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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

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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 10, 2020

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

How to Take Control of Your Life with Better Boundaries

We all have them—those hurtful, frustrating, offensive, manipulative people in our lives. No matter how hard we try to surround ourselves with positive and kind people, there will always be those who will disrespect, insult, berate, and misuse you if we allow them to.

We may, for a variety of reasons, not be able to avoid them, but we can determine how we interact with them and how we allow them to interact with us.

So, how to take control of your life and stop being pushed around?

Learning to set clear firm boundaries with the people in our lives at work and in our personal lives is the best way to protect ourselves from the negative effects of this kind of behavior.

What Boundaries Are (And What They’re Not)

Boundaries are limits

—they are not threats or ultimatums. Boundaries inform or teach. They are not a form of punishment.

Boundaries are firm lines—determined by you—which cannot be crossed by those around you. They are guidelines for how you will allow others to treat you and what kind of behaviors you will expect.

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Healthy personal boundaries help protect you from physical or emotional pain. You may also need to set firm boundaries at work to ensure you and your time are not disrespected. Don’t allow others to take advantage of your kindness and generosity.

Clear boundaries communicate to others that you demand respect and consideration—that you are willing to stand up for yourself and that you will not be a doormat for anyone. They are a “no trespassing” sign that makes it very clear when a line has been crossed and that there will be consequences for doing so.

Boundaries are not set with the intention of changing other people. They may change how people interact with you, but they are more about enforcing your needs than attempting to change the general behavior and attitude of others.

How to Establish Boundaries and Take Control of Your Life

Here are some ways that you can establish boundaries and take control of your life.

1. Self-Awareness Comes First

Before you can establish boundaries with others, you first need to understand what your needs are.

You are entitled to respect. You have the right to protect yourself from inappropriate or offensive behavior. Setting boundaries is a way of honoring your needs.

To set appropriate boundaries, you need to be clear about what healthy behaviors look like—what healthy relationships look like.

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You first have to become more aware of your feelings and honest with yourself about your expectations and what you feel is appropriate behavior:

  • Where do you need to establish better boundaries?
  • When do you feel disrespected?
  • When do you feel violated, frustrated, or angered by the behavior of others?
  • In what situations do you feel you are being mistreated or taken advantage of?
  • When do you want to be alone?
  • How much space do you need?

You need to honor your own needs and boundaries before you can expect others to honor them. This allows you to take control of your life.

2. Clear Communication Is Essential

Inform others clearly and directly what your expectations are. It is essential to have clear communication if you want others to respect your boundaries. Explain in an honest and respectful tone what you find offensive or unacceptable.

Many people simply aren’t aware that they are behaving inappropriately. They may never have been taught proper manners or consideration for others.

3. Be Specific but Don’t Blame

Taking a blaming or punishing attitude automatically puts people on the defensive. People will not listen when they feel attacked. It’s part of human nature.

That said, you do not need to overexplain or defend yourself. Boundaries are not open to compromise.

Sample language:

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  • “You may not…yell or raise your voice to me…”
  • “I need…to be treated with respect…”
  • “It’s not okay when…you take things from my desk without asking…”
  • “I won’t…do your work…cover for you anymore…”
  • “It’s not acceptable when…you ridicule or insult me…”
  • “I am uncomfortable when…you use offensive language”
  • “I will no longer be able to…lend you money…”

Being able to communicate these without sounding accusatory is essential if you want others to respect your boundaries so you can take control of your life.

4. Consequences Are Often Necessary

Determine what the appropriate consequences will be when boundaries are crossed. If it’s appropriate, be clear about those consequences upfront when communicating those boundaries to others.

Follow through. People won’t respect your boundaries if you don’t enforce them.

Standing our ground and forcing consequences doesn’t come easily to us. We want to be nice. We want people to like us, but we shouldn’t have to trade our self-respect to gain friends or to achieve success.

We may be tempted to let minor disrespect slide to avoid conflict, but as the familiar saying goes, “if you give people an inch, they’ll take a mile.”

It’s much easier to address offensive or inappropriate behavior now than to wait until that behavior has gotten completely out of hand.

It’s also important to remember that positive reinforcement is even more powerful than negative consequences. When people do alter the way they treat you, acknowledge it. Let people know that you notice and appreciate their efforts.

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Final Thoughts

Respect is always a valid reason for setting a boundary. Don’t defend yourself or your needs. Boundaries are often necessary to protect your time, your space, and your feelings. And these are essential if you want to take control of your life.

Start with the easiest boundaries first. Setting boundaries is a skill that needs to be practiced. Enlist support from others if necessary. Inform people immediately when they have crossed the line.

Don’t wait. Communicate politely and directly. Be clear about the consequences and follow them through.

The better you become at setting your own boundaries, the better you become at recognizing and respecting the boundaries of others.

Remember that establishing boundaries is your right. You are entitled to respect. You can’t control how other people behave, but you do have control over the way you allow people to treat you.

Learning to set boundaries is not always easy, but with time, it will become more comfortable. You may eventually find that boundaries become automatic and you no longer need to consciously set them.

They will simply become a natural extension of your self-respect.

Featured photo credit: Thomas Kelley via unsplash.com

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