Coping mechanisms are when the person uses certain strategies in order to overcome, get through or manage life’s problems.
Many of us have experienced the loss of a loved one, a break-up which devastated us, the diagnosis in our immediate family of a terminal illness, or any kind of stressful situation where we feel we cannot cope. In life, there are many different things that can cause us to feel unwell, but our body is equipped with coping mechanisms to help us.
There are positive coping mechanisms; these are constructive, beneficial and useful in producing a good outcome. Others are negative, where the mechanisms employed are harmful, unhealthy and damaging.
You might wonder why, if positive coping mechanisms are a good way in which to overcome a problem, why more people don’t utilise them. The answer is that although the negative coping mechanisms do not offer a long-term solution to our problem, they do have immediate effects when it comes to reducing the stressful feelings that the problem produces in the short-term.
The problem with using negative coping mechanisms is that although they mask or stop you from feeling awful, they actually increase the dysfunction by strengthening and maintaining it.
There are numerous negative coping mechanisms, here are the worst ten:
1. Avoiding the problem.
This is called anxious avoidance and is a very common coping strategy which relates to a person who continually avoids a situation because they are afraid. Unfortunately, the fear will be maintained and even strengthened if a person does not confront their fear, despite the immediate sense of relief at the avoidance.
Smoking is a negative coping mechanism for obvious health reasons. Although it provides an immediate sense of relief at a stressful situation, the health risks and financial implications are immense.
3. Compulsive spending.
If you are continually buying things to help relieve stress, then you are only making things worse in the long run. People start to hide their purchases from their partners, they turn to credit cards to fulfil their spending and it can create a huge financial burden for the family.
4. Drinking too much caffeine.
As with smoking, you get an immediate hit when you drink a cup of coffee that will help you to cope with stress, but drinking too much can cause long-term problems. You can become dependent on caffeine, have caffeine crashes and suffer from lack of sleep.
If you are faced with an anxiety-producing situation and you immediately escape from it, your body will feel instantly relieved. So when you encounter that situation again, your mind will recall the good feeling that escaping gave you and instead of remaining in the situation, you leave. However, by not remaining in that specific panic-producing situation for long enough, you will never realise that the anxiety will naturally subside on its own.
6. Binge drinking.
Using alcohol to decrease stress is very common, as drinking to excess numbs you to your situation. There are many health implications, however, associated with drinking too much, and by drinking to excess, you are essentially avoiding your situation.
7. Sleeping all day.
Sleeping is a good way of avoiding your troubles, as when you are asleep, you don’t have to think about your situation. Excessive sleeping is not good for the body, however, as it needs exercise and outside stimulation to remain healthy.
8. You become promiscuous.
Having many meaningless sexual encounters is one way of blotting out what is going on in your life. For as long as you are having sex with someone, you can get lost in a physical activity that does not require you to think about your current predicament.
9. You stop eating or start over-eating.
Having to think about what food you are consuming can be a way of controlling what is otherwise uncontrollable in your life. Whether you are purposely not eating or over-eating, it is a way of not concentrating on your problems.
10. Emotional eating.
Sometimes you can find yourself eating when you are in an emotional or stressful state, as eating can provide comfort and relief from your problems, but when it becomes a habit, you are at risk of obesity, diabetes or heart attacks.
Positive ways of coping
If you recognise yourself doing any of the above negative coping mechanisms, there are ways to stop and focus on coping in a more positive way.
Positive coping mechanisms include the following:
- Confronting your fear
- Exercising in moderation
- Staying in the fearful situation
- Eating healthily
- Channelling your nervous energy into a productive hobby, such as baking
It is important to remember that negative coping mechanisms might provide instant relief, but in the long-term, they are much more damaging.