By Amanda Mathis, a local college student
Mental health and well-being plays an important role in one’s life, as well as how we deal with stressors and trauma that can negatively impact us. There are all kinds of possible variations when it comes to how individuals manage painful or difficult emotions, and what they do to regain a better mindset when times get rough. The more coping skills we obtain to deal with environmental changes, the more likely we are to maintain a healthier lifestyle and overall better mental well being.
Types of Coping Mechanisms
There are several way that individuals can cope in a healthy and productive way. Some examples include:
- Talking/Venting – Talking about what is causing your stress and trauma can be extremely helpful in clearing your mind and allowing yourself to feel heard and listened to. Seeking support from others instead of isolating and internalizing your emotions can immensely reduce the negative effects of a difficult situation.
- Relaxation – Participating in relaxing activities is supported to relieve tension and stress, as well as allowing one to clear their mind and find a new perspective. Meditation and yoga are great ways to relax, as well as listening to soft music and sitting in nature.
- Humor – Finding a way to laugh about a current situation or seeking out comedic relief can help individuals keep stress from becoming overwhelming.
- Physical Activity – Exercise is extremely helpful for many people when it comes to coping with their situations. Taking part in running, walking, swimming, dancing, any sort of sports, and other activities does wonders for your body and mind. If you’re feeling trapped or alone it can be a great way to change the scenery and get out.
- Creative outlets – For individuals who are extremely creative, finding an outlet to demonstrate your creativity is a great way of taking your mind off of the negative and focusing it on the positive. Activities like painting, drawing, taking pictures, playing an instrument, writing songs or poetry, and more can help you achieve relief.
On the other hand, there are maladaptive coping mechanisms to look out for and avoid due to the severe levels of negativity they harness. Some such as:
- Isolation – In order to cope with anxiety and stress many people withdraw socially from family and friends. By doing this the individual can feel an overall sense of loneliness, and lose their support system which is meant to provide a sense of care and safety. Some ways one can see this behavior is in individuals who participate in abnormal television watching, reading, or time spent online.
- Unhealthy self-soothing – Such behaviors as binge-eating, binge-drinking, excessive use of video games or the internet are ways people can soothe themselves. In moderation these behaviors are healthy, but it is really easy for them to turn into unhealthy habits.
- Numbing – Instead of dealing with the anxiety and stress a problem might cause, many will choose to drown their emotions out with alcohol, drugs, and food. Participating in this behavior can be quite dangerous because it can be really hard to stop and could possibly lead to addiction.
- Risk Taking/ Compulsions – Sometimes the effects of stress can cause others to seek out riskier behavior. For example, gambling, unprotected sex, experimenting with drugs, reckless driving, and crimes are all behaviors that correlate with risk taking and compulsions.
- Self-harm – People who are really struggling to find a way to express their emotions may turn to self-harming tactics. Cutting, scratching or pinching, ripping skin, carving symbols and names into skin, interfering with healing processes, burning, and hair pulling are behaviors to be on the lookout for. It is imperative to seek some sort of counseling or help if participating in or observing these behaviors.
It is important to recognize the different types of coping mechanisms in order to help ourselves and others. If you are struggling to cope with anxiety, depression, and the stress you are facing, try finding a new way to express yourself or relieve the tension in a more positive and healthy way. Connecting with therapists, counselors, or even support groups can help build your skill “tool box” and teach you more effective ways of learning how to cope.
Benefits of Healthy Coping Mechanisms on Mental Health
There are so many benefits to finding a healthy coping mechanism when times get tough. Depending on which mechanism fits best with you, here are some of the benefits positive coping provides:
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- The flexibility to learn new skills and adapt to change.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
- Minimizing health risks.
- Finding activities that make you happy.
- Meeting new people.
- Having a brighter outlook on life.
- Lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression.
I am a huge advocate for positive coping skills. I have dealt with severe depression, anxiety, and stress for years. Sadly, I did not always pick the best outlets to express my emotions. Self harming, binge-eating, and isolation played massive roles in my fight to overcome depression and anxiety. These maladaptive behaviors made it extremely hard for me to function and stay motivated. It wasn’t until I sought out professional help from a therapist that I was able to move towards a brighter path.
I was taught various skills to add to my “tool box” that allowed me to find better ways of communicating. For example, I often wrote in a journal which explained when I was feeling sad, happy, alone, depressed, joyful, excited, and so forth. This allowed me to see what was causing me to feel a certain way, and made it easier to understand why I reacted the way I did. Once being able to recognize my emotions, I was able to pick activities that could help regulate my mood and provide enjoyment. I am very creative and love to look at pictures and listen to music. By identifying my interests I could tailor coping mechanisms that could calm me down and make me happy. Whenever I would feel alone or depressed, I would grab my camera and go take pictures of whatever I saw. In addition, I learned how to play the guitar and continuously found songs to learn whenever I felt my mood fluctuate. By being able to find healthy and positive ways to deal with stressors and trauma, my mental health and well being is stronger than ever.