People start using substances for a variety of reasons, one of the most common being to self-medicate, to numb-out, in order to ease the day’s stress. However, what may begin as a glass or two of wine or a quick hit of marijuana can slip into a full-blown addiction in what may seem like the blink of an eye. No one is immune to experiencing hardships in life and some may even be forced to deal with significant trauma such as abuse, or surviving a natural disaster. What matters is how we learn to cope with these events that may challenge or stress us out. In addiction recovery, developing and maintaining healthy coping skills is crucial when one can no longer rely on the crutch of drugs or alcohol.
Coping Mechanisms Defined
Coping mechanisms are defined as an adaption to environmental stress. They are based on conscious or unconscious choice and serve to enhance control over behavior or give someone psychological comfort. In other words, they are the tools we use to handle the changes life throws our way. Coping mechanisms are usually divided into two camps, healthy and unhealthy. While developing healthy ones can be an asset in recovery, unhealthy ones can deter one’s recovery and might lead to relapse.
Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms
Examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms include:
- Denial: For people struggling with addiction, denial is one of the most common coping mechanisms. It entails not being honest with yourself and others in an attempt to avoid a painful truth about yourself.
- Avoidance: Continuing to avoid something will only lead to the behavior becoming reinforced.
- Procrastination: Continued procrastination may harm one’s recovery as it can only lead to more problems that can elevate the level of stress already present.
- Trivialization: Disregarding or downplaying something that is important or significant can be detrimental to someone’s recovery.
- Displacement: Displacement can severely damage relationships and happens when negative feelings about someone or something are redirected onto someone “safer.”
- Passive-Aggressiveness: Hostility, hurt and anger are often the emotions involved when people become passive-aggressive. While behaving this way may give relief in the moment, it will damage relationships as well as deter dealing with negative feelings in a helpful manner.
Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Examples of healthy coping mechanisms include:
- Exercising: Exercise can help anyone achieve and maintain a healthy weight, sleep better, reduce their risk of developing a serious health problem, as well as help to improve their emotional well-being. Additionally, it has been discovered that aerobic exercise can reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Focusing on the positive: Because negative thinking is a common relapse trigger, focusing on the positive can help maintain recovery.
- Maintaining and keeping a journal: Writing is a great way to express one’s feelings in a safe and private place.
- Talking about it: Talking to someone can help us work through problems rather than allowing them to fester.
- Taking a deep breath: Sometimes something as simple as taking a big, deep breath can reduce negative feelings.
While the use of drugs or alcohol may provide a quick respite from the challenges faced in life, the relief is always temporary and it is a practice that can easily slip into an addiction. Recovery from addiction is a lifelong process of hard work and dedication. Utilizing tools learned in treatment, such as healthy coping mechanisms, will help you or a loved one remain sober and confidently handle anything life brings.