Coping skills refer to the strategies we use to deal with stress, challenging situations, and difficult emotions in our day-to-day lives. Developing healthy coping skills is crucial for maintaining good mental and physical health.
People who rely on unhealthy coping habits can face detrimental consequences in the long run and will have limited resilience to stress.
Below are some examples of unhealthy and healthy coping skills, and suggestions for constructive ways to manage life’s ups and downs.
The Importance of Cultivating Healthy Coping Skills
Learning healthy ways to cope with life’s stressors can greatly impact our overall wellbeing. Without healthy habits, you may succumb to using coping strategies such as substance use, isolation, and denial to provide temporary relief while worsening the problem in the long run. Although this isn’t your fault, there is something you can do about it.
Healthy coping skills allow us to face setbacks and emotional turmoil constructively. A toolkit of healthy coping strategies can help you regulate your emotional responses and reduce anxiety.
Examples of Healthy Coping Skills
Building good coping habits takes some practice, but it will pay off in the long run in improved mental health and overall life satisfaction.
Examples of healthy coping skills may include exercising and staying active with activities like walking, jogging, dancing, or yoga to help release stress-relieving endorphins in the brain. Relaxation techniques such as meditation and listening to music can be effective in promoting calmness. Creative outlets such as writing, painting, or making crafts may also help process difficult or overwhelming emotions.
It’s also important to maintain social connections and share feelings with loved ones and friends to negate the effects of isolation and loneliness. Also, sticking to a routine for sleep, meals, work, and exercise promotes a sense of stability and can help you feel a sense of control during turbulent times.
Examples of Unhealthy Coping Habits
Unhealthy coping skills can lead to an array of physical and behavioral health ailments when practiced over a long period. One of the most common unhealthy coping mechanisms is substance abuse, which may come in the form of drinking, using drugs, smoking cigarettes, or any other form of addictive behavior.
If you’re using substances, or just feeling down, you may also start to pull away from others to cope alone. This will only worsen loneliness, anxiety, and depression.
Ignoring issues or attempting to distract yourself from your problems can lead to gambling, binge eating, and other compulsive behaviors. Angry outbursts may also occur, which can include yelling and throwing things. These types of reactions reinforce negative emotions.
Without a healthy foundation for coping, you could eventually find yourself obsessively worrying over problems without the skills to take constructive steps to mitigate them, heightening feelings of helplessness and anxiety.
How to Overcome Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
It can be hard to identify bad habits after they’ve already become a cudgel, but the first step in building positive coping skills is having the self-awareness to see patterns of unhealthy coping and fix them. Be open to learning new skills like mindfulness meditation or exercise, and if you feel like going to therapy would be good for you, find a nearby counselor that you feel comfortable talking to.
Avoid putting yourself in situations or environments that trigger your unhealthy habits. When you find yourself slipping into these patterns again, having a relapse prevention plan can put you back on track to success.
Finally, don’t forget to celebrate the small victories along the way and give yourself credit for putting in the hard work. It’s not easy letting go of old habits, but with practice, you can create new and better coping skills.
Kent Reason is an editor and content specialist with Ark Behavioral Health, a substance use treatment provider with locations in Massachusetts and Ohio. Ark offers an array of services for addiction and mental health, including multiple levels of care and evidence-based treatment options.