Out of the 20 million Americans that suffer from Substance Use Disorder (SUD), almost 40% also suffer from one or more mental health diagnoses. Knowing that almost half of the entire population of people struggling with substance use disorder also have received a mental health diagnosis, it’s incredibly necessary to incorporate mental wellness in one’s recovery plan. One way you can tend to your mental wellness is to create a toolkit of effective coping mechanisms that you can tap into when faced with a difficult situation or emotion. Finding healthy coping mechanisms that work for you may take some time, but with a bit of patience you can unlock a host of new ways to better handle stress and uncomfortable emotions that may arise. In this post we’ll cover what coping mechanisms are and why they’re important, and include a few techniques that you can try today.
What is a Coping Mechanism?
Coping is defined as the thoughts and behaviors that are mobilized to manage internal and external stressors. Coping mechanisms, therefore, are the coping styles and strategies that any particular person relies on to manage stress and uncomfortable emotions or situations.
Unhealthy coping mechanisms vs. Healthy coping mechanisms
Unhealthy coping mechanisms, or negative coping mechanisms, are strategies that do not support your mental health in a positive way. Some examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms are listed below:
- Substance use
- Unhealthy eating habits or eating disorders
- Impulsive spending
- Excessive sleeping
On the other hand, healthy coping mechanisms can help you process difficult emotions in a helpful way – these strategies ultimately help you to accept your situation and develop a more positive outlook. This can be productive towards maintaining your overall mental wellness. We’ll get into some examples of healthy coping mechanisms below.
Why are Healthy Coping Mechanisms Important?
As mentioned above, healthy coping mechanisms can better support your overall mental health. If you are in SUD recovery, maintaining mental wellness is key to your long-term success in recovery. Developing productive ways to cope with stressful situations is one crucial way to manage triggers. For more information on identifying triggers in recovery, read our post here.
5 Examples of Healthy Coping Mechanisms
Acceptance of yourself, your past and your current situation is the first step in learning to cope with difficult emotions. Acknowledge that there is nothing you can do to change the past, and feel empowered to positively move forward with the future you want in mind. Focusing only on what you wish you could have done differently is a waste of time and energy. While this is easier said than done, try to remember to be kind to yourself throughout this process.
Meditation or Deep Breathing
Deep breathing for a moment before jumping to your thoughts or into action can allow you time to process what you are feeling. Having a moment of calm and actually focusing on your breathing can relax your body, which in turn relaxes your mind.
Talk to Someone
Talking to a trusted friend or family member, or mental health professional, can help you to process difficult emotions WITH someone. Feeling isolated can further drive you to suppress your emotions, or feel that they are not “normal”in comparison to other people. Everyone experiences difficult emotions in different ways, but we undoubtedly all struggle to cope at times. Talking with someone can lighten this feeling of isolation and also offer a new perspective on your situation.
Develop Your Emotional Awareness
Learn to recognize what emotion it is that you’re feeling as it comes up, and then let it come up. Allowing yourself to feel how you feel gives you power over your uncomfortable emotions. If you feel them as they come, difficult emotions can’t grow within you and subsequently control your actions. Once you’ve felt the emotion, try to let it go by finding a preferred way to calm yourself down (maybe go back to the deep breathing mentioned earlier).
Lean Into Your Community
Whether you belong to a faith-based organization or regularly attend recovery meetings, carve out some time to devote to your community. This can help you to re-center, and remind yourself of the people around you that are here to support you.
Find What Feels Good for You
Finding coping strategies that work for you can take some time. You are a unique individual with unique needs – it’s well worth the time and effort to figure out what works for you. When difficulties arise, being able to reach into your toolkit and utilize an effective way to manage these difficulties will drastically improve your overall outlook. This becomes a domino effect; having the potential to transform your mental health, recovery and life.
Looking For Support in Your Recovery?
If you’re still new to navigating your recovery and searching for a little bit of support as you do so, consider working with a Peer Provider. Peer Providers act as mentors along the recovery process who leverage their own experiences and resources to support others in their personal recovery. Peers also have experience navigating healthy coping mechanisms for recovery, and can work this into a recovery wellness plan that is meant to guide you in your journey. Want to learn more? Talk to a Peer Provider now and decide if this is the right step for you.
Flushing Hospital Medical Center. “Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms.” Flushing Hospital Medical Center, 2022. https://www.flushinghospital.org/newsletter/healthy-vs-unhealthy-coping-mechanisms/. Accessed 23 March 2023.
NAMI. “Self-Help Techniques for Coping with Mental Illness.” National Alliance on Mental Illness, 2019. https://www.nami.org/Blogs/NAMI-Blog/january-2019/self-help-techniques-for-coping-with-mental-illness. Accessed 23 March 2023.
NIH. “Comorbidity: Substance Use and Other Mental Disorders.” National Institute on Drug Abuse, 2018. https://nida.nih.gov/research-topics/trends-statistics/infographics/comorbidity-substance-use-other-mental-disorders. Accessed 23 March 2023.
NIH. “Coping Mechanisms.” National Library of Medicine, 2022. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK559031/. Accessed 23 March 2023.