Hurdles are a part of everyone’s life, and choosing how we face challenges can be difficult and confusing. Identifying unhealthy habits and avoiding them can promote healthier living.
Mental health is our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It is just as important as physical health in every stage of our lives. In fact, having poor mental health can cause a number of physical health issues. Different people cope with stress in different ways, but sometimes our coping mechanisms can be unhealthy and can actually harm our mental health.
Mental health plays a huge role in how we behave, think, and feel, and our decision processes. When we face mental health issues, it can be hard to make the right choices about how to cope and overcome challenges.
Some of the most common mental illnesses are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, and eating disorders, but with the stigma attached to mental illness and societal taboos surrounding mental health, very few people ask for help. Consequently, many people develop unhealthy habits to cope with difficult situations.
Many factors can encourage unhealthy coping mechanisms. They can stem from childhood or from people around you, usually parents or caregivers. They can arise from denial, traumatic events, or abuse. Fortunately, these learned coping mechanisms can be unlearned.
These are five unhealthy coping mechanisms and how to avoid them to assist you in identifying any of your bad habits and learning how to get past them.
Escaping or isolating
The most common unhealthy coping mechanism is self-isolating and refusing to confront your feelings or the situation. It makes sense that the moment we feel overwhelmed and under pressure, we want to get rid of these feelings as fast as we can. But this could lead us to just avoiding and suppressing them instead.
Burying your feelings is not a healthy way to manage a stressful situation. While it might give you temporary relief, it can also build up to create even more negative feelings which could lead to frustration, lack of motivation, and unhappiness.
How to avoid it
Confrontation can be scary, and the fear of being misunderstood or dealing with more stressful situations can be discouraging. But it can also be the best way to deal with what is bothering you in the long run.
Instead of suppressing your feelings, you can write them down, recognize these feelings, or actively voice them. This way, they will not be just stuck in the back of your head for the whole day, week, or month.
You can start by asking yourself simple questions such as: “How am I feeling right now? Why did I feel this way? Are these feelings related to something I should understand?”
Write down everything that comes to your mind at the moment to help you observe and identify what you are feeling, why, and how to manage it.
Overreacting or under-reacting
Overreacting or under-reacting is a self-defense mechanism that can occur when you are not in control over certain stressful or overwhelming situations. For example, some people lash out when things do not go their way. Their logic is that maybe if they yell, jump to conclusions, or dramatize the situation, it can be resolved faster—but this is not an effective response to stress.
Under-reacting is not an effective response, either. When you under-react, you allow your feelings to be suppressed and negative situations to occur repeatedly. Under-reacting can also give people the chance to take advantage of you because you did not initially set boundaries.
How to avoid it
One way to avoid overreacting is to control any physical reactions. Our body has a way of warning us about dangerous situations, so it is normal to notice some physical reactions when we are facing stress, anxiety, or pressure. Take note of your body’s cues, such as feeling tense and sweating or having a sore neck, stomachache, or headache. Being aware of these physiological reactions to stress can help minimize emotional overreactions and physical outbursts.
If you do feel like you might be overreacting or under-reacting, you can pause for a moment, take a few deep breaths, and think more clearly about how to respond to the situation you are in. If you practice this every time you are faced with difficult events, you will learn how to manage your feelings and emotions better in the long term.
Overeating or undereating
Another unhealthy way to deal with stressful situations by overeating or not eating enough. Both can lead to serious and dangerous health problems.
Eating more junk food for comfort might make you feel better in the moment, but this habit might actually increase your stress level and negatively impact your health. Overeating causes your body to store more body fat which can lead to obesity, diabetes, and heart disease.
Undereating is another serious issue. It can disrupt your metabolism, slowing it down and causing the body to consume important muscle tissues and body organs to stay active. It can also lead to low blood sugar and insomnia.
How to avoid it
A way to avoid these coping mechanisms is to make a meal plan to keep you focused on the time and quantity of your meals. You can also learn how to cook, which can be both a practical and relaxing activity. Cooking your own meals gives you the opportunity to concentrate on preparing delicious healthy meals while taking a break from what is upsetting you.
Refusing help or striving for perfection
Most of us are guilty of having a perfectionist side. Always striving for perfection and being independent might not sound bad but, it can have negative effects when dealing with stressful situations.
Being a perfectionist can sometimes keep you from productively responding to and managing your setbacks. After not achieving what you want, you might feel helpless, stuck, and like a failure—when all of these things are far from the truth.
Refusing to ask help from others when you need it can come from ego, pride, or stubbornness. Being independent is great — it can certainly make your life easier in some regard, but you are still a human being. There are some things that just cannot and should not be done alone.
How to avoid it
It is important to recognize your perfectionist behaviors and identify where they come from. They can be instilled in you from childhood. They can also be due to peer pressure or life experiences.
You have to know that failure is part of your life journey and it does not make you a failure. Everyone fails — even the role model you admire for being flawless. By embracing your flaws and accepting help from people who care about you, you give yourself the chance to live better, to be more confident, and to deal with difficult situations in more effective ways.
Smoking, alcohol and drug abuse, or excessive sleeping
Smoking, excessive consumption of alcohol, drug abuse, and sleeping too much are other unhealthy and dangerous coping mechanisms that offer immediate relief to suppress the overwhelming feelings you face in difficult situations.
But numbing your emotions will not solve any of your problems. If anything, it will give you more issues to worry about and create more stress. These unhealthy coping mechanisms can lead to addiction, depression, and other severe mental and health problems in the future.
Many people will turn to their beds for comfort and sleep for hours in an attempt to avoid their troubles and problems. While it might sound like a good idea at the time, you will still wake up with unsolved issues that you chose to ignore and suppress. Excessive sleeping can also lead to depression.
How to avoid it
The best way to avoid falling into addiction and depression from abusing alcohol, drugs, and tobacco and excessive sleeping is to indulge in activities that you enjoy and that will make you happy and put you in a better mood to tackle your issues.
You could join that dancing or cooking or art class you always wanted to join to improve your mental health, lifestyle, and help reduce stress. You could join a gym or go for a jog from time to time when things get hectic and overwhelming. Physical activity plays an important role in lowering stress levels.
Hurdles and stress are something we cannot avoid in our lives. Sometimes, we do not choose to adopt unhealthy coping mechanisms. It is natural to opt for an easy and fast way to deal with our intense and overwhelming emotions.
However, it is our responsibility to unlearn all those bad habits we grew up learning and adopt healthier ways to deal with stressful situations in order to make our life easier and help us grow into the person we want to be.