Updated: Aug 26
*DISCLAIMER: If you are thinking about harming yourself in any way, or know someone who may be experiencing such thoughts, we encourage and advise you to contact mental health professionals for support. Your life and well-being are valuable and important, so please take the time to contact mental health professionals. If you or someone that you know are facing an immediate threat to life, please do not hesitate to contact your local emergency telephone number for support.
What Are Coping Mechanisms?
Significant life events, whether positive or negative, can cause stress. To adjust to this stress, we may utilize a combination of behaviors, thoughts, and emotions - depending on the situation - to help manage painful or difficult emotions. The combinations that we use in these cases are known as coping mechanisms.
Types of Coping Mechanisms
There are many coping mechanisms, or styles, that people use, and some may prove more effective than others depending on the nature of the stressful situation and the person who is employing them. It is important to remember that we all cope with different situations in different ways, so the coping mechanisms that work for others may not be as effective for you, and vice-versa.
Here are 5 healthy coping mechanisms:
Support rather than escape
Asking for help, or finding emotional support from family and friends, can be an effective way of maintaining emotional health during stressful times, as opposed to escaping your emotions by ignoring them. In moderation, venting in the company of family or friends can be healthy. Try not to ruminate on the negative, which can lead to strained relationships over time and have negative effects on your mental health.
Relaxation rather than unhealthy self-soothing
Engaging in relaxing activities, or practicing calming techniques, can help you manage stress and improve your overall coping capability. Unhealthy self-soothing activities, on the other hand, can impede your ability to cope with negative emotions in the long-run.
Problem-solving rather than numbing
Problem-solving aims to locate the source of a problem and determine solutions to address it. This coping mechanism is often helpful in work situations, as it can prevent or significantly reduce the likelihood of a problem from recurring.
On the other hand, numbing or avoidance of an issue altogether may lead to denying that a problem ever existed, which can allow the problem to recur and negatively impact one’s mental health. This unhealthy coping mechanism is usually maintained by distractions, such as excessive alcohol consumption, overworking, or sleeping more than usual.
Humor rather than compulsions or risk-taking
Pointing out the amusing aspects of a problem at hand and reframing the problem itself, is thought to help deal with problems such as small failures. Compulsions or risk-taking, on the other hand, prevent individuals from effectively addressing the problem that they are facing and negatively impacts their mental health.
Physical activity rather than self-harm
Regular exercise, such as running or participating in team sports, is a good way to handle stress from different situations. Other examples of physical activity include yoga, meditation, and progressive muscle relaxation among other techniques of relaxation. Self-harm, on the other hand, negatively impacts both physical and mental health and does not help individuals cope with the stressors that they are facing.
How Coping Mechanisms Relate To Addiction
People who struggle with addiction often employ unhealthy coping mechanisms. Some remain in denial and others may blame themselves for a negative experience - either of which may lead to using a substance or engaging in unhealthy behavior to escape their reality. Drugs and alcohol are most commonly viewed as an escape mechanism since they alter our outlook and make it easy for us to ignore our reality. For those who are struggling with an addiction and have the desire to make a change in their life and their habits, there are many resources to reach out to that can help you take the first steps towards progress and recovery.
Problem-Focused Coping Mechanisms Vs. Emotion-Focused Coping Mechanisms
Coping mechanisms are often focused on addressing a problem or emotion.
Problem-focused coping is helpful when you need to change your situation, perhaps by removing a stressor from your life.
Check out some problem-focused coping mechanisms below:
Ask for support or advice from a friend or a professional
Create a to-do list
Engage in problem-solving
Establish healthy boundaries
Work on managing your time better
Emotion-focused coping is helpful when you need to take care of your feelings, and when you either do not want to change your situation or when the circumstances that you are facing are out of your control.
Check out some emotion-focused coping mechanisms below:
Clean or declutter your living space
Draw or paint
Cook a meal
Give yourself a pep talk
Go for a walk or jog
Engage in a new hobby
Listen to music
List the things that you feel grateful for
Picture your “happy place”
Practice a breathing exercise or meditation
Write your experiences or emotions in a journal
Find What Works For You
The coping mechanisms that work for someone else may not work for you. Painting might help your partner or friend calm down, but you may find that going for a walk when you are upset causes you to think about why you are mad and address some of the root causes of your anger. Test the waters and figure out what helps you relax and cope with the stressors in your life.
It is important to develop your own toolkit of coping mechanisms, and remember - there is always room for improvement!
Katelyn @ Happy By Design Co
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