What are coping mechanisms and what should we do about them? The incredible responses to yesterday’s post (why can’t I get into yoga anymore?) prompted this question.
A coping mechanism (CM) is a behavior that a person turns to when he’s under stress, trauma, or anxiety; it doesn’t necessarily fix the underlying problem. The example that immediately comes to my mind is food – sometimes being angry or upset can trigger emotional eating. But there are so many ways that CMs manifest themselves. Some are unconscious (fight or flight reaction), while others are more conscious or learned behaviors (eating).
When the body is under stress, it releases adrenaline. CMs are a response to that. Different people have different reactions to different levels of stress. Some research even goes so far as to say that many mental illnesses (depression, panic disorders) are actually CMs. Someone with a panic disorder has overblown reactions to what should be minor stresses. When the mind is constantly under stress and constantly releasing unnecessary adrenaline, a panic disorder develops. This is an example of an unhealthy but subconscious CM. A panic disorder is not “learned”.
Some more examples of harmful CMs include alcoholism, bingeing, being a workaholic, eating disorders, over-exercise, addictions, and avoidance (of a problem, a person, etc…). Don’t these all sound similar?
But not all CMs are bad! Some people turn to exercise when they’re angry, upset, or sad. This can be a wonderful release. Hitting a punching bag is a much better option than socking your boss in the jaw. Some other good CMs are calling a friend, journaling, meditation, and practicing cognitive behavioral therapy (changing what we *think* and *do* – a favorite topic of my idol Jillian Michaels). A simple one that I’ve learned from yoga is just taking a minute to *breathe* and be present.
I did some of my research using Aardvark, a cool tool that allows you to ask questions and have a random stranger give you an answer (you can pick which topics you want to answer questions about). One response was, “Routine is my biggest coping mechanism. I have the exact same big breakfast six days a week, and notice that towards the end of the day I’m not as hungry (no late night munchies).”
Another user said, “I’m definitely a fan of binge eating when stressed, but depending on what the stressor is, I might have absolutely no appetite as well. I tend to like sitting with someone, as long as they don’t talk to me. Listening is always a plus if I trust them.”
Come back later to hear my thoughts regarding my own CMs, how to recognize yours, some advice, and more! Hit me up in the comments if you have any thoughts that you’d like me to address or specific CMs that you want to mention.