It’s seldom that any of us can escape the mayhem that can fill our brains as a result of the stressors of life. For some of us, the anxious feelings that accompany stress merely wash over us with a splash, are shaken off with relative ease, and that’s the end of it. No more stress.
For the rest of us, though, anxiety lingers and tinkers around with brain chemistry and can be an unforgiving little freeloader. And the only way to really deal with it is to cope. But that begs the question? How to cope?
As many of us are already aware, there are both good and bad ways of coping with stress and anxiety. However, one fact we may not be aware of is how a healthy, or seemingly harmless, way of dealing with stress, if left unchecked, can slide into the realm of becoming unhealthy, or harmful.
Take for example isolation. Not really a bad idea to remove yourself from what is bothering you. Taking some time for yourself when anxiety levels are heightened makes perfect sense. Good time to read a book, watch a movie, play video games, etc.
But, maybe you feel overwhelmed, so you decide to seclude yourself from the rest of the world so as to just “get away from it all.” It’s your opportunity to sit in a dark space, to be left alone, and with no plan to rejoin society. This is not good.
As most therapists will tell you, excessive periods of isolation, just as with most unhealthy methods of coping with stress and anxiety, can not only negatively impact a person’s mental health but their physical health, as well. To include developing any number of physical impairments as well as increased chances of developing chronic illnesses like Type 2 diabetes.
Even exercise could cross the boundaries of becoming an unhealthy coping strategy. But it would have to take some real examination to determine whether or not that “unhealthy” line has been crossed. The most likely indicator, however, would probably be something like if a person is “obsessive” about their workouts, and they were obviously avoiding a personal issue, or stressor. The obsession becomes an obstruction of living a full and satisfying life.
It’s at that point where we begin talking about addiction. And therein is the trap of unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Promiscuity: A great way of relieving stress, for sure. A ticking time bomb if it becomes a way of “disconnecting” with the world. Or worse, as an act of desperation to make a human connection. When it comes to sex, like other addictions, one must ask themselves if it’s an act of exploration, or one of escape?
Eating Disorders: Food is probably one of the more difficult mechanisms to defend against because of its ease of access and tricky way it can ”backdoor” our subconscious. Someone using food to relieve stress, or “escape,” could easily justify their actions using cultural reasoning, or as a defense against body shaming. All the while, destroying their insides.
On the other hand, restricting calorie intake is also a method of coping, and can be complicated by a “skewed sense of what they look like.” Like other addictions, any behavior involving food, that takes away from living a full and satisfying life, is a problem.
Impulse Buying: Compulsive shopping is a coping mechanism not many of us may fall victim to, but still another method people use to relieve stress and get the dopamine rush of having new things. A sure sign that this could be a problem is buying “stuff” you don’t even want, or buying items, and then hiding them from loved ones.
In addition to being a stress reliever, some experts believe people who struggle with compulsive buying are also experiencing unhappiness related to obsessive feelings of incompetence or under-appreciation.
Drugs and Alcohol: I’ve grouped these two together because, when abused, the impact is felt not only by the abuser but also their closest loved ones. And as we all know, when drug and alcohol abuse is left untreated, tragedy typically finds its way into the picture.
Difficulties with alcohol abuse can be especially challenging given its acceptance in most social settings. However, someone struggling with alcohol, or drug abuse, are hardly seen without their drink or drug of choice.
Interventions can be especially challenging for people suffering from alcoholism and drug use. But, if you, or someone you care for is experiencing such difficulties, several avenues are available that can provide assistance.
Other mechanisms: As mentioned previously, just about anything can become an unhealthy addiction if it interferes with living a healthy life. If “it”, whatever “it” is, ensures you’re able to avoid the real world, when the real world needs your attention. You might have an issue?
That said, here are a few compulsive behaviors I found in my research to write this blog entry. Avoidance: Pretty self-explanatory; Excessive caffeine intake: some people have real addictions to caffeine. Just like anything else, this can be a problem; Excessive sleep: The human body needs the sun and the outdoors to stay healthy. If we spend all our time in bed, we begin to die inside. True statement.
Exercise: The Mayo Clinic refers to exercise as “meditation in motion.” The idea being that the distraction that comes with physical activity helps to relieve stress because the stressor is simply forgotten about for a little while. Not only that, but exercise boosts endorphins, which energize the “feel good” neurotransmitter in the brain.
If it gets your heart pumping and makes you sweat, you’re on the right track, and on your way to stress free living.
NOTE: It is possible to cause harm to your body if you’re not accustomed to large amounts of physical activity and try too much too fast.
So build up to running, or heavy weights over time. But don’t be discouraged by either. Just be careful. Talk to your doctor. They’re always a big help.
Read a Book or Watch a Movie: These are good ways of distracting your mind from something stressful. It takes your “thought muscles” to a place far from an ongoing problem, and for a reasonable duration so not to get stuck. In other words, as you might remember, it’s good to disconnect for a little while, as long as it remains temporary. How long is “too long” can really only be determined by the individual. Regardless, engaging the imagination is a excellent way of relieving stress.
Take a Warm Bath: Taking a warm bath can help to relax the muscles which have probably tensed up due to the feelings of stress and anxiety. Experts agree that a weekly Epsom bath does wonders for relieving stress and muscle tension. In addition, creating a dark candle lit environment using scented candles while performing some “gentle yoga” relaxes the body further, and also the mind.
Writing: This I can personally vouch for. Getting your feelings out into the world, written or spoken, is very therapeutic. Keeping a journal or a blog is a fine way of expressing your feelings; which is what we should all be doing when we feel the urge. Holding in and packing down our stress only makes us feel worse in the long run, so I highly encourage getting those feelings out in at least the medium of written words.
Talking: Find a friend or loved one and let them help you to make sense of whatever problem you are experiencing. We are not meant to get through this world alone, which is why talking to another person about our problems is considered therapy. If you are feeling stressed, get in touch with someone you trust, and give them a chance to listen to what you are feeling.
Other Mechanisms: There are tons of ways one can relieve stress outside of the ones I mentioned above. Here's a few more you might be able to benefit from: gardening, drawing, listening to music, playing with a pet, pep talks or affirmations, and meditation, to name a few.
Stress and anxiety gets to the best of us. It’s how we cope with those anxieties that can either make or break us for better or for worse. For some reason, it is so much easier to fall into despair when we experience the difficulties in life.
Which is why it’s important to always be mindful of our thoughts and actions when the stresses of life begin to pile up. Because, that’s what happens, by the way. It’s not normal to experience one problem at a time, but a series of problems all at the same time. It doesn’t seem fair, but it is normal. That said, recognizing, acknowledging, and possibly altering how we’re coping should be something we take seriously.
One last point. If you, or someone you know, is not doing a good job of coping with the
problems they are experiencing, or if their coping mechanism is unhealthy or harmful, please seek out the assistance of a mental health professional.
Poor coping mechanisms, if left untreated, can lead to serious mental or physical harm.
Please consider the following link to assist with locating a mental health professional: https://www.goodtherapy.org/find-therapist.html