There’s no doubt about it—what’s happening in the world is exponentially increasing our stress levels. We’re collectively facing fear, uncertainty, loneliness and grief as we witness and experience the pain happening around us.
And on top of that, we don’t have access to all of our usual comforts and coping mechanisms, like grabbing a bite with a friend or sweating it out at the gym. As a result, we may end up reaching for other, less healthy ways to cope.
For me, that looks like getting lax about my beloved morning routine because, right now, sleeping often seems easier than facing the day ahead. I’m also spending more time on my devices and the 24/7 news cycle is pulling at me like a bonafide addiction. And if I’m being totally honest, the occasional glass of red wine has NOT been occasional. Can you relate?
I know from experience that when I get to this place, it’s time to step outside of the emotional tornado and parent my scared inner kid. And to do that, I need to get back to routines and behaviors that lift my energy (and my immunity!) rather than deplete it.
So today, we’re exploring the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. You’ll learn how to identify the habits that aren’t serving you and replace them with positive, loving alternatives.
Before we dive in, I just want to make one thing very clear: This is not a call to scrutinize all of your behaviors or beat yourself up. There’s nothing right or wrong about the behaviors we’re about to discuss. We just want to explore whether they’re really serving you by helping you take genuine care of your sweet self. That’s what really matters.
Also, if you’re struggling with depression or anxiety, now may be the time to get professional help—which you can thankfully receive online. Check out this blog for mental health resources to reduce anxiety and boost happiness.
Are your coping practices comforting or numbing?
Healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms can look very similar on the surface: a tasty meal, a glass of wine, an hour of Netflix. So it really comes down to the intention behind the action and how it ultimately makes you feel. Simply put: Are you using it to comfort or to numb?
Comforting fills up your spiritual tank and makes you feel relaxed and content. You come to the practice with the aim of feeling better and being good to yourself—and stop when you’re satisfied.
On the flip side, unhealthy coping leaves you numb. You might resort to the habit too frequently or without intentionality—and you’re left without any real relief or resolution.
See the difference? Same glass of wine, two totally different outcomes. Now let’s talk about some common habits that can become unhealthy coping mechanisms—and how to tell when you’ve drifted from comforting to numbing.
Comfort Foods That Don’t Actually Comfort
Numbing with food doesn’t make you feel good, and if you’re consistently eating to forget feelings in the first place, that’s a red flag. You might notice a feeling of disconnection or absence, and no matter what or how much you eat, you’re left empty or unsettled.
Conversely, when you truly comfort yourself with food, you feel deep-down nourished. You find peace and connection as you prep your meal. You savor while you eat. Whether it’s a cookie or a carrot, true comfort food connects you with yourself, a sweet memory or the people you’re eating with. It leaves you feeling satisfied and maybe even grateful.
Increased Alcohol Consumption
If you find yourself reaching for more drinks than usual (and more often than usual), that’s something to pay attention to. Especially if you’re sipping in response to a negative emotion. That could be a sign that you’re drinking to numb instead of for the pure enjoyment of it!
That being said, enjoying an occasional glass of wine or your favorite cocktail can be a healthy part of your routine. Just remember that when it comes to libations, less is better. One to three drinks per week is a good guideline for men and women. And take note of how you feel before, during and after that drink.
Burying Yourself in Work
Are you working more than usual? And I’m not just talking about what you do for a living—chores and housework are work, too. In times of stress, our boundaries can blur, so watch out for filling all of your “down” time with to-dos (I call this putter rest—watch a video about it here!).
On the other hand, work can be a fun, healthy way to occupy ourselves if we keep it in balance. If you want to tackle reorganizing your closet or scrub your windows for spring, go for it! Just don’t do it 24/7 or forget to take time to relax, too.
News and Social Media Binging
This one hits close to home for me! Staying tuned in can make us feel safer and more in control, but there’s an upper limit to what’s really healthy and helpful. Pay attention to how you feel when you’re scrolling. Are you using social media to escape your reality? Is the news adding to your fear, sadness or confusion during this crisis? If so, it might be time to set some boundaries.
On the flip side, if your online engagement makes you feel more informed, inspired or connected (particularly when we’re unable to connect in person), then more power to ya! Extra points if it makes you laugh or gives you the warm fuzzies, like this. 🙂
Meanwhile in #amsterdam! NO CORONA FOR ME!! #covid19 #coronavirus #quarantine #safehands #selfcare #fyp #foryou #thenetherlands #trashDon’t forget to vote !!! categorie: Beste Tiktok’er 😍 https://thebestsocialawards.nl/vote/
Posted by JoAnne Lopes on Thursday, March 19, 2020
Again, all of these habits can have neutral outcomes. Munching, sipping, working and spending time on your phone can be great. Just be attentive to whether they’re making you feel comforted and happy, or numb and hollow. That’s the difference.
10 Healthy Coping Mechanisms to Try Instead
Now that we’ve covered some of the habits that can become unhealthy coping mechanisms, let’s talk about some positive alternatives based on my 5 Pillars of Wellness. (AKA optimizing what you’re eating, drinking and thinking, and how you’re resting and renewing. Get more background here!)
What You’re Eating
- Create a cooking ritual. Cooking can be a chore—or it can be a meditative act of self-love. Don your apron, turn on some tunes and have fun with it! The recipes don’t have to be fancy—check out these healthy snack ideas or peruse my recipe library for inspiration.
- Take yourself on a date. Doesn’t matter if you’re on your own or have company—treat yourself to a date night in. Light a candle, use your good dishes… maybe even get dressed up! You know yourself best, so do whatever you’ll most enjoy. This is an easy, fun way to break up your routine while we’re unable to dine out.
What You’re Drinking
- Take a break from booze and make a mocktail instead. Mix up a yummy mocktail like this refreshing Herbal Elixir and serve it in a martini glass. Put some cucumbers on your eyes and suddenly you’ve got yourself a booze-free staycation!
- If you’re looking for a way to wind down before bed, have a caffeine-free tea ceremony! Put on some calming music, light your favorite candle and indulge in a cup of herbal tea. (Take some deep breaths while you’re at it!)
What You’re Thinking
- Fill your feed with positivity (and tune in intentionally). Seek out news and media that make you smile, teach you something new or inspire you. For example, I love following @bymariandrew and @positivelypresent (and may I recommend @crazysexykris?!). When you do tune in, do it with intention. For me, that means limiting my device time so I’m not endlessly scrolling.
- Explore a new interest. Instead of trying to manage your mind all day long, turn it loose on a beautiful new outlet. Learn to play an instrument, become an expert on ancient civilizations, dust off your paints or colored pencils, or set up an obstacle course for your dog (or cat!)… whatever brings you some joy and healthy distraction.
How You’re Resting
- Get plenty of high-quality sleep. Sleep strengthens your immunity and your ability to cope with stress, so hit the off switch on time and head to bed. (Find tips to help you sleep better here!) And don’t hesitate to take a nap if you need it—we’re dealing with a lot of change right now, so give your brain and body a chance to recuperate.
- Rest your spirit, too. Remember what I said about putter rest? Make sure you’re giving yourself space to breathe and get grounded throughout the day. Meditating is a great way to do that, so I hope you’ll check out my free Instant Stress Reduction guided meditation!