Almost all of us have engaged in one poor coping mechanism or the other. Some are minor slips that don’t cause much damage, others can have devastating life effects on relationships, your health and your finances. Most of them lead to more depression, anxiety, frustration and anger.
Holidays tend to crank these behaviors up due to the stresses of having to interact with dysfunctional family members, loneliness, buying gifts and other demands on your time and energy.
Some of these behaviors include:
- Abusing alcohol
- Abusing prescription or recreational drugs
- Sexual “hook ups”
- Overspending-engaging in “Retail Therapy”
- Ignoring your health
- Focusing solely on the negative aspects of holidays or your feelings
- Allowing others to treat you poorly
You know if you do any of these things. Some like drinking too much are blatant problems, others like overspending you may write off, telling yourself you will make up for it later by saving. You know deep down whether you really will make up for it in your budget or not. If in your heart you know you are just sinking further into a black hole of debt it will just cause you more distress.
That is the critical piece to understanding the poor coping strategies, they just start a vicious cycle of decline. If you abuse drugs, you may be harming your health or harming your performance at work. This leads to stress, which you then take more drugs to eliminate or do some other harmful behavior. Then you have to do something to cover the problems that those create. It is a downward spiral.
And the real kicker is, even though you have done all that to self medicate whatever the original problem was, it is still there. When you rewind all the poor coping strategies, the initial problem is still staring you in the face.
An exercise you can use to eliminate these behaviors is to write down the behavior that you engage in and then write out all of the consequences. ALL OF THEM, don’t sugarcoat things.
“Why is drinking too much bad?”
“Because it leads to blackouts, hangovers, impaired decisions, poor work performance and bad health.”
Then list the advantages to eliminating this behavior. Seeing the advantages in black and white makes them more real. Like looking in a catalog for good mental health.
“I will feel good, think clearly, look better and get more done. I also will have better health. I won’t age as fast. I will have more time to do things that make me feel good.”
Next, ask yourself what is the initial problem you are trying to blot out? Are you lonely and trying to fit in with people who really aren’t like you? Are you trying to distract yourself from stress, guilt, shame, or remorse? Are you simply entertaining yourself?
For whichever category fits you, list some alternative behaviors.
“I can distract myself by going to the movies, playing games, exercising, dancing, doing puzzles, etc.”
Lastly, you need to make constructive changes. You have your list of advantages, disadvantages and alternate behaviors. You need to train your brain to desire the advantages. It isn’t as hard as you might think.
If you are staring at a pile of garbage and a pile of fruit is it hard to choose? NO. Think of it like that. The poor coping skills are garbage to your mind and body. The fruits are the advantages. The fruits are treats. We all like treats.
Practice utilizing the better coping strategies in order to get the advantages. When you do that, it’s amazing how much better and in control of your life you will feel. The poor coping strategies are distracting but there is a part of you that knows they feel out of control. That’s not a treat.
Do something nice for someone else. Enrich your life with a new hobby or activity. This helps with loneliness as well as fitting in with people like yourself. Join a spiritual organization if that works for you. Whatever it is, you need to replace what you were doing with something healthier. You will feel the results immediately.
Our thoughts can create our feelings, which are in turn, can create our behaviors. If your thought patterns are faulty or dysfunctional they can create all kinds of problems for you. It does not mean there is anything wrong with you, you may just not have learned to think like others who are emotionally successful. If you are from a dysfunctional family or background it is likely you missed out on some of this training.