Healthy vs Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms for Better Mental Health

Last Updated
March 18, 2023

What is the difference between healthy vs unhealthy coping mechanisms? Coping mechanisms are behaviors and strategies we use to manage stress and emotional difficulties. Coping mechanisms are things people do to deal with difficult situations.

Some of these techniques are healthy, and some are unhealthy. To grow, we need to know the difference between the two to make use of the more beneficial methods.

Unhealthy coping mechanisms vs. healthy coping mechanisms 

Using unhealthy coping strategies to deal with stress and problems can cause damage to our minds and bodies. But when we use healthy coping skills, it can help us feel better and stronger. [1]

unhealthy vs healthy copying mechanism infographic

Unhealthy coping mechanisms

Examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms

  • Substance abuse, such as drug or alcohol addiction
  • Compulsive overeating or binge-eating disorders
  • Self-harm, such as cutting or burning oneself
  • Avoidance or withdrawal from social activities or relationships
  • Denial or release of problems or emotions
  • Gambling or other addictive behaviors
  • Excessive spending or shopping
  • Procrastination or discharge of responsibilities
  • Risky behavior, such as reckless driving or unsafe sex
  • Perfectionism or obsessive-compulsive behavior [2]

Consequences of unhealthy coping mechanisms

  • Increased stress and anxiety
  • Worsened mental illness issues, such as depression or addiction
  • Physical health problems, such as chronic pain or illness
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Strained relationships with friends, family, or romantic partners
  • Decreased self-esteem and self-worth
  • Impaired performance at work or school
  • Financial challenges due to overspending or job loss
  • Legal problems due to substance abuse or other self-destructive behavior
  • Increased risk of accidents or injuries due to impaired judgment or coordination. [3]
Take a quick 10 question test to gain some insight into your mental health on a variety of topics.

Healthy coping mechanisms

Examples of healthy coping strategies

Exercises or physical activity, such as running, yoga, or dancing

  • Mindfulness meditation or deep breathing exercises
  • Creative expression, such as painting, writing, or playing music
  • Social support, such as talking to friends, family, or a therapist
  • Time management and organization strategies to reduce stress
  • Setting healthy boundaries to prioritize self-care
  • Engaging in hobbies or leisure activities that bring joy and relaxation
  • Practicing gratitude and positive thinking
  • Seeking mental health support, such as therapy or counseling
  • Learning and implementing problem-solving skills and stress-management techniques

Benefits of healthy coping strategies

  • Reduced stress and anxiety levels
  • Improved mental health and emotional well-being
  • Increased self-esteem and self-worth
  • Enhanced ability to manage difficult emotions and situations
  • Improved physical health and well-being
  • Strengthened relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners
  • Improved productivity and performance at work or school
  • Improved financial stability due to better decision-making
  • Reduced risk of legal problems and other negative consequences
  • An increased sense of purpose and fulfillment in life. [4]

How to adopt healthy coping mechanisms

A table with information about adopting healthy coping mechanisms in a post about 
healthy vs unhealthy coping mechanisms

Identify your current coping mechanisms

The first step to adopting healthy coping mechanisms is identifying your current unhealthy ones. Pause momentarily to consider the approaches you turn to when feeling stressed, anxious, or overwhelmed.

Determine the triggers for your unhealthy coping mechanisms

Once you have identified your unhealthy coping habits, determine the triggers that lead you to use them. This will help you to develop healthier coping mechanisms that specifically address those triggers.

Educate yourself on healthy coping mechanisms

Look for ways to help yourself feel better when feeling stressed, anxious, or sad. Find out what activities can help you manage these feelings. Many resources are available online, in books, or from a therapist.

Choose healthy coping mechanisms that work for you 

Based on your research and personal preferences, choose several healthy coping mechanisms that will work well for you. Write down the different things you can do when you feel overwhelmed. Then, look at the list when you need to calm down.

Practice your healthy coping mechanisms 

Practice your healthy coping mechanisms regularly, even when you're not feeling particularly stressed or anxious. This will help you get used to healthy ways of dealing with problems when they arise.

Be patient with yourself 

Adopting healthy coping mechanisms takes time and practice. Be patient with yourself and celebrate small victories along the way.

Set realistic goals

Set realistic goals for yourself when it comes to adopting healthy coping mechanisms. For example, aim to practice a healthy coping skill for five minutes a day instead of trying to use it for an hour right away.

Stay consistent 

Consistency is vital when it comes to adopting a healthy coping strategy. Commit yourself to practice your healthy coping skills regularly.

Seek support 

Seek support from friends, family, or a therapist as you work to adopt healthy coping skills and mechanisms. Talking to someone about what you are doing, can be helpful.

We would recommend Online Therapy to help you with your unhealthy coping habits.

Practice self-compassion 

Finally, practice self-compassion as you adopt healthy coping mechanisms. It's ok to make mistakes and have bad days. It takes time to learn how to deal with challenging situations healthily. [5]

Conclusion

It's essential to know how to handle stress and emotions in a good way. It might take some time to change your habits, but it will be worth it in the long run.

FAQ

What are some excellent healthy coping mechanisms? 

Healthy ways to cope with stress include walking, sitting quietly and thinking, writing down your thoughts in a journal, talking to someone you trust, and doing activities that make you happy (like playing an instrument).

How can I make sure I stick with my new coping strategies?

Make them part of your daily routine to help you use the coping strategies you learned. Set reminders on your phone or calendar to remind yourself. Take care of yourself with rest, food, and exercise. Be kind to yourself as you practice these new skills.

References

  1. Therapist Aid; Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Strategies
  2. Forbes: 7 Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms That Are Secretly Wreaking Havoc On Your Psyche
  3. Heroes’ Mile: Spotting Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms in Veterans
  4. Distraction Techniques and Alternative Coping Strategies
  5. MEDICAL CAMPUS: Developing healthy coping skills for resilience

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