Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Do You Recognise Any of These Coping Strategies?


Your world is full of stressors and while a short burst of stress here and there is normal and a part of life, chronic stress is a whole other matter. Exposure to long-term stress can alter your genes, increase inflammation in the body, and cause a wide variety of serious health issues that affect the body and mind.

Learning how to cope with stress in a healthy way is a vital life skill.  However, there are a variety of unhealthy methods often used, and most people may not even realize that they are doing so.

With this in mind, here are ten unhealthy coping strategies for dealing with stress, and the things you may want to consider instead.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies for Stress

1- Addictive substances

These may include drinking, smoking, and general substance abuse, none of which do anything to actually alleviate stress levels.

When you’re under stress it may seem like that extra cigarette is relaxing you and making you feel better, but it’s not. Just like alcohol and drugs, cigarettes provide temporary relief from your stress and once it wears off you just need another hit to get that state back.

Falling into this cycle will do nothing to alleviate stress and will only cause more problems that will need to be dealt with in the future.


2 - Denying there is a problem

Denial is not a stress management tool, in fact it will cause more harm than good because ignoring your stress only makes it worse. Managing it is the only way to properly get it under control.

There’s a difference between taking a mental health time out and indulging in a funny movie or meeting friends for lunch and avoiding your stress.

If you ignore the issues then you won’t process them, nor will you understand why or what you are actually dealing with. The longer you ignore it the greater the issue will get, whether it’s the emotional fear of relationship issues, or a financial issue like a late credit card bill.

The best way to handle this type of situation is by putting a plan in place and acting on it to relieve your stress.


3 - Stress eating

Food often serves as a crutch, much like the vices we mentioned above, and while it may provide you with relief initially, it can spiral out of control quickly. The reason for this is your mind starts to associate eating with the negative emotions you experience so you’re intensifying those emotions.

Do you reach for a snack every time you experience a bit of sadness, anger, or stress? This can fuel obesity, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues.

Instead, focus on improving your health. When you feel well yourself, you can cope with life more easily.


4 - Feeding negativity

Are you the type of person that panics about losing your job after you make a small mistake? Do you meltdown over fights with your partner worried that you’ve triggered the end of your relationship?

Lots of people will immediately think of the worst-case scenario when they are experiencing an issue that is particularly upsetting. However, it will only intensify your stress levels if you have the tendency to blow things out of proportion.

When you feel stressed out it’s easier to look through a negative lens and feed negative self-talk. Remedy this by changing your tone with yourself, start adjusting your self-talk to a tone you would use with a close friend going through struggles instead.


5 - Compulsive spending

When you are chronically stressed, you feel that there’s a void inside you that needs filled and one of the ways people fill it is with retail therapy. There’s a stark difference between a small pick-me-up gift for yourself and spending money on things that you don’t need or have the money to afford. This tends to cause an increase in financial difficulties, which is another stressor to add to the original problem.


6 - Going into hibernation

While there may be something comforting in the thought of building a fort of pillows and blankets to hide behind it’s certainly not the most effective way to handle stress.

Hiding yourself away from other people, your problems, and the world, stops you from sorting out a solution. This in turn just allows the initial issue to escalate, and your fear around it to grow.

Social interaction is an important part of good mental and emotional health.  Allow yourself to get the support that you need.


7 - Self-criticizing

Talking down to yourself is a common practice, and it can often escalate to new heights when things are not going to plan.

This can be a habit that we have picked up  from our families. It is essentially a form of 'victim mentality'.  An unhelpful response which keeps us stuck in the role of victim, and prevents us from taking responsibility for our own life experience.


8 - Angry outbursts

When we feel overwhelmed with emotion, it can feel as if it needs to be released, just so that we can restore our emotional balance once again.

Uncontrolled outbursts of anger, frustration, or condemnation, do nothing to help resolve stress. Whilst they may help you to feel better initially because there is an initial release of pent-up emotion, in the longer-term, they simply exacerbate a difficult situation.

Taking out your frustration on others is not a healthy way to deal with your emotional stress. Better coping strategies should be focused on learning to become present with difficult feelings, and to respond through choice, not reactions.


9 - Drinks which contain stimulants

Living off sugar, energy drinks, alcohol, or caffeine, might give you a quick burst of energy, but this will be closely followed by a dip in your energy levels.

Stimulants give you a false sense of energy, but they do not provide any real nutrients.  In addition, they can also lead to adverse effects like anxiety, insomnia, or palpitations.

It is far better to focus on having a balanced diet, and this includes drinking substances which enhance your health - like water or herbal teas.


10 - Lack of self-care

Neglecting yourself because you feel so stressed, is not a healthy coping strategy.

Watch out for not taking the time for exercise, eating an unhealthy diet, or putting your own needs at the bottom of the pile of your to-do list.  Ignoring your own self-care is going to make you feel worse, and less able to deal with the challenges of life.

So, if you are struggling with stress, instead of using coping strategies which don't work, try placing your focus on self-empowerment instead. Taking back control of your life is the first step to making real change and a better future.