2021 is almost here, and most people are ready to say goodbye to 2020. The pandemic has meant unpredictable job losses, mental health concerns due to isolation, and a whole host of new stress factors. And while everyone has (more or less) learned how to get by at this point, you do not want to accidentally carry unhealthy coping mechanisms into the new year.
But how do you identify negative coping mechanisms? And once you’ve identified them, how can you replace them with positive coping mechanisms? Keep reading for the answers to these questions and more.
What Are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms?
Even before the pandemic, everyone has felt stress. Whether you were facing pressure at work or dealing with a difficult situation at home, distress is a natural part of life. And for most people, they find healthy outlets for it, like exercise or crafting or any number of other hobbies and interests.
Unfortunately, though, sometimes the thing that “takes the edge off” can harm you in the long run. Take, for example, self-medicating to deal with stress. Whereas exercise can help you work off stress in a constructive way, the risk of self-medication is that alcohol does a better job of masking anxiety than actually addressing it. In this way, your anxiety doesn’t go anywhere, and you may medicate with alcohol so much that it becomes your go-to reaction to stress. This is the basis for co-occurring disorders, which complicate both issues and require specialized treatment to address.
These self-medication dangers are not exclusive to alcohol and anxiety, either. There are many types of self-medication, and they can include drinking, drug use, overeating, etc. And just as there are many unhealthy coping mechanisms, there are just as many situations that can lead to people using them, including financial stress, strain on personal relationships, and mental health issues.
Now that you know what makes a negative coping mechanism, let’s look at how you can replace one with a healthier alternative.
1. Focus on Constructive Tasks
Across the board, unhealthy coping mechanisms are self-destructive. They do not help you reach any of your personal goals, and they may even hinder your overall well-being. For that reason, you can identify positive coping mechanisms as things that build you up and help you reach your goals.
Exercise is a common coping mechanism since it promotes physical health and releases “happiness chemicals” that can elevate your mood. In this way, it both addresses the cause of your distress and helps you be a well-rounded individual.
2. Don’t Avoid the Negative
In mental health spaces, there’s a common misconception that being mentally well means never exposing yourself to negativity. But negativity is a part of life. Everyone feels pain, sorrow, loss, and a host of negative emotions at different points throughout their lives. But if you feel like you have to avoid negative emotions, you could be relying on an unhealthy coping mechanism.
This is called avoidance behavior, and while it can occur in anyone, it’s most common in people living with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). This unhealthy coping mechanism can be appealing because it removes negative emotions and makes it easier to stay at peace. But if you’re avoiding any unpleasant situation, you’re going to miss out on a lot of life, so it’s important to work to develop more positive coping mechanisms.
3. Stop Comparing Yourself to Others
For some, it can be tempting to say, “Well, I may not be great, but I’m better than this person I know.” And while that might seem positive, it’s actually deeply rooted in insecurity. And its benefits are only temporary, because when you eventually run into someone that you perceive to be doing “better” than you, you’ll likely make a comparison and find yourself wanting. That can lower your self esteem even further, which worsens the cycle.
Remember, your progress is your own, and it’s not gauged by comparison to anybody else. If you look outside yourself for validation, then you won’t be able to rely on a positive coping mechanism when you really need it.
4. Try Not to “Catastrophize”
If every piece of bad news that you receive becomes the end of the world, then you’re probably catastrophizing. This is a defense mechanism wherein you hear negative news, then assume it’s going to be the worst case scenario in an effort to prepare yourself and stop it from hurting you. Unfortunately, this process can lead to a lot of stress, which can encourage you to self-medicate with drugs or alcohol.
It can be hard, but with mental health treatment, you can learn to reasonably assess bad news as it comes in. In this way, you can both more accurately plan for events, and you can save yourself a lot of undue stress that could increase your risk of self-medication.
5. Stay Grounded in the Present
Whether you’re worrying about the future or romanticizing the past, many unhealthy coping mechanisms take you out of the present. And that’s a problem, because the present is the only time that you can really affect. These negative coping mechanisms take you away from the present to avoid the stress or pain, but that does not serve your interests in the long run.
Using alcohol to self-medicate works in a similar way, where you try to remove yourself from the present situation. By accepting your situation and the emotions that come with it, you can find a way to healthily cope with these feelings without relying on alcohol.
Learn Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Oftentimes, unhealthy coping mechanisms develop over years, and that makes them difficult to replace. Whether you find yourself needing help with behavioral health issues or you notice that you’ve been self-medicating with drugs and alcohol, Baton Rouge Behavioral Hospital is the place where you can get help.
Would you like to learn more about how you can get help? You can call our admissions specialists at 225-300-8470 or ask your questions online. With some help, you can learn positive coping mechanisms and lead a healthy, full life!