So who is ready for part 2 of the Wellness Challenge! This week I wanted to focus on mental health and take it a step further into mental wellness. As a trained marriage and family counselor, this is my area of expertise, helping people learn how to cope with their circumstances in ways which will help them overcome and grow rather than avoid or be manipulated by their circumstances. While mental illness is definitely a big deal (it is a subject for another time because it is so important it deserves its own space), we don’t want to just avoid mental illness, we also want to thrive, and that is mental wellness. This is a preventative measure against developing mental illness.
For those struggling with anxiety and depression, many of these unhealthy coping mechanisms may look familiar to you, but it is definitely possible to incorporate the healthy coping mechanisms I listed below as well! So that is why my week two goal is to continue to incorporate these Healthy coping strategies into my everyday life. And you should too, because mental wellness is affected and effects every part of your life. As we saw last week, it affects your relationships, especially your marriage; it affects work, parenting, it even affects your physical health.
I recently read a blog post, 15 Unhealthy Coping Skills, written by Jackie over at Laughter & Loving Life. And it got me thinking there are so many unhealthy coping skills that we all engage in on a daily basis. I have seen so many unhealthy coping skills in my experience as a family counselor, used by both children and adults. But what I have noticed is that no matter what strategy they used, the point to these unhealthy coping skills was to avoid the problem and having to deal with it. Here are the 15 unhealthy coping skills Jackie came up with:
Unhealthy Coping Skills
- Leave without warning
- Fighting & negative comebacks
- Sleeping away the problem
- Passive-aggressive behavior (ultimatums)
- Negative body language: crossed arms, rolled eyes, crossed and closed off legs and arms
- Not listening but jumping in waiting to talk
- Avoiding eye contact
- Lack of sleep
- Letting go of reality
- Lack of proper hygiene
- Lack of communication
If we always use unhealthy coping mechanisms, we will never feel as though we have overcome the situation that is causing the stress in the first place. In fact, it will probably cause more issues and we will continue the cycle of unhealthy coping by avoiding those extra issues by using the same unhealthy patterns. It may temporarily make us feel better, but in the long run we have solved nothing, but avoiding a problem. And until the problem is solved, we will continue to be plagued by the circumstances we are actively avoiding. That is not a way to live well; which is something we should all be striving for!
So from a family counselor here are 15 Healthy counter coping strategies to try out instead of the ones above. I have compiled this list from talking to clients about what works for them in difficult situations and other suggestions that other counselors often give their own clients, as well as things that have worked for me in the past.
Healthy Coping Skills
- Stay present in the moment, take in as much information as you an – it might help later
- Maintain a positive attitude – being negative has never solved anyone’s problems; positivity breed creativity for ways out of the issue
- At least try to identify the role you play in the situation – and share it if you can
- Maintain healthy sleep hygiene – only stay in bed to sleep, make your bedroom a safe haven
- Be confrontational (this is not a negative) if necessary, this simply means pointing out discrepant facts
- Be an active listener – engage in the Speaker-Listening technique
- Eat Healthy – fruits, vegetables, protein, healthy carbs, avoid sugars and alcohol
- Exercise – even if it’s just a little bit, every small amount helps
- Talk to somebody, but don’t just bash the stressor (especially if it’s a person), but talk about your feelings about the situation
- Shower, brush your teeth, brush your hair, put some clothes on (other than yoga pants)
- Make a pro-con list, weigh the options of the whatever decisions might need to be made – don’t avoid them
- Take some time for self-care – pamper yourself a bit, go get a mani/pedi or do one yourself or whatever makes you feel good
- Check out for a bit, but don’t let it be for too long – checking out can be helpful in extreme stress situations, but maintaining that position is just avoidant
- Seek support, don’t isolate yourself
- Relax, take a deep breath, practice any sort of relaxation technique that works for you: deep breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, etc.
So there you have it, 15 healthy coping mechanisms that I would recommend to any of my clients. Not all coping skills will work for everyone in all situations, but I am sure there is at least one or two that can be used in any situation by any person. With the New Year just starting, here is my challenge to you, try to replace one of your unhealthy coping skills with one of the healthy choices from the 2nd list. Try it out and see if it helps!
Let me know if it does or doesn’t and why it did or didn’t work for you! But it is my suspicion that while it may be more uncomfortable in the moment, it will help you solve the issue more quickly which will remove an even bigger discomfort! So choose emotional health this New Year! And don’t just settle for the absense of mental illness or lessened severity of mental illness, strive for mental health and above that mental wellness, and just maybe you’ll find yourself growing in the year 20171
So your challenge this week: pick 2 to 3 unhealthy coping mechanisms and try to replace them with 1 or 2 Healthy Coping Mechanisms. Try it for a week and see if it makes a difference for you! For more detailed tips see my Guest Post for the Military Wife & Mom on how Military Spouses can Reduce Anxiety in Times of High Stress
What are your go to coping mechanisms?