Coping mechanisms are a way of dealing with difficult situations and overwhelming emotions. Everyone has their way of coping, and there is no right or wrong way to do it. However, some coping mechanisms are more beneficial than others.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms can negatively affect your mental and physical health, while healthy coping mechanisms can improve your well-being. In this article, I will discuss the impact of unhealthy coping mechanisms.

What Is A Coping Mechanism?

Coping mechanisms are actions you take consciously or unconsciously to deal with problems or uncomfortable emotions. It can be anything that helps you deal with stress, anxiety, or other negative emotions.

Coping mechanisms are meant to help you healthily deal with such emotions. However, sometimes you may turn to unhealthy coping mechanisms to deal with your feelings.

Types Of Coping Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms can mainly be classified into two: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

Problem-focused Coping

This coping type focuses on actively solving the problem that is causing the stress. Some examples of problem-focused coping mechanisms include:

  • Seeking social support
  • Problem-solving
  • Coping planning

Emotion-focused Coping

This coping type is focused on managing the emotions caused by stress. Some examples of emotion-focused coping mechanisms include:

  • Avoidance
  • Coping self-statements
  • Distraction

Why Use Coping Mechanisms?

Coping mechanisms help you to deal with your emotions healthily. They can help you to:

  • Reduce your stress levels
  • Cope with difficult emotions and unpleasant situations
  • Improve your mental well-being
  • Manage your emotions
  • Improve your coping skills

Difference Between Healthy And Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

There is a big difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Healthy coping mechanisms are those that provide long-term relief from the problem. They are constructive and often involve dealing with the problem head-on.

On the other hand, unhealthy coping mechanisms offer short-term relief but ultimately worsen the situation. They make you feel good at the moment; however, they serve no long-term benefits. They can be addictive and can lead to further mental and emotional distress.

It is essential to be aware of the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms to ensure you are using healthy ones. If you find yourself using unhealthy coping mechanisms, it is vital to seek professional help.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Close up image of a young woman with eating disorder, having a midnight snack - eating donuts, in front of the refrigerator.

Some unhealthy coping skills:

Coping Through Substance Abuse

This includes using drugs and alcohol to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. It will feel like it’s soothing emotional pain, but the relief is only temporary. You might end up feeling worse once the effects wear off. It also puts you at a risk of developing a substance use disorder, which will create problems.

Avoidance

This is when you avoid the problem altogether instead of dealing with it. You might try to distract yourself with other things to help numb the pain. Avoidance might provide temporary relief, but it will only make the problem worse in the long run.

Self-harm

This is a form of coping that involves deliberately harming oneself. It can be in the form of cutting, burning, or any other type of injury. Self-harm might temporarily relieve the pain, but it is only a Band-Aid solution. It can lead to further mental and emotional distress and even be fatal.

Binge Eating

This is an unhealthy relationship with food that involves overeating. It is often used to cope with stress, anxiety, and depression. Binge eating can lead to weight gain and can cause serious health problems in the long run.

Overthinking

This is when you cannot stop thinking about the problem and all the potential outcomes. This will only stress you out even more and can lead to anxiety and other mental health problems.

Impulsive Spending

This is another negative way people cope with their problems. Impulsive spending is when you spend money on things you don’t need as a way of making yourself feel better. This often leads to financial issues and debt.

Isolation

This is when you withdraw from social activities and isolate yourself to cope with your emotions. The unconscious motive for dissociation is to escape from the overwhelming feelings associated with the traumatic memory. This does not help as it leaves you thinking about your problems more. This can lead to loneliness and depression.

Coping Through Sex

This is when people use sex to deal with their emotions. Engaging in sex can be a form of escapism. It can temporarily distract you from the problem and help you relax. However, it is important to be safe and to use protection as there is always the risk of contracting an STD or becoming pregnant.

Toxic Positivity

This is when you try to force yourself to be positive and ignore your negative emotions. This can lead to more stress and can make you feel worse because the problem never goes away by doing that. It only keeps you in more denial.

Negative Self-talk

This is when you have negative thoughts and say negative things about the situation or yourself. It can be in the form of put-downs, criticisms, and judgments. Negative self-talk can lead to further mental and emotional distress.

Consequences Of Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

A depressed man holding his pillow tight on his bed

As I mentioned before, unhealthy coping strategies do more harm compared to the temporary relief people get from them. Some of the consequences of unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

  • Addiction
  • Further mental, physical and emotional distress
  • Serious health issues
  • Negatively impact your relationships
  • Financial problems
  • STDs and other harmful effects
  • Aggression and violence
  • Low self-esteem
  • Loneliness and depression.
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Death

Healthy Coping Strategies

A woman sitting next to the sea on a grassy beach

Some healthy coping skills include:

Seeking Social Support

Do not stay shut and locked up when you have a problem. Talk and spend time with a trusted friend, family member, therapist, or counselor about what is happening. This will help you feel better and provide you with insights on how to deal with the problem, rather than the negative ideas your mind will come up with due to bottling everything up.

Exercise

Research has shown that exercise can help improve your mood and mental health. It releases endorphins, which have mood-boosting effects. A healthy body leads to a healthy mind. When you are feeling down, go for a walk, run or do some other form of exercise that you enjoy.

Relaxation Techniques

There are many relaxation techniques that you can use to deal with stress and anxiety. Some examples include yoga, meditation, aromatherapy, and deep breathing exercises. Find one that works for you and make it a part of your daily routine.

Coping Through Journaling

This happens to be one of my favorite coping skills. Writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you make sense of them and can be a form of catharsis. It can help you process your emotions and can be therapeutic.

It is also a way to track your progress and see how far you have come. Write about what is going on in your life, how you feel, what is stressing you out, and anything else on your mind. This will help you make sense of your thoughts while you bring reasoning and logic into the equation.

Problem-solving

This involves looking at the problem and developing a plan to deal with it. This can help you feel more in control and give you a sense of direction. Break the problem into smaller pieces and take it one step at a time. Do not try to do everything all at once, as that will only overwhelm you.

Coping Planning

This is similar to problem-solving but goes further by creating an action plan. This can be helpful if you find yourself in a triggering situation and are unsure how to deal with it. The goal is to prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms from taking over. Write down what triggers you and what healthy coping mechanism you will use instead, and keep it with you at all times. This way, you can refer to it when needed.

Coping Self-statements

This is a form of positive self-talk that can help you deal with stressful situations. Coping self-statements are short, positive statements you say to yourself in times of stress. They can help to reframe the situation in a more positive light and give you a boost of confidence. Some examples include:

  • “I can handle this.”
  • “I am strong.”
  • “I will get through this.”
  • “This is not as bad as it seems.”
  • “I am capable of dealing with this.”

Find a statement that resonates with you and repeat it to yourself when you feel stressed.

Mindfulness

This form of meditation helps you focus on the present moment and be aware of your thoughts and feelings without judgment. It can help you to become more aware of your triggers and unhealthy coping mechanisms. Mindfulness can help you to deal with stress more constructively.

Utilizing these methods will help you address your mental health challenges in a much more positive and lasting way.

The Impact Of Positive Coping Strategies On Mental Health

  • Healthy coping mechanisms have a positive impact on your mental health.
  • They help to reduce stress and anxiety.
  • They can improve your mood and overall well-being.
  • Healthy coping mechanisms allow us to deal with difficult situations more constructively.
  • They give us a sense of control and can prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms from taking over.

What Works For You

Not all coping mechanisms will work for every person. It is essential to find a coping strategy that works for you and to make it a part of your daily routine. Experiment with different techniques and find the ones that work best for you.

Remember, the goal is to find healthy ways to deal with stress and to prevent unhealthy coping mechanisms from taking over. If you find yourself using unhealthy coping mechanisms, reach out for help. Talk to friends, family members, therapists, or other support systems. They can help you find more positive ways to cope and provide the support you need.

Coping with stress is a process; finding what works for you takes time. Be patient with yourself and keep trying. You will get there.

Want to learn more about healthy coping mechanisms as it relates to food and your body? Sign up for Lesley’s Masterclass!

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