Health Blog

Helpful articles on mental and behavioral health


Are Your Coping Responses Healthy?

July 17, 2015

Coping mechanisms are a natural reaction to environmental stressors. Positive coping responses are used all the time ranging from humor, seeking out social support, and regular exercise. Often we use various coping strategies subconsciously without realizing the connection to what else is going on around us. Coping mechanisms are necessary for maintaining mental health and emotional well-being, but what happens when we use coping mechanisms that are actually harmful?

Examples of these coping strategies that can do more harm than good include:

Denial often occurs as a response to a stressful event that an individual isn’t prepared to deal with. Short term denial may be a positive response when a person needs more time to work through other external factors before tackling a new problem. However, when denial is long lasting, persistent, and prevents you from taking appropriate action it becomes a negative coping response. An example of this could be something like not opening mail from debt collectors as a way to avoid the issue. Excessive Avoidance is very common in cases of anxiety. While avoidance can be a useful short term strategy i.e. removing oneself from a situation causing distress/panic, it is not a beneficial long term approach. In most cases if an individual does not confront the fear causing their distress it will be maintained.

Alcohol and Substance Use is sometimes referred to as addictive self-soothing or self-medication. There has been extensive research on high rates of unmet mental health needs and substance use disorders occurring together; so it’s important to be aware of your own habits. Enjoying the occasional drink after a stressful day is not the same as employing it as a negative coping strategy. This occurs when alcohol or substances are used to mask pain or avoid dealing with an underlying problem. An example of this could be initially using alcohol to decrease anxiety in social settings, but overtime needing to drink every time you’re in these setting and increasing the amount. Increasing alcohol and substance use over time builds tolerance and can quickly lead to addiction if the underlying issue is left unmet.

Self-injurious behaviors occurs when an individual intentionally inflicts harm on themselves.Examples of self-injury include cuts or burns to the body. When an individual is does not have positive coping techniques they may engage in self-injury to provide emotional regulation, escape, or as a means of self-punishment. Self-injury as a coping mechanism is used in both male and female populations and should not be ignored. If you or someone you know is engaging in self-injury you can call S.A.F.E. Alternatives Information line in the U.S. 800-366-8288.

It’s important to be aware of your own, often subconscious coping responses as a first step to changing negative strategies. Positive Alternatives Include:

Journaling can help you gain insight into both positive and negative feelings that you aren’t verbalizing. This also helps to prevent negative feelings from being bottled up and can help you gain personal insight.

  • Deep Breathing
  • Focus on the positive to avoid negative thought spiraling.
  • Meditation
  • Exercise
  • Reading can provide a temporary escape from reality.

Channeling painful feelings into something positive such as writing, art, or volunteer work.
As always, at iPrevail, we’re here to help you improve your mental health. Changing your unhealthy coping strategies to more adaptive responses will benefit you greatly in the long run!

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