I used to be the queen of unhealthy coping mechanisms! And it’s definitely one of the reasons why I struggled with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia for 15 years.
Struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and agoraphobia is HARD. And it’s absolutely natural to look for ways to cope with what you’re struggling with in an effort to make things less hard.
The big problem with unhealthy coping mechanisms is that they often do provide actual comfort, and also a sense of safety and positivity, but they are actually adding to your struggles, sabotaging your recovery, and making it harder for you to experience the things you’re fighting so hard for - peace, joy, and freedom.
Let’s dive into some unhealthy coping mechanisms!
- Drinking alcohol. This is often in an attempt to reduce feelings of anxiety or other emotions. Although alcohol can put a pause on feelings of anxiety and other emotions, once the alcohol wears off you’re typically hit with anxiety and other emotions in full force.
I definitely used alcohol in an attempt to avoid. I used it to avoid feeling anxious. I used
it to avoid facing hard things (my emotions, past traumas, my fears). And I used it to
boost my mood and to give me an escape. But my reality was that alcohol increased all
of the things that I was fighting so hard to avoid, and it lowered my mood and
compounded all of my struggles. I didn’t have a healthy relationship with alcohol and it
was really important that I recognized this and worked to make healthy changes.
- Avoidance. This typically looks like avoiding things that often lead to anxiety or panic in an effort to protect yourself. You avoid facing the hard things because they typically lead to feelings of discomfort and fear. But avoidance is actually reinforcing the anxiety and your fears. It’s truly giving you a false sense of protection and safety.
I used to avoid all the time, like daily. And although I knew that it wasn’t a healthy
decision, it was hard not to because I convinced myself that avoiding felt better than
facing. But I was so wrong. I was choosing short-term relief over long-term healing. I say
this all the time because it’s so important… Don’t choose short-term relief over long-
- Running any time you feel anxious. This one is very similar to avoidance. If you run every time you feel anxious, you’re sending a message to your brain that it’s doing a good job of protecting you. When in reality, there’s no danger to protect you from. This is what leads to the anxious response popping up over and over again.
Trust me, I know how hard it is not to run in moments of discomfort and fear, but staying
is so important. It’s so important to allow yourself to acknowledge the discomfort of the hard things and to stay and feel it. This is what leads to new and healthy pathways being created in your brain that actually limit how often the anxious response shows up!
- Sleeping too much. Our bodies are designed to need 7-9 hours of sleep each day. When you find yourself sleeping more, it’s typically in an attempt to avoid feeling or doing the hard stuff. It can also be because you’re just so darn tired, and it makes sense, what you’re struggling with is hard and it takes a toll on you physically, mentally, and emotionally. And this is why making healthy choices is so important!
I used to sleep 10-12 hours a day. For me, it was a mix of everything. I was definitely
sleeping to avoid, but I was also sleeping a lot because I was making other unhealthy
decisions that were leading to me feeling tired often. I consumed way too much junk food, I didn’t drink enough water, I drank too much alcohol, my sleep patterns were super inconsistent, and I rarely exercised. Making unhealthy choices can definitely make it harder for you to have energy, and will generally make you more tired and even negatively impact your mood.
- Consuming unhealthy amounts of junk food or not eating enough. Our bodies and minds need nutrients to thrive, and when we feed our bodies things like too much sugar and highly processed foods, we’re literally working against ourselves. Consuming too much junk food can leave you feeling tired, foggy, run down, and lacking a whole lot of energy and mental clarity. And when we restrict our food intake, it does the same thing!
I used to have the worst diet. It consisted of candy, coffee, bagels and cream cheese,
and Cheez-Its. Don’t get me wrong, all of these things are delicious, but they don’t really provide you with the nutrients that your body and mind needs to thrive. Okay, they don’t, like at all. I started by making small changes to my diet… like reaching for water instead of coffee and reaching for fruits instead of candy. It’s hard, but your body and mind need nutrients in order to support your healing.
- Catastrophizing. Catastrophizing is when you assume that the worst possible scenario is very likely to happen even though the worst possible scenario isn’t very realistic or likely. It typically involves you playing out the worst possible scenario in your head so that you can map out what you’d do in case the thing you’re worried about happens. Catastrophizing is really an attempt to keep you safe and provide you some comfort by being able to plan for all of the what-ifs.
Catastrophizing used to be my jam! I was so good at predicting and planning for the worst in an attempt to avoid anything bad from happening. But guess what? Yup, predicting and planning for the worst case scenarios only led to more anxiety, symptoms, panic, and fears. It literally created all of the feelings that I was fighting so hard not to feel, and it really didn’t give me any true sense of safety.
- Isolating. Isolation is when you withdraw from things and people. You may isolate yourself because you feel incapable of facing things, or because you feel like you’re a burden to others, or because you feel that being alone is easier than facing things that may lead to anxiety. Isolation can lead to increased feelings of sadness and can prevent you from recovering.
I often found myself isolating when I was struggling with anxiety, panic disorder, and
agoraphobia because I felt so incapable, had next to no self-esteem, because I felt like such a burden to everyone around me, and just because I felt so depleted and didn’t have the energy to face the hard stuff. I would make up excuses not to go places and do things, even though deep down I wanted to go or do the things. I was truly working against myself. The truth is, we all need support and connection in order to heal, and we are worthy and deserving of these things. We are also worthy and deserving of recovering.
I’m sure you can list off one or two unhealthy coping mechanisms of your own that you’re currently using, or maybe you’re using one, two, or all of the above. And you’ve probably even told yourself more than once that you need to make some healthy changes because you know these choices are sabotaging your recovery. It’s hard, I get it! I used all of these unhealthy coping mechanisms throughout my journey. And as much as I knew that they were sabotaging my recovery, it was really hard to make healthier choices.
I often talk about how recovery depends on you committing to you and your mental health. The reality is that if you want to recover, you have to make healthy choices.
It’s so important to acknowledge when you’re making unhealthy choices so that you can work to make healthier ones. When you find yourself using an unhealthy coping mechanism, it’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up! Simply acknowledge it and make a plan, including small steps, for how you can make healthier choices that will support your recovery.
Here are some healthy coping mechanisms that will support your recovery:
Identify stress and implement some self-care activities that will help to reduce stress.
Ask for support. It’s important to ask for help from those who support you and your happiness.
Move your body! Exercise is a great tool that will support your recovery.
Laugh! I’m serious. Humor is a great way to boost your mood in a healthy way!
Sharing what you’re struggling with rather than holding it in.
Remember, using unhealthy coping mechanisms come at an expense. They often make the right now a bit easier, but it’s adding to the time and effort that it’s going to take you to recover, and it’s stealing your peace, joy, and freedom.
You are worthy and deserving of peace, joy, love, and freedom.