We all have different ways of dealing with stressful circumstances. Some prefer to hit punching bags at a gym, while others might like to sing at the top of their lungs. Coping mechanisms are go-to strategies you consciously or unconsciously implement to self-soothe in the face of stress and or trauma that help your emotional well-being. The caveat is that not all of them are healthy.
What can seem like a temporary fix or something you only do in certain situations can be unhealthy coping mechanisms. This article addresses unhealthy coping mechanisms, which we are all more likely to do.
- Forced Positivity
I’m sure you have heard the term of good or positive vibes only. The statement and accompanying sentiment have become part of our culture. There is nothing wrong with positivity. It can be pretty powerful. However, we have taken positivity to the extreme– toxic positivity. Toxic positivity does not come from a place of genuine happiness. It comes from a place of denial, invalidation, or minimization. It is an attempt to present a positive disposition at all times, even in the face of the worst calamity. It is usually excessive to the point where it is obvious.
Some examples of toxic positivity are:
- Don’t think about it, be positive!
- Everything will work out in the end!
- If I can do it, so can you!
- It could be worse!
By forcing yourself to be positive at all times, you are disallowing and repressing your emotions, which can lead to shame and relational problems. Sometimes life sucks, and no amount of positivity can “fix it.” It’s all right to be angry, jealous, annoyed or pissed off. Those emotions are part of being human. Be human!
For now, social distancing is our safest option, but there are other ways you might be isolating yourself. Socially isolating yourself because you do not like the people who are around you is not a healthy habit. It can make it harder for you to relate to others in the future. We, humans, are social beings, and one of our primary needs is connection. That’s how we’ve maintained our species for so long. Learning how to be around others builds up your resilience and helps you cope better with any unpleasant feeling that might arise. You learn a lot from the people around you.
If you feel anxious in social situations, try going with someone you know or reach out to a professional therapist who can teach you techniques to reduce stress caused by that social situation.
When something bad happens, our brains immediately embellish the event with details that make it seem like it is the worst possible thing. It is a trait that has kept humans alive for millions of years– to remember the negative parts. You prepare for the worst, just in case. However, in modern-day society, it appears as a self-defense mechanism, but in reality, it’s a coping mechanism.
The difference between defense and coping mechanisms is awareness. Self-defense mechanisms occur unconsciously, and with you noticing them, whereas coping mechanisms occur through a conscious effort to hide or mitigate something. The reason I bring up this difference between self-defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms is that, sometimes, you have been engaging in a kind of behavior for so long that it seems like it is unconscious. That is the case for fatalism.
You have chosen to look at the glass half-empty (or shattered on the floor) for so long that your brain cannot imagine a different possibility. This behavior is hardwired in your brain and can cause you more stress than necessary. High levels of stress can lead to several mental and physical health problems such as depression and even heart disease.
So, stop catastrophizing. Allow yourself to think of the five top worst outcomes and then ask yourself how likely are they to happen. If you feel like a bad outcome is likely, then plan. But, remember to create a flexible and doable plan. This will give you a sense of security going forward.
- Repressing your feelings.
Stoicism flourished during the time of the Greeks and Romans, and it seems it has made a comeback. Though stoicism is practical and focuses on pragmatism, the one trait we’ve misinterpreted is the repression of emotions. We all walk around repressing how we feel because we think that no one cares or that it is a waste of time. Often, this behavior is a self-defense mechanism that activates when you believe that you no longer have control over a situation. Whether you choose to over-react or under-react, you are not giving your emotions room to breathe.
Though I do agree that there should be a degree of emotional self-control, I think we should be genuine with how we are feeling and express it calmly and reasonably in a way that does not harm others.
If you are more likely to over-react when something goes wrong, notice any physiological changes. Usually, your body is a good indicator of how you are actually feeling. Taking a moment to ground yourself in your body can help you minimize stress and reduce emotional outbursts.
There are other ways to shake out repressed emotions, such as yelling into a pillow, dancing, or working out.
- Romanticizing the past
The past does always have a certain appeal, especially when the present looks dim and less than promising. However, you cannot resurrect the past. Things happened, and, chances are, they did not happen just as you imagine it.
Living in this nostalgic daydream can rob you of opportunities that are staring you in the face today. If you find yourself going taking frequent trips down memory lane, figure out what specifically appeals to you and try to recreate it in the present.
The present can sometimes be dim and gray, but your perspective depends on how you choose to handle it. Coping mechanisms are not there to remind us of our flaws, bad habits, or behaviors, but to remind us of our frailty. They are a way our body chooses to self-soothe just urge yourself to soothe healthily.
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MayoClinic. “Social Anxiety Disorder (Social Phobia).” Mayo Clinic, Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, 29 Aug. 2017, www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/social-anxiety-disorder/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20353567.
Quintero, Samara, and Jamie Long. “Toxic Positivity: The Dark Side of Positive Vibes.” The Psychology Group Fort Lauderdale, 8 Oct. 2020, thepsychologygroup.com/toxic-positivity/.
Wiest, Brianna. “7 Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms That Are Secretly Wreaking Havoc On Your Psyche.” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Nov. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/briannawiest/2018/11/13/7-unhealthy-coping-mechanisms-that-are-secretly-wreaking-havoc-on-your-psyche/?sh=6b01376b4575.