Life’s stress requires coping mechanisms. From minor stresses such as weather changes to major stresses such as unexpected work deadlines, we all use coping mechanisms to maintain our sense of peace and calm. Much like the stress, coping mechanisms can be small such as deep breathing or large such as substance abuse. To protect our overall well being, choosing healthy coping mechanisms is essential.
One way to determine whether our coping skills are healthy is to look at the impact on finances. For instance, if we turn to substances such as alcohol, cigarettes, food, or drugs to ease the discomfort of stress, the increased financial cost may increase our stress. When faced with deciding if a behavior is a healthy or unhealthy way to cope, choose activities that do not require spending money. These may include taking a bath, going for a walk, or talking with a friend.
If financial challenges are causing the stress, use this time to plan a budget or improve skills to work toward a higher paying job. A budget and education are productive and healthy ways of coping with financial stress.
Healthy coping mechanisms provide us with a secure future. Additionally, they are not momentary distractions, but tools that improve our future physical and mental health. For instance, exercise is a healthy coping mechanism that reduces stress and enhances overall physical and mental well-being. You can keep at it for days, weeks, months, and years. Compare exercise with an unhealthy coping mechanism such as gambling or using addictive substances. Looking toward the future, gambling and substance use do not support our health. Besides, it will be difficult for you to continue with these coping mechanisms as you finances and health could take a hard hit.
Choose healthy coping skills that can become habits to uplift physical and mental health throughout the next decade.
Understanding our personal boundaries is another way to determine whether our coping skills are healthy or unhealthy. Some examples of personal boundaries are include financial, physical, mental, moral, sexual, and spiritual.
If a coping mechanism requires us to steal, cheat, or lie, we may be violating our moral code, therefore deeming it as an unhealthy coping skill. In contrast, a healthy coping skill could require us to donate our time, money or belongings to others in need. This helps us identify our priorities and ease our stress.
Sex as stress relief could be a healthy coping mechanism for as long as we do not use our partner or let anyone use us. When selecting healthy coping skills, keep personal boundaries in place to protect physical, mental, emotional, sexual, spiritual and moral beliefs.
During times of stress, letting our creativity shine is an example of a healthy coping mechanism. We can dance, paint, draw, sculpt, write a story, play a musical instrument, or knit. All these could work as a distraction technique to move our mental energy to something other than what is causing us stress. Even if we are not a writer, the act of journaling becomes a creative one. Use a computer or paper to write the day’s events or even life’s stress. The act of getting it out of our head is sometimes enough to help us cope.
Forgiving others is important and may help to ease our emotional stress, but more importantly, forgiving ourselves may help us to accept our reality. For example, during times of illness or chronic conditions, we may want to blame ourselves for the situation. Unfortunately, when we lack self-forgiveness, our stress increases, and our coping mechanisms decrease. If we learn to forgive ourselves and accept our situation, we see it through loving eyes that are better able to deal with our current stressful situation.
Increase the Mind/Body Connection
When determining whether our coping tools are healthy or unhealthy, we can examine whether or not the tools increase the connection between our mind and body. Consider the way substance use separates the brain from the moment. People describe this in terms such as “getting high,” “escaping,” and “zoning out.” In contrast, consider the way meditation causes us to “center,” “focus”, and get “in touch” with our feelings. Increasing the mind and body connection through deep breathing, prayer, yoga, and meditation is a healthy way to cope with stress and can be used even during those small moments such as when driving through a rainstorm or missing the bus.
Learning the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms helps us avoid stressful situations and consequences. Choosing healthy coping skills also eliminates future stress, such as physical health challenges, addictions, and financial debt. Once we choose healthy tools over unhealthy ones, our choices become habits that we easily return to in moments of stress.