Coping behaviors are normal and voluntary actions that we use to change how we feel in a situation. In particular, they help us manage or tolerate stressful situations. They can help us manage both internal and external stress.

Coping is generally categorized into four main types:

  1. Problem-focused: Addressing a distressing problem
  2. Emotion-focused: Efforts to reduce a negative emotion
  3. Meaning-focused: Finding meaning in a specific situation
  4. Social-coping: Getting social support

We all have different ways to deal with stress. Some of the choices we make are healthy, while other attempts actually worsen our overall symptoms.

How Do We Learn How to Cope?

Research has shown that how we cope is a combination of learned behaviors and genetics. We may inherit some of our coping behaviors from our parents. Fortunately, this does not mean that we cannot change. Each of us will cope with situations differently, and these methods tend to change over time. Our genetics and history provide a baseline for our tendencies, but we can learn new habits.

We can also change our social environment and surround ourselves with different influences. After all, we learn how to deal with stress from those around us. If we grow up in a home where drugs or alcohol are used to mitigate stress, we may learn that these are good options. However, we can change our story. Coping is a conscious choice, meaning that when we are ready, we can look at our choices to see if they are healthy or unhealthy. With help, we can learn new coping skills.

Unhealthy Coping Behaviors

There are many ways that we deal with stress that are not helpful for our mental or physical health. While these behaviors look different for every individual, they may include some of the following:

  • Using drugs or alcohol to dull stress
  • Avoiding the issue
  • Oversleeping
  • Spending lots of money or overspending
  • Overeating or undereating
  • Watching too much television

Overall, these behaviors do not allow us to address the cause of stress in our lives. They are maladaptive coping behaviors, meaning that they are not helpful in the long term. They do not help us grow or overcome the stressful event. When we avoid the issue by using drugs or alcohol, buying things, or over-watching television, the stress does not change. Often the avoidance of the issue can increase overall stress because the concern lingers and grows.

Healthy Coping Behaviors

While it is not ideal, stress is common in life, and there will always be events that make us feel stressed. We cannot change this. However, we can choose how we deal with stress. Healthy coping behaviors help us to heal from traumas and make changes in our lives to feel better.

While healthy coping looks different for each person, it may include some of the following:

  • Reaching out to family or friends for support
  • Taking a warm bath or shower
  • Journaling
  • Engaging in regular exercise
  • Maintaining healthy dietary habits
  • Prioritizing regular sleep
  • Getting mental health treatment 
  • Making time to unwind
  • Meditating
  • Avoiding recreational drugs or alcohol

When we use healthy coping behaviors, we can decrease our acute stress without aggravating our chronic stress. We may also be able to gain a better understanding of the situation, which can help us find solutions later.

Of course, some situations cannot be remedied. For example, if there is a natural disaster, we cannot make it not have happened. However, we can take action to help our bodies and brains heal, problem-solve, process, and move forward. Healthy coping behaviors help us do that.

Overcoming Addiction

One of the major unhealthy coping behaviors is drug and alcohol use, which often leads to addiction. Addiction is a serious disorder that includes physical dependence and learned behaviors. Both of these aspects, the physical and the behavioral, need to be addressed for treatment to be effective. Learning healthier coping behaviors is a common goal of recovery.

Rebuilding coping behaviors can be challenging. It means addressing what our current coping behaviors are and finding alternatives. During recovery, we may need to continue to address the coping behaviors that no longer work for us.

One way to do this is to find support. Reaching out to family and friends when you have stress can help you find solutions and decrease stress while maintaining sobriety. Utilizing peer-support groups is another option that can help. Others who are on the road to recovery are likely to understand your situation and be able to sympathize.

It can be very helpful to have a plan. Knowing that stressful situations will arise can help us build a plan before we need it. This may look like listing people you can talk to, places you can go, or activities you can try when you find yourself in a crisis. Regardless of what your plan entails, knowing what is helpful for you when you have stress provides options that you can tap into as needed.

We all have stress in our lives. How we cope with stress varies and can impact our mental and physical health. Drug and alcohol use is a common maladaptive coping behavior for stress. Fortunately, a big part of recovery from substance use involves addressing how we cope with stress in our lives. Understanding how we currently cope with stress and building new options can help our recovery from addiction and improve overall mental health. At 449 Recovery, we offer services that help our clients learn new coping mechanisms for long-term addiction recovery. If you or a loved one is in need of help, call us today at (949) 435-7449 to learn more about our programs.