Top 10 Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Help You Stay Healthy and Mindful

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Life is chaotic, and you may find yourself in incredibly stressful situations. Coping mechanisms are how we deal with challenging situations.

Coping mechanisms are very subjective. What might be excellent for one person may be unhealthy for another. In this article, I will discuss a coping mechanism and suggest a few helpful ones.

What Is A Coping Mechanism?

A coping mechanism is how you deal with stress. 

We all deal with stress, but maybe we don’t realize the coping mechanisms we use to handle it. 

When I encounter a stressful situation, I like to find my breath. Through practice and self-love, I have found a way to lower my heart rate and reconnect with the present moment.

It hasn’t always been that way. 

I used to shut down completely when I was stressed. I would cry or lay in my bed feeling numb. I adopted avoidant behavior. I didn’t want to do anything

I would get aggressive or defensive if someone offered “helpful” suggestions, and I wouldn’t accept help or advice. Being out of control didn’t comfort me, but blaming the world provided temporary relief.  

It took a long time before I understood that these were coping mechanisms. I didn’t know what that meant. I just knew I would break down when things got complicated. I thought there was something wrong with me. 

I thought other people were more successful, happier, and in better relationships because of something I didn’t have. And in a way, that was right. I didn’t have the skills to develop healthy coping mechanisms. 

Coping mechanisms are not always automatic behaviors. They are behaviors we learn and practice over time. Healthy coping mechanisms are usually hard work.

I don’t have everything locked down now. But I have gotten better at understanding my stressors. It is an ongoing process, but mindfulness has helped me find what coping mechanisms work. 

Why Do We Need Coping Mechanisms?

Coping Mechanisms help us deal with potential threats. 

Your body doesn’t know the difference between physical threats and emotional distress. If your heart rate increases because your boss criticized you in front of your peers, your body enters fight or flight mode. 

We need coping mechanisms to address and deal with emotional threats. If we don’t deal with threats or stressors healthily, we can open ourselves up to different problems. 

What Are The 4 Types Of Coping Mechanisms?

There are many types of coping mechanisms. No one kind of coping mechanism is inherently bad or good. It depends on your awareness and the situation. 

Problem Focused 

These coping mechanisms center on the thing causing stress. Like a job, relationship, or housing situation. 

For example, I was very unhappy in my job as a middle school social studies teacher. I wasn’t dissatisfied with my students, but I had a lot of issues with the management. I was overworked and reaching burnout. 

I used a problem-based coping mechanism in this situation. I left that job. I eliminated what I saw as the problem. It took a couple of months to recover emotionally from the stress of that job. And another world of stress opened up with the loss of income. Ultimately, I felt better. 

Problem-based coping mechanisms aren’t always healthy, especially if the source of the problem is complex or unclear. 

Emotion-focused 

When you cannot control the problem or the source of the stress, you may use an emotion-focused coping mechanism. 

These coping mechanisms center around changing how you feel in the moment. You address negative emotions, reset, and reengage with the situation when you are in a better emotional state. 

Meaning-focused 

With this coping mechanism, you would derive a greater meaning from a situation. You may use different cognitive strategies to craft a more significant meaning from a situation. 

This might be a little more for the spiritually inclined. This mechanism relates to the Jungian idea of meaningful life. Carl Jung says, “Meaning makes a great many things endurable.”

Jung’s idea is that with meaning, negative situations and emotions are easier to handle.

Meaning doesn’t necessarily denote belief in a deity’s plan but the general idea that assigning meaning to a chaotic world makes living easier. 

Social coping 

Social-coping or help-seeking mechanisms involve a person seeking aid from their community. Looking for support from your community is a great way to relieve stress or escape a stressful situation. 

Relying on other people for emotional support isn’t always healthy. Although having a great support system is amazing, you still need to find ways to deal with stress on your own. 

What are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms?

Unhealthy coping mechanisms are stress reduction strategies that may be damaging in the long run. Fighting back emotions or running away from problems might feel good, but those strategies can end in disaster. 

  • Disengagement: passive reactions to things you used to enjoy
  • Avoidance: ignoring or downplaying the problem
  • Emotional suppression/outbursts: either ignoring your feelings or letting your feelings take control of your actions
  • Substance abuse: I would include binge eating in this category—the general overindulgence in pleasure-seeking activities. 

The main concern with unhealthy or maladaptive coping strategies is that they will ultimately lead to more stress. Your choices will affect your overall health and ability to get help when needed. Using healthy coping mechanisms can lead to better lifestyle choices.  

10 Healthy Coping Mechanisms

1. Physical activity

Exercise can also release “happy chemicals” into your brain, like dopamine and endorphins. Long-term exercise can help you deal with stress.

Even a short walk can improve your mood. More rigorous exercise can help you take your mind off things. I recently started running. I usually hate cardio, but it is hard to dwell on your problems when you’re fighting for your life on a long run. 

Many ongoing studies are attempting to make definitive links between exercise and improved mental health. But a short walk can change your environment and reduce stress. 

2. Journaling 

I find it helpful to write down my feelings when I am stressed. This allows me to follow my emotions and better identify a problem. 

3. Creative activities

Writing isn’t always easy for everyone. There are many other ways to express your ideas creatively. 

You can grab some crayons and paper at your local dollar store. You don’t have to draw anything specific. Let your emotions take over, and create something as realistic or abstract as you like. 

Art is an excellent way to adjust your perception. This allows you to focus on what is really bothering you. 

4. Setting boundaries/healthy communication

Express your emotions assertively rather than aggressively. If something or someone is stressing you out, you can express your feelings, but be respectful. 

Not everyone is going to be receptive to you expressing your boundaries. If that is the case, you may need to ask yourself what you gain from a given situation.

5. Positive reframing 

If you can’t eliminate the stressor, you can try thinking about it in a different way. If someone isn’t open to communicating with you, assign a different meaning to that interaction. 

6. Seeking social help

Venting to friends can be an excellent coping mechanism if you have people you trust around you. It is okay to ask for help. You might be surprised about the insight others have into your problems or how compassionate your friends can be when you just need someone to listen. 

7. Seeking professional help

If you struggle daily with the same or similar issues with no relief. It might be time to talk to a professional. 

Talking can be a very cathartic way to deal with stress. A mental health professional can be an objective ear for you to vent to. They can also provide expert advice and guide you toward healthy coping mechanisms. 

8. Breathing exercises

Our breathing is one of the first things that changes when we experience stress. I have woken up in the middle of the night short of breath, thinking about many stressful things.

Taking a few deep breaths can bring you back to reality when stress takes over your physiological functions. It took a lot of practice before breathing exercises became a second-nature coping mechanism. So start when you’re feeling more or less normal.

9. Meditation

Like breathing exercises, meditation takes practice before it comes to a reliable coping mechanism. 

Many people on social media suggest meditation as a means to relieve stress. In my experience, you need to understand what meditation style works best for you before you enter panic mode. 

I don’t think you can learn how to slow your breathing, release your negative thoughts, and become the observer when in the middle of a panic attack. 

That being said, meditation has helped me deal with stress. Meditation practices are more of a long-term coping mechanism than a quick-fix solution. 

10. Mindfulness practices

Mindfulness is all about paying attention to what is happening in the present. This guiding idea behind mindfulness is that there is nothing but the present, so that is where we should bring our attention.

Of course, no one can always be fully in the present. However, focusing on what is going on now and not dwelling on the past or thinking about the future is incredibly beneficial when dealing with stress. 

Choosing The Right Coping Mechanism For You

Understanding coping mechanisms is the first step in developing a healthy relationship with stress. For me, journaling, meditation, and mindfulness have been the most beneficial coping mechanisms. 

You have to try out a few different strategies for yourself. Talk to others about what they do when they are stressed. Talk to a professional if you feel stress makes it hard to live your life. 

You can fully decide what coping mechanisms you want to learn. Coping mechanisms are behaviors that we can learn and unlearn. Next time you feel stressed, reflect on this list and try a new coping mechanism. 

Read next: Mindfulness Exercises 

FAQ

Why is meditation a good coping mechanism?

Meditation encourages a sense of calm. When you feel more relaxed, you are better suited to deal with stressful situations.

What is the difference between a coping mechanism and a defensive mechanism?

Coping mechanisms are usually learned behavior, while defense mechanisms are more reflexive. 

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Author
Jillian has been on a journey to find peace in the chaos since 2016. Mindfulness, meditation, and yoga have helped them keep present. They have been writing as a passion since an early age and writing professionally since 2018.

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