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Published on October 29, 2018

The Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress

The Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress

Stress: It’s an issue that everyone deals with but not an issue that everyone knows how to cope with. When we’re dealing with massive amounts of pressure, some of us may choose to turn to meditation or a friendly chat while others may opt for a cheeseburger or a drink.

How we choose to deal with stress has a major impact on both our mental health and our physical well-being. Are you making the right choices when it comes to coping with stress? Do you know what some of the wrong choices may be?

Regardless of which choices you are currently making to deal with your stress, let’s take a look at some of the unhealthy and healthy coping mechanisms for stress:

Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

In order to identify some of your unhealthy behavioral patterns and foster awareness around them so that you can create change, we are going to tackle the most commonly used unhealthy coping mechanisms first.

People who are not coping properly may be found taking part in behaviors such as:

Excessive Drug/Alcohol Consumption or Abuse

Let me make it clear that “excessive consumption” and “abuse” are the key terms in this section. Enjoying an occasional glass of wine every now and then to unwind is not an unhealthy habit.

Binge drinking, chain smoking, or using drugs as a form of escapism to cope with your current stress levels is, however, unhealthy and dangerous. These coping mechanisms could lead to a path of addiction, severe health problems, and even death.

If you’re using any of these coping mechanisms, reach out to your primary care physician and a mental health specialist immediately to work through your issues.

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Turning to Large Amounts of Junk Food for Comfort

It’s not unnatural for people to turn to sweet or sugary foods when they’re experiencing high stress levels. In fact, you can blame cortisol for your cravings for these junk foods.[1]

No matter what you may feel, however, it is important that you fight these urges to feed your stress. Excessive junk food consumption can actually increase stress levels and negatively impact your health. You may also develop an eating disorder as a result of using food to cope with your stress.

Pay attention to these urges and take preventative measures to ensure that you reach for healthier foods instead of ones that will harm you down the road.

Oversleeping or Sleeping Very Little

Much like using drugs or alcohol to numb out the situations in your life that are causing your stress levels, oversleeping is another form of escapism that allows you to avoid the stress in your life.

What you’ll find, however, is that your stressors are still there when you wake up and they will continue to get worse as you continue to avoid them.

On the other hand, there are those who may stay up in order to cram more work into their day and become dependent on caffeine to do so.

Either way, neither of these coping mechanisms work to take care of the problem at its root.

Retail Therapy

It is okay to purchase things that you would like to use that will help you to unwind. Feel like a relaxing bath tonight? Purchase that bath bomb! Need a good laugh? Go ahead and get that copy of your favorite movie! Self-care is necessary.

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However, too much spending becomes a problem when you are shopping to deal with your stress rather than just occasionally treating yourself. Not only will this have a major impact on your finances, but it will also cause extra stress that you won’t be capable of handling when you run out of funds to use on your shopping sprees.

Cut yourself off as soon as possible if you notice this habit forming and seek help.

Personal Punishments

In some cases, individuals may turn to harmful behaviors in order to cope with a stressful situation.

For example, someone feeling as though they are out of control of their lives due to stressful situations may decide to begin harming themselves or starving themselves in order to gain some form of control over their current direction.

If you can relate to the above, seek help immediately and call the local authorities if you believe that you may be a danger to yourself.

Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Now that we’ve reviewed some of the harmful coping mechanisms that commonly manifest in those dealing with high levels of stress, let’s take a look at some healthy coping mechanisms that you could use in place of the methods listed above:

Develop a Solid Support System

Everyone needs that someone or several people who are willing to listen and support them.

Simply talking about your problems is very therapeutic and if your friends are good listeners, they may have some helpful advice to provide you with.

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Develop a solid support system so that you have people to vent to when things become a little too stressful.

Incorporate Some Movement Into Your Day

Exercise is an amazing stress reliever and the best part is that you don’t have to engage in hardcore workout sessions in order to reap the benefits!

All you have to do is make an effort to incorporate some movement into your day. Whether it’s walking, using the stairs, dancing around, or cramming some pushups into your work breaks, movement will help you better cope with high stress levels.

Find Time for Joy

You may be feeling high levels of stress because you are not getting enough “you” time in your busy schedule. The solution? Find creative ways to squeeze in activities that you enjoy.

Maybe you can doodle when you have a few minutes to yourself. Maybe you can watch a funny video or two when you need to take a break.

Whatever makes you happy, make time for it in your day.

Try Out Aromatherapy

Reconnecting with the senses allows us to feel more relaxed and ground us when our stress gets out of control. One great way to get back in touch with your senses is to try out aromatherapy.

Scents such as lavender, vanilla, and lemon all help to calm you down when you get too frazzled and put you back into your relaxed state. You can keep these oils on hand, use lotions, or even get an oil diffuser for your workplace so that you can remain relaxed wherever you go!

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Meditate

Speaking of reconnecting with yourself and your sense, meditation is a heavily-recommended coping mechanism.

Meditation allows you to focus on you without having to worry about any of the stresses of daily life. All you have to do is concentrate on your body and on the world around you. Your mind is free of all worries and cares when you are in the meditation zone!

For those who are new to this practice, there are plenty of guided audio meditations that will help you to start your meditation journey. You can also check out this guide:

Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

Final Thoughts

Coping with stress can be difficult but making the wrong choices when it comes to coping mechanisms can add that much more stress to your life.

Using the unhealthy and healthy lists above, you will be better able to identify what’s not working for you and what you can replace it with.

Keep in mind, however, that this is by no means an exhaustive list. There are plenty more ideas floating out there that will help you to healthily cope with your stress.

Stay calm and take care of yourself and you will be able to deal with anything that comes your way!

Featured photo credit: Alexander Mils via unsplash.com

Reference

More by this author

Dylan Buckley

Dylan is Lifehack's Motivation Expert specializing in self-development, with extensive experience working for life coaches and startups.

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Last Updated on July 23, 2019

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut, only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

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  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnation, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help. Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths. Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

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Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation. What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem. If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

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Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave. Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future. These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’s 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

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When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward. Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years. On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

More to Help You Stay Motivated

Here are some resources that will help you break out of your current phase:

Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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