Life is hard. No two ways about it. Even if you’re born into a place of privilege, you will experience a form of stress somehow. Therefore, it’s incredibly important to know how to deal with that stress when it invariably comes around. When we’re stressed or hurt and it becomes a lot to shoulder, many people tend to turn to activities or substances that can take the edge off. Drugs and alcohol are some common forms of negative coping activities. Substance use can easily become abuse when you aren’t able to effectively handle stress; especially if it shows up in your life often.
For this reason, I will be outlining a few known negative coping skills that people have and then will be giving you an alternative to those activities. Also, within this article, there will be a questionnaire that you can fill out to assess your current coping skills.
As always, there will be actionable steps and a conclusion at the end of the article.
To begin, let’s talk a little bit about stress. Here is a link to my article on managing stress with gratitude and resiliency wherein I explain briefly what stress is and the effect that it has on your body. For those who don’t want to, here’s a brief refresher on what stress is and how it affects your body.
Stress is your body’s way of responding to internal or external stressors. During this time, your body produces cortisol and adrenaline to prepare for a fight or flight response. Stress isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Similar to exercise when you break down and build up muscle, it’s the number one thing you need to build your core resiliencies (more information in the article above).
The body is equipped to deal with stress. But when stress isn’t handled properly and becomes chronic, it can cause a whole host of problems like heart, digestive, and more relevantly, mental issues. Most notably, an inability to handle impulse control and delay gratification, especially if chronic stress has been around for a prolonged period or from childhood. With the state of affairs today, it has become incredibly important to be able to handle those things and not let it eat you up inside, figuratively and literally.
That’s where those really important coping skills come into play.
Negative Coping Skills
Before I tell you about the positive coping skills that people should use, I’m gonna show you some of the negative ones. During this time, I’d like you to reflect and see if any of these apply to you. Hopefully, you don’t use any of these, but if you do, it’s OK. There is still a way to change things around. 🙂
Cigarettes, alcohol, heroin, meth, opiates, the list goes on. People may have differing opinions on drugs in general, but there is no question as to whether or not substance abuse is bad. Maybe because they’ve been hearing “no drugs” beat into their head since childhood, like me, or you’ve seen the first-hand effects of someone who has an addiction to an illicit (heroin) or legal (alcohol) substance.
They were comical at best, I think. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
Admittedly, I use a glass (one) of alcohol to calm me down when I get really anxious, sad, or angry; which really only happens occasionally. Aside from that my alcohol usage is pretty low and occasional.
Despite how little you or I drink, however, any usage is considered risky behavior because you never know how you will react or continue to react when you drink alcohol– in response to stress, particularly. One stressful event is all you need in order to really start abusing alcohol or any illicit substance. Also, tolerance grows the more you consume these products, and that leads to a need to buy and use more and more to reach the same state each time.
These two articles (one of them is actually a study) essentially say the same thing: using these substances, and obviously the abuse of them, takes a physiological and psychological toll on the body and may very well compound your stress overall.
I won’t get into the nitty-gritty of this, because a) I don’t want people getting ideas, and b) it’s not necessary. The title explains it all, but in case you’re not sure: self-harm is the practice of hurting yourself. It is not a mental illness, but rather an indicator of poor coping skills and a sign of emotional distress. Teenagers tend to engage in this behavior, but it can extend into or begin in adulthood.
The reason that people do this is because when you hurt yourself, sometimes it triggers your body to “release endorphins and pain-killing hormones,” says the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI). “Or if a person doesn’t feel many emotions, he might cause himself pain in order to feel something “real” to replace emotional numbness.”
This one is pretty obvious on why you shouldn’t do it, but just in case you don’ t know. 1.) You don’t deserve to be hurt by yourself or others, and 2.) It may feel good now, but the pain later and the eventually scarring is gonna make it suck a lot more down the line.
This one isn’t as obvious as the previous one, nor is it as bad– per se– as pretty much everything else on this list. Caffeine would technically fall under the topic of a substance that you can abuse, but I just wanted it to have its own category.
Caffeine is a chemical usually in the form of soda, coffee, chocolate, tea, etc. It gives the brain, in most, a jolt of energy. For people like me, it just makes me sleepy. It’s usually a way to deal with a form of stress. Not having enough energy or not getting enough sleep is the number one reason to drink coffee. Not having enough energy to do work, meet deadlines, be anything but lazy is a great way to increase stress in your life. Caffeine eases the burden.
However, while caffeine does help with all of that stuff, it also becomes an addiction when constantly used. Withdrawal symptoms hit people really bad and make them almost unable to function when the headaches, lethargy, and a whole host of other things startup.
Compulsive Spending and Eating
Compulsive spending and eating are essentially one and the same. When you’re upset and you don’t know how to cope, it’s easy to go out to eat or shopping, because eating good food makes you feel good. And spending money on new and shiny things makes you feel good, too; especially in countries where material possessions are considered to be the key to happiness and success. It’s an emotional-regulation strategy.
An article from Psychology Today talks about the link between the two and how it just stems from the feeling that things in someone’s life are out of their control. People usually feel really horrible after they reflect on their actions. Strangely, looking at the woman in the article, she was unable to identify her emotions right before she decided to go eat food despite her desire to lose weight.
The cycles usually looks like this: stress > euphoria > guilt. According to Eating Disorder Hope, “the comorbidity of these two disorders is of concern because they exacerbate symptoms of each other. The guilt and shame of over-buying can drive someone to binge, and vice versa”.
So, for right now, I won’t list anymore here because there is just too much to go over. So, here is a picture that details more of the types of negative coping skills that exist.
For more information, check out this accompanying pdf.
How to Identify and Measure Stress
In order to put an end to the stress in your life, you must be able to identify what those stressors are, what triggers them, and etc.
There are a few things that you can look out for, like psychological, emotional, physiological, and behavioral signs.
Psychological signs could be memory lapses, easily distracted, inability concentrating or making decisions. Emotional signs could be irritability, defensive, lack of motivation, lack of confidence and low self-esteem. Physiological could be palpitations or dizziness, psychosomatic pain or a general feeling of malaise, weight loss or gain, and constant tiredness. Finally, behavioral signs could be accident prone or forgetfulness, poor time management, social withdrawal, and nervousness.
Obviously, this isn’t an all-inclusive list and you may or may not feel one or all of this symptoms. If this list isn’t helpful, instead ask yourself if any of these questions apply to you.
- Have you had any recent major life changes?
- Do your beliefs (not only religious) cause you stress?
- How are you coping with stress?
After you’ve identified and measured your stress levels, now it’s time to learn some positive coping skills before we make a plan. 🙂
Positive Coping Skills
You can also look at my more comprehensive resources article that lists some ways to handle stress, but I’ll list a few new ones here. 🙂
Deep Breathing, and Progressive Muscle Relaxation
You’ may be surprised to hear this, but most people don’t actually know how to breathe properly; for whatever reason we forget. Try paying attention to when you yawn. Your belly expands to draw in a deeper breath, then deflates. When you breathe properly, you exercise the muscle in your diaphragm that is used specifically for deep breathing. This is aptly named diaphragmatic breathing.
Deep breathing has been proven to do a lot– not as a resiliency for stress– but for limiting your stress response so that it doesn’t get out of control. This is because when you focus your energy on deep breathing, it fools your body into thinking that it is already in a calm and relaxed state. Here is an article on WebMD on how to do deep breathing if you’d like to try it out for yourself. Also, here is a link to different kinds of breathing exercises to help in times of stress.
Muscle relaxation is a technique that describes bringing all of your muscles to a relaxed state. Usually, when you’re stressed, your body will become tense as a response to fight or flight. When you reduce muscle tension in your body, you’ll then be able to achieve a greater sense of calm. Here is an article that teaching you how to do the progressive muscle relaxation technique.
I’ve also mentioned exercise generally before, but I want to talk more specifically about yoga, tai chi and qigong this time.
Yoga, more specifically, hartha (pronounced ‘Hot-ha’) yoga is a form of yoga that focuses on the release of tension in the body and working through physical traumas in the body to find peace. IT is the basis of all forms of contemporary yoga that you see and do today. Aside from raising your fitness level and the benefits that exercise generally has, it also has the benefit of bringing peace and calmness to your mind. As well as creating space in your body and mind meant for you find balance and creates an opportunity for spiritual growth.
If you’d like more information and to possibly try it out, here is an article from Do You Yoga that gives you an overview. Also, this piece from Very Well Fit gives a more in-depth analysis of Hartha Yoga.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong (pronounced ‘chee goong’) are traditional Chinese movement exercises. They’re based on two ideas: that the body has energy pathways and if blocked can cause you to become ill and that you must keep the body’s balance of yin and yang to stay in good health. For more information on the specifics, you can look here and learn from Tai Chi Society.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong combine slow, deliberate movements, meditation, and breathing exercises. This isn’t anything that is designed to help you sweat or lose weight, just to help to improve circulation, balance, and alignment. Which I think we can all benefit from.
Tai Chi and Qi Gong are things you may want to get professional help with doing. But you can also find many helpful videos on YT if you don’t want to pay for that. 🙂
I know some might automatically jump to religion, but spirituality and religion are two different things, though intertwined. Religion implies the servitude to a higher being. While spirituality gives you to power to choose what you think about our meaning and purpose or something bigger than ourselves. You tend to do a bit of soul searching and come to a conclusion about life. Whereas when religious, these things are already figured out for you and you just have to discern what’s right and wrong through the lens of your teachings.
Whichever you pick, and it really doesn’t matter either way, spirituality lends to you quite a few benefits. Things like less hypertension, less stress, less depression, greater resiliencies, more positive feelings, better health, and the list goes on, those are the things you can expect if you choose to be religious or spiritual and actually believe it.
No matter how you feel about spirituality and religion, when used responsibly, it can help a lot of people.
For whatever reason, pets have this… magical ability to alleviate some of your stress just by petting them. It’s like their fur pulls away toxic energy and dissipates it into the ethos.
Pets help to reduce stress and their harmful byproducts like cortisol that can lead to depression or make it worse. And it doesn’t have to be a typical 4-legged friend, even a trip to the aquarium or a pet fish can help. All pets provide a constant source of healthy social stimulation for people who find it hard to build or maintain a social network. It can even help to bring in friends if you walk your dog, or more interestingly, your cat. (My husband does this and I can’t tell you how many people stop and laugh or talk to us because they see a cat on a leash.) It’s called the magnet effect and works particularly well.
Being alone and ruminating is usually where a downward spiral of negative emotions can manifest. You want to avoid that because it can make really small problems get really big and out of control. Building a network of close friends and company is one way to build resiliency for stress.
According to Psychology Today, it may even boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia. They show that people who are more social seem to olive their more isolated counterparts, better physical health with a stronger immune system, and most importantly, better mental health. You can build better self-confidence and self-esteem with the inclusion of more socialization.
Even if you think that you’re an introvert and that interacting with people makes you tired, a little bit of socialization is healthy and perhaps a necessary piece of the puzzle to maintain excellent mental health.
The 4 A’s of Stress Management
Finally, I’ll leave you with this. It was a pretty neat resource that I found while writing this. The four A’s of stress management is a quick little mnemonic used for remembering how to minimize and handling stress in your life. They are: avoid, alter, adapt, accept. You can pick and choose which ones to use in whatever situation you may find yourself in.
Avoid– Avoid unnecessary stress. You can do this by learning how to say “no”, avoiding people that stress you out, taking control of your environment by keeping things that will trigger stress out and trim down your to-do list.
Alter– If you can’t avoid a stressful situation, alter it. You can do this by expressing your feelings and not bottling them up, be willing to compromise and create a balanced schedule where you allot time for recharging, too.
Adapt– If you change the stressor, change yourself. You can do this by reframing your problems, looking at the big picture, adjusting your standards, and expressing gratitude.
Accept– Some sources of stress are unavoidable. Sometimes, it may be better to just accept your circumstances rather than continue to bump heads with it. You can do this by looking for the upside, learning to forgive, sharing your feelings, and stopping yourself from trying to control the uncontrollable.
For more in-depth information, visit this website here. Besides the 4 A’s of stress management, they also provide other great pieces of advice when it comes to dealing with stress. 🙂
There you have it– negative coping skills! Bet ya’ didn’t know that the almighty caffeine was one, either. 😉
Here is a checklist that you can use in order to see what kinda of coping skills you use and how often you use them. Use this list as a way to begin evaluating how much stress you have in your life and how you can begin cultivating ways to deal with them.
1. Identify your stressors and coping skills in a journal. Write down what your stressors are, how they are triggered, how you responded to it, and what you did to feel better.
2. Make an action plan. Make a list of things that stress you out and then write positive coping techniques you can do to help calm down below them. Having a reference sheet to look at in an easily accessible place for when you are in the heat of the moment and can’t think is a great way to start cementing those responses that will become automatic over time.
3. Let friends and family and know the things that stress you out. If you find it difficult to notice the signs yourself, maybe someone else can and help you stay on track with good coping skills, while helping you to avoid those things.
4. Manage your stress. Keep clutter out of your life and don’t overcommit to things. Make sure to allow for regular times for de-stressing in your schedule.
5. GET GOOD, QUALITY SLEEP.
6. Change negative self-talk into positive self-talk!
With these tools in your belt, you’ll be able to keep your stress to healthy levels and live a more fulfilling and less stressful, hectic life. 🙂
I hope this was helpful and enlightening. I think there are way too many people who rely on negative coping skills and that’s through no fault of their own, usually. I just hope more people adopt more healthy ways to deal with their stress at some point before it’s too late in damaging their lives.
Tell me some ways that you manage your stress in the comments below!
Peace and peace,