Recognise and Replace Unhealthy Coping Strategies for Stress

We’re all hoping that this year will be better, and that we will be better. That’s normal as we start a new year. But exactly how will we achieve that?? If you want to make a point of looking after your mental health this year, or at least managing stress better, what do you need to change? You may have managed to cope with the stress so far, but have you thought about whether you have used the best coping strategies, or wondered if your default, past strategies were actually good for you? In this article, therapist Teyhou Smyth examines some unhealthy strategies for coping with stress, and then unpacks healthy alternatives in three key ares of our lives. We hope this helps to set you up for success in the year that lies ahead.

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Stress. The six-letter word that can make our lives miserable. The ways we cope with stress can reduce the impact on our mental health, but if we rely on less healthy coping strategies, we may end up feeling worse and reinforcing the very emotion we had hoped to ditch. Sometimes it can be difficult to determine whether a stress management tool is healthy or not.

How to Recognise an Unhealthy Coping Strategy

As a rule, the excessive use of any activity or substance as a means of reducing stress is unhealthy. Even exercise, an activity that is widely recommended as a coping strategy, can become problematic when used excessively as a sole mechanism for dealing with stress. When it comes to coping strategies for stress, pay attention to:

  • The quality of the activity: Does this coping strategy offer meaningful relief from stress in which you feel rejuvenated and well?
  • Frequency of access: Is the coping strategy one you can use regularly? Does it require advanced planning, financial resources? Are you able to access this strategy anytime or only on special occasions?
  • Addictive red flags: Are there any indications that this coping strategy is psychologically or physically addictive? Does this strategy cause problems in any other area of your life?
  • Costs and benefits: Do you get consistent benefits from the coping strategy? Are there costs associated, such as negative outcomes?

Not all coping strategies are created equal. Some of the riskier behaviours people can fall into while trying to manage stress include substance abuse, overspending, sex addiction, overeating and gambling. If you notice yourself moving away from moderation in your efforts to curb stress, consider trying some new methods that may be better for your mental and physical health in the long run.

Variety is Best

Coping with stress through a variety of strategies is an ideal approach. Try to use several methods of stress reduction that incorporate care for your mind, body, and spirit. Consider creating a stress management plan, selecting options from three categories to get the best results.

Stress Management for the Mind

  • Read or listen to an audiobook
  • Work on puzzles or word games
  • Meditate
  • Journal about your thoughts and feelings
  • Talk with a friend or therapist about your stress

Stress Management for the Body

  • Yoga
  • Stretching routine
  • Exercise
  • Increase water intake
  • Eat more fruits and vegetables
  • Get a massage or craniosacral therapy

Stress Management for the Spirit

  • Create art or music
  • Dance
  • Engage in worship or a religious service
  • Prayer
  • Find reasons to laugh

Prevent Stress from Accumulating

As you create a plan to keep stress at bay, keep in mind that for best results, stress reduction techniques should be used regularly. Aim for using stress reduction from each of the three categories (mind, body, and spirit) several times per week.

When you make your own emotional health a priority and engage in self-care, you will reap the benefits of decreased stress and better quality of life.

[This blog post originally appeared on Teyhou’s website www.livingwithfinesse.com ~ some content may have been modified for the UK & Irish context.]

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