Coping Mechanisms That Get In Our Way

We all have stress to varying degrees. It’s how we deal with that stress that determines if we reduce it or increase it. Sometimes stressors are external like a looming deadline, demanding boss or difficult family member. Other times, they are internal like when we worry what others think of us, try to uphold an image, or live a perfectionist lifestyle.  No matter what your stressor is, you likely have coping mechanisms that are in place to help you deal with them. And that’s good…maybe.

There are plenty of coping mechanisms to choose from. They are all intended to make us feel better, but over time, they may actually have the opposite effect. If we find a way to ease our stress, that’s not so bad, but these coping mechanisms become habits. And when that happens, instead of just being along for the ride, they start driving our decisions. I’ll use one I see A LOT: wine.  Me and many of my lady friends love us some wine. Long, stressful day at work? Wine. Argument with a spouse? Wine. Something to celebrate? Wine. Before long, this habit permeates other areas, because the triggers start to increase. At first the trigger was stress. Then, since wine usually comes out in the evening, it started showing up not just on the stressful nights, but every night. One glass turns into 3 glasses and now a habit has formed and you’re stressed more because you just don’t feel good anymore.  See how sneaky those little buggers are?

What to do? First, identify your coping mechanisms, the unhealthy ones, I mean. Alcohol seems to be a pretty obvious one, but there are plenty that are more insidious. Smoking, yelling at people, guilting others into or out of things, emotional eating, complaining, playing the victim, excessive exercise, over working, spending too much time on social media…the list goes on.

Then you need to identify your triggers. What is going on, in your life or in your mind, right before you start using that coping mechanism? Looking for a pattern will help you uncover them , too. Like the wine example I used that started off as a stress reducer and ended up being an evening habit. Sometimes there are a few layers to these triggers before you find the original one. For example, maybe when you were 16, your high school sweetheart broke up with you. You consoled yourself with a container of Chunky Monkey. The next time you hit a stressful moment (that chemistry test) your memory reminded you how good that Chunky Monkey made you feel. Now you’re 47 and guess what you turn to when stress hits (or even when it doesn’t)?  You guessed it…Chunky Monkey or whatever naughty food you’re into now. You now have the added stress of weight gain, sugar crashes, and the like.

Once you’re clear on the unhealthy coping mechanism and its trigger, you are ready to replace that bad boy with a healthy coping mechanism. These are things like going for a walk, playing with the dog, meditating, talking your feelings out with a trusted friend, getting a massage, listening to relaxing music, and whatever else you can think of that you feel would be a healthy coping mechanism to reinforce.  As with any, it’s not hard to overuse any one, so be cautious that you’re not using any coping mechanism in excess, even the ones that seem healthy at first glance.

One thing is certain and that is stress ain’t goin’ nowhere, so we have to learn to deal with it in a healthy, productive manner so that we can reduce it without causing other stress (for ourselves or others.)

Alright, that’s enough from me. It’s your turn. What’s your favorite healthy coping mechanism? Share in the comments.

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email April@AuthenticLifeChronicles.com 

Comments

  1. I love your example of drinking wine. I used to drink wine back in the graduate school when I was stressed with deadlines. Overtime it has became a habit of me drinking wine every night. One glass turned into two and I ended up visiting the store three times a week to get a bottle of wine. It is time consuming and not healthy at all. Now when I stressed, I talk to somebody, listen to music and go out for a walk. These coping mecahnism are better than wine.

  2. It is so important to realize our bad coping mechanisms. I try to exercise to cope with stress.. I exercise fairly regularly, but not as much as I would like. I also love yoga. When I am doing it consistently, it keeps me very grounded.

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