a less lethal attempt to cope with their pain.” 

Well, these were the common unhealthy coping mechanisms a person can get indulged in. There are habits like binge-watching shows on tv or ott, or meaningless internet browsing that fall into unhealthy behavior. It is important to monitor one’s screen time if necessary. 

Healthy coping mechanisms practices

There is always a solution for everything. If one thing doesn’t work out it doesn’t mean the other won’t. If you are having trouble dealing with stress, or anxiety or you find yourself occupied by any of the unhealthy coping mechanisms which we have mentioned above, then this part is especially for you. Here, we will be discussing the practices and behavior that will help you in your healing process.  

We all go through difficult times in life, there is nothing to be ashamed about, what matters is your approach to dealing with the problem. 

Below we have listed a few of the things which you can practice for living a healthy life.

Exercise/workout

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Exercising has many benefits of its own, it not only keeps a person physically fit but ensures mental fitness as well. Furthermore, it is considered one of the best methods for dealing with anxiety, depression, etc. 

Exercising releases endorphins in a person which makes a person happy and changes the mood as well. It also improves the functioning of the brain making a person follow a logical approach to any situation. 

Furthermore, people go running or work out with weights at home or gym. Next time, when you feel something is bothering you, try going for a quick run or indulge in physical activity. You can also do aerobic exercises, swimming, or whatever suits you.

Meditation

Meditation
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If you want to know yourself better, we would recommend you to do meditation. Meditation helps in building one’s focus and creates awareness about oneself. It has many health benefits as well. Meditation helps in regulating sleep by releasing stress or tension. It can change a person’s mood by relaxing them.

If anxiety kicks in you every now and then, try meditation, it will help you in staying calm and relaxed. And when you are calm, you wouldn’t want to go back to your old habits, isn’t it? 

Keep a journal

Journaling - part of healthy coping mechanisms
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Many of you must be journaling every day. Still, let’s talk a bit about it. Noting down one’s thoughts or feelings is an effective way of relieving stress or tension.

If something is bothering you, you should write it down. Over a period of time, you will realize that you can cope with everything. This will also give you insight into your behavioral pattern, what areas need improvement, and what not. You will learn about so many things including what bothers you, or what instigates a behavior. 

Positive Self-talk

Positive self talk - part of healthy coping mechanisms
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Positive self-talk is like having an internal conversation with yourself. You listen to your problem and try to find the solution for it.

This way you can boost your confidence and change your outlook on a situation. You can also work on the internal issues you are facing like anxiety, stress, etc., by trying to understand the reason behind them. You can also keep small notes of positive affirmations in your place of work or at home as a reminder to channel your positivity. 

Talk to a friend or family member

Talking to a friend
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Problems when discussed with other people can turn into solutions. If you can’t handle something on your own, you should speak to a family member or friend. They will either help you by giving you advice or just listen to you. Anyway, it will help you in releasing your tension or make you feel better. It will also help you in releasing the tension. 

Consult an expert

Consulting an expert - part of healthy coping mechanisms
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Even after practicing the above-mentioned techniques, you don’t feel relaxed and the symptoms continue to persist to an extent that it deteriorates your condition in such cases you should take the help of an expert. Consult an expert for your behavior and follow the advice given by them. 

Let life take its course

Whenever you are going through a bad phase in life, try to think of an equally stressful event from the past. Maybe a time when you were stressed and disturbed because of the incident. When you think about that problem in the present, you will realize how small that thing was. You were worried for no reason. Try to convince yourself that bad times always pass. You can come out of the present situation as you did in the past. 

Sometimes when we are handling a problem, our mind plays tricks on us by exaggerating the issue and its consequences. But, always remember that our bodies have an inbuilt coping mechanism, we just need to give it some time. Unless there is a really serious issue, you can try to wait and watch. Things will go in the right direction on their own after some time. 


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“When you wake up today to realize that the problem is still there, do not go back to sleep and do not cry. Take a warm bath and start planning for the unknown.”

Mitta Xinindlu, Writer.

Furthermore, people get involved in unhealthy behaviors out of stress and tension, which later on develops into long-lasting habits. It is essential to do timely introspection of one’s feelings and emotions to understand oneself better.

If you are losing control and start indulging in unhealthy coping mechanisms, you can seek the help of an expert. With the right help and guidance, you will be able to develop healthy coping mechanisms. Which will ensure both your physical and mental health. 

Featured image credit – Photo by Benjamin Child on Unsplash

Renu Solanki

Renu Solanki works as a content specialist with Postbox Consultancy Services. She is an English Literature graduate. She is an avid-reader and passionate about the study of the Universe, Spirituality, Psychology and Traditional Culture. In her free time she likes to indulge in a steaming cup of black coffee & Netflix. .