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Dangerous Coping Mechanisms (and Healthy Ones to Replace Them)

by Maurine Anderson


What activities do you typically turn to when you are feeling stressed or overwhelmed? Asking yourself this question is a great way to assess how you cope with stress and whether you are doing so in a healthy manner. Here is a look at some of the most commonly utilized dangerous coping mechanisms, along with healthy coping mechanisms that you can replace them with.

Dangerous Coping Mechanisms

Substance Use

As this article details, many turn to drug or alcohol use in order to cope with stress, shame, self-doubt, or some other source of anxiety. The substance might provide a temporary escape by synthetically creating a hormonal reaction in the body, but this is only at the cost of decreased physical, mental, and emotional health. What’s worse is that substance use as a coping mechanism often escalates into addiction, which will only create more problems in life, such as financial difficulty, harmed relationships, employment trouble, and serious health risks.

Caffeine

We typically don’t lump caffeine in with drugs and alcohol when we’re thinking of frequently abused substances, but many individuals rely on caffeine to get them through times of stress as well. Regular caffeine use, however, can actually result in heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

Overeating

Food is perhaps the most frequently abused “anti-anxiety drug.” Most of us treat ourselves to a tasty treat every now and again when we are feeling overwhelmed, but the problem begins when food becomes a frequent, go-to source of stress relief. Over time, this type of emotional eating can lead to weight gain and blood sugar imbalances (both of which in turn increase stress levels).

Online Shopping

Buying something nice for yourself every so often can be a form of self-care, but if you find yourself frequently shopping online, making impulsive purchases, and spending money that you really shouldn’t be spending during times of stress, then it’s probably time to step back and reassess how you cope with stress. Shopping online can quickly become dangerous with how easy it is to complete a transaction over the web, and it can ultimately lead to financial stress on top of everything else.

Denial

You may not have considered denial when first hearing the phrase “coping mechanism,” but denial is actually a commonly used coping mechanism. Some initial denial can actually be healthy for helping you adjust to a particularly painful or stressful situation, but most often, denial is a major roadblock that can keep you from confronting your issues. This is particularly dangerous when the problems you’re facing require quick action, such as a health issue or financial stress.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Replace Them With

Exercise


With food being one of the most commonly abused “anti-anxiety drugs” or “antidepressants,” you might consider exercise one of the most underutilized ones. Regular exercise can actually increase your body’s overall resilience to stress—plus it releases natural feel-good hormones every time you do it. Of course, it’s important to note that you can also become addicted to exercise if you’re not careful, and an addiction to exercise can be just as harmful as any other unhealthy coping mechanism.

Meditation

Meditation is another excellent source of stress relief. There are many ways to approach meditation, but in general, effective meditation involves finding a quiet space (or at least distancing yourself from the noise), clearing your mind, and allowing thoughts to pass by without judgment. It might also involve rhythmic movement, guided breathing, or a mental body scan. Meditation is also a central component of yoga, which happens to be a form of exercise as well.

Journaling

Journaling is a great way to write out your thoughts—negative or positive—and in the process begin untangling complicated, deep-seated issues. It’s also simply a great way to vent without it being at another person’s expense.

Talking It Out

Similarly, simply talking out your feelings with someone else can help keep your feelings from being bottled up. A trusted friend or family member who you know will love you unconditionally can be a great source of comfort; but keep in mind that sometimes talking with a third-party such as a therapist can be what’s best for the relationships in your life.

Service

During times of stress, we are often so inwardly focused that our problems seem almost magnified. Serving others, on the other hand, can take your mind off of the stresses you are facing and help keep things in perspective.

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