Coping Mechanisms That Support Not Hurt You
Hello, my friend and Happy New Year!
You don’t need me to tell you —what’s happening in the world is increasing our stress levels day by day. We’re collectively facing fear, uncertainty, loneliness, and grief as we witness and experience the pain happening around us.
And on top of that, we don’t have access to all our usual comforts and coping mechanisms, like grabbing a coffee or lunch with a friend, enjoying a live band, or sweating it out at the gym. As a result, we may end up reaching for other, less healthy ways, to cope.
For me that looks like ‘nurturing’ myself by sleeping, a lot. That can seem easier than facing the day ahead, right?
I have been spending more time online, and the 24/7 news has been pulling me in, although my logical brain tells me that this is unhealthy. There never seems to be any good news does there? And if I’m being honest, I can be honest with you, can’t I? My alcohol consumption has been at a worrying level for a while. Can you relate to this?
I am not here to preach about a New Year detox or ditching the habits you have that are making you feel better, goodness knows we all need some help now.
No, I just want you to consider whether your coping mechanisms are helping or hurting you. No judgement here my love, just an invitation to reflect, and adjust if you choose to. You’ll learn how to identify the habits that aren’t serving you and replace them with positive, loving alternatives.
I know from experience that when I get to this place, it’s time to step outside of the emotional whirlwind and give my scared inner child some intense care. And to do that, I need to get back to routines and behaviours that lift my energy (and my immunity!) rather than deplete it.
So today, we’re exploring the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms.
Before we dive in, I just want to make one thing very clear: This is not a call to scrutinize all your behaviours or beat yourself up. There’s nothing right or wrong about the behaviours we’re about to discuss. No judgement here my lovely, I just want to explore whether they’re really serving you by helping you take genuine care of your beautiful self. That’s what really matters.
Also, if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, now may be the time to get professional help—which you can thankfully receive online.
Are your coping practices helping or harming you?
Healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms can look very similar on the surface: a tasty meal, a glass of wine, an hour of Netflix. So, it really comes down to the intention behind the action and how it ultimately makes you feel. Simply put: Are you using it to comfort or to numb?
Comforting fills up your spiritual tank and makes you feel relaxed and content. You come to the practice with the aim of feeling better and being good to yourself—and stop when you’re satisfied.
On the flip side, unhealthy coping leaves you empty. You might resort to the habit too frequently or without intentionality—and you’re left without any real relief or resolution.
See the difference? Same glass of wine, two totally different outcomes. Now let’s talk about some common habits that can become unhealthy coping mechanisms—and how to tell when you’ve drifted from comforting to harming.
Comfort Foods That Don’t Actually Comfort
Numbing with food doesn’t make you feel good, and if you’re consistently eating to forget feelings in the first place, that’s a red flag. You might notice a feeling of disconnection or absence, and no matter what or how much you eat, you’re left empty or unsettled.
Conversely, when you truly comfort yourself with food, you feel deep-down nourished. You find peace and connection as you prep your meal. You savour while you eat. Whether it’s a cookie or a carrot, true comfort food connects you with yourself, a sweet memory, or the people you’re eating with. It leaves you feeling satisfied and maybe even grateful.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
If you find yourself reaching for more drinks than usual (and more often than usual), that’s something to pay attention to. Especially if you’re sipping in response to a negative emotion. That could be a sign that you’re drinking to numb instead of for the pure enjoyment of it!
Enjoying an occasional glass of wine or your favourite cocktail can be a healthy part of your routine. Just remember that when it comes to libations, less is better. One to three drinks per week is a good guideline for men and women. And take note of how you feel before, during and after that drink.
Burying Yourself in Work
Are you working more than usual? And I’m not just talking about what you do for a living—chores and housework are work, too. In times of stress, our boundaries can blur, so watch out for filling all your “down” time with to-dos
On the other hand, work can be a fun, healthy way to occupy ourselves if we keep it in balance. If you want to tackle decluttering your home or office, reorganizing your closet or scrubbing your windows for spring, go for it! Just don’t do it 24/7 or forget to take time to relax, too.
News and Social Media Binging
This one hit close to home for me! Staying tuned in can make us feel safer and more in control, but there’s an upper limit to what’s healthy and helpful. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re scrolling. Are you using social media to escape your reality? Is the news adding to your fear, sadness, or confusion during this crisis? If so, it might be time to set some boundaries.
On the flip side, if your online engagement makes you feel more informed, inspired, or connected (particularly when we’re unable to connect in person), then that’s a good thing! Extra points if it makes you laugh or gives you the warm feelings like this. 🙂
Again, all these habits can have neutral outcomes. Munching, sipping, working, and spending time on your phone can be great. Just be attentive to whether they’re making you feel comforted and happy, or numb and hollow. That’s the difference.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Try Instead
Now that we’ve covered some of the habits that can become unhealthy coping mechanisms, let’s talk about some positive alternatives
What You’re Eating
- Create a cooking ritual. Cooking can be a chore—or it can be a meditative act of self-love. Don your apron, turn on some tunes and have fun with it! The recipes don’t have to be complicated just make sure you make healthy choices.
- Take yourself on a date. Doesn’t matter if you’re on your own or have company—treat yourself to a date night in. Light a candle, use your good dishes… maybe even get dressed up! You know yourself best, so do whatever you’ll most enjoy. This is an easy, fun way to break up your routine while we’re unable to dine out.
What You’re Drinking
- Take a break from booze and make a mocktail instead.Mix up a yummy mocktail like this refreshing Champagne Mocktail, serve it in a beautiful glass. Put some cucumbers on your eyes and suddenly you’ve got yourself a booze-free staycation!
- If you’re looking for a way to wind down before bed, have a caffeine-free tea ceremony! Put on some calming music, light your favourite candle, and indulge in a cup of herbal tea. (Take some deep breaths while you’re at it!)
What You’re Thinking
- Fill your feed with positivity (and tune in intentionally).Seek out news and media that make you smile, teach you something new or inspire you. For example, I love following @fearnecotton and @karensalmansohn When you do tune in, do it with intention. For me, that means putting a limit on my device time so I’m not scrolling for hours.
- Explore a new interest. Instead of trying to manage your mind all day long, turn it loose on a beautiful new outlet. Learn to play an instrument, become an expert on your favourite word game, dust off your paints or coloured pencils, whatever brings you some joy and healthy distraction.
How You’re Resting
- Get plenty of high-quality sleep. Sleep strengthens your immunity and your ability to cope with stress, so hit the off switch on time and head to bed. And don’t hesitate to take a nap if you need it—we’re dealing with a lot of change right now, so give your brain and body a chance to recuperate.
Rest your spirit, too. Make sure you’re giving yourself space to breathe and get grounded throughout the day. Meditating is a great way to do that, I find listening to a guided meditation helps my mind from wandering too far.
How You’re Renewing
- Move your body, even if exercise looks a little different these days. Many studios and gyms are offering online classes right now. You Tube is awash with online classes, find one you can relate to, one that will challenge and inspire you. Try to get some outdoor movement if you can (or just stand by your window for a few minutes if you can’t). Fresh air and sunlight are incredibly healing!
- Soft play. Don’t forget the renewing power of fun and friendship! Find some fun at home: Dance in your kitchen, build a fort with your kids or play chase with your pooch. And don’t let the distance disconnect you. Read your grandkids a story over FaceTime or have Friday night dinner with your crew over Zoom.
- It’s time to discover what works for you.
I hope these healthy coping mechanisms bring you some comfort and joy whenever you’re facing extra stress, especially right now. And remember what I said earlier, coping skills aren’t inherently good or bad. That’s way too much pressure to put on something we reach for when we’re struggling!
The difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms comes down to how they make you feel, both in the moment AND in the long term. So, let’s set aside judgement and focus on what feels healing and comforting and GOOD. Because you know what? You deserve to feel good, sweetheart.
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