healthy coping mechanisms

Why you need healthy coping mechanisms in recovery

Addiction can be a robber of good things—of money, of material goods like a house or car, of life with your children, of your self-worth, and your life as you know it.

Addiction can also prevent you from learning appropriate coping mechanisms on how to deal with and move through life. I never knew I didn’t have healthy coping mechanisms until I got sober. I felt like I was living my life without ever receiving an instruction manual. Drugs and alcohol exacerbated that feeling and they became my coping mechanisms. Now that I’m in recovery I understand the importance of healthy coping mechanisms. They are vital to living a successful and satisfying life. Here’s why you need healthy coping mechanisms in recovery.

What are coping mechanisms?

The act of coping is the combination of thoughts we have and actions we take to deal with a threatening situation. Coping occurs in response to physical or psychological stress, often triggered by changes. Coping aims to maintain mental health and emotional well-being. Many mental health issues begin with a physical or emotional stressor that triggers chemical changes in your brain. Coping mechanisms can manifest as behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that you use to adjust to triggers or changes in your life. Stressors are normally described as negative events such as the death of a loved one, a sexual, physical, or emotional trauma or abuse, loss of a job, or a divorce. However, positive events like a new job, marriage, birth, or moving can also contribute to your stress levels and require coping skills.

There are many different ways people cope. Certain stressors that affect you may not affect your neighbor and vice versa. Among researchers, coping mechanisms are divided into two broad categories. The first is instrumental coping, or problem-solving, which focuses on ways to address the issue in an effort to reduce stress around a certain situation. The other category is emotion-focused coping, in which a person gathers tools to nurture their emotional health during a stressful time period. In addition to these two categories, coping is labeled as active or avoidant. Active coping strategies signify an awareness of the stressor, followed by attempts to decrease the negative outcome. Avoidant coping is characterized by ignoring the issue and taking part in activities that contribute to the denial of any problem.

The difference between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms

These coping strategies can also be thought of as healthy and unhealthy. Coping strategies vary from person to person and depending on the situation. Here are some healthy coping strategies:

  • Meditation and relaxation – This can include deep breathing techniques, relaxation skills, and muscle relaxation meant to reduce stress and rid the mind of worry.
  • Alone time – Allowing yourself time alone to process the stress of life and hide away from it.
  • Exercise – Increasing your heart rate causes the body to release natural endorphins that make you feel good.
  • Spirituality – Believing in a higher power or deeper spiritual connection and practicing that faith can be beneficial to your coping and mental health.
  • Humor – Acknowledging the humorous aspects of a problem, or “positive reframing” can help you deal with small setbacks of failures.
  • Sleeping – When the human body is stressed it needs to rest and reset. Sleep can give you the rest you need to perform another day.
  • Eating healthy – Eating foods that are good for you improve your physical health and mental health. When your body receives the proper nutrients, it can function more efficiently.

Some unhealthy coping mechanisms actually hinder progress in dealing with stress and overwhelming situations. The following coping strategies are harmful to mental and physical health:

  • Drugs.
  • Excessive alcohol use.
  • Self-mutilation.
  • Ignoring or bottling up strong feelings.
  • Excessive working.
  • Avoiding problems.
  • Denial.
  • Self-blame or blaming others.
  • Other destructive or addictive behaviors like shopping, binge eating, or gambling.

Proper coping skills for people in recovery

Coping skills are vital for people in recovery. This is because we’ve taken our unhealthy coping mechanisms, drinking and using drugs, and put them in the driver seat of our lives. Drinking and using takes over an addicted person’s life and are no longer coping skills, but rather they end up preventing a person from coping with the ins and outs of normal life. When you get sober, it’s essential to learn proper coping skills. These are taught at addiction treatment centers and AA and many other programs of recovery. Coping skills for people in recovery include:

  • Managing thoughts and cravings.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Taking an objective view of your stressor.
  • Acceptance of yourself and others.
  • Making connections with people and managing health relationships.
  • Self-discipline and control.
  • Asking for and receiving support.

Because people with substance use disorders have been wired to use alcohol and drugs as their primary coping skill, they must be taught new and healthier ways to cope. Learning healthy coping skills ensures that you’ll be able to deal with anything life throws at you and stay sober. This is also a part of relapse prevention. In order to prevent recurrence of use, coping skills provide a unique way to learn your triggers, acknowledge them and move past them without using. With the proper coping skills, you can live a healthy, fulfilling, and substance-free life.

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“How Do You Cope?” UCLA Dual Diagnosis Program Information and Admissions. Accessed Dec. 20, 2016.

“Strategies for Good Mental Health Wellness” Mental Health Wellness Week. 2009. Accessed Dec. 20, 2016.

“Coping Strategies.” Centre for Human Stress. Accessed Dec. 20, 2016.

Why you need healthy coping mechanisms in recovery
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