How to Quickly Stop Bad Coping Mechanisms in 3 Easy Steps (Develop Good Coping Skills Today)

Jordan Brown

If I had a nickel for every time I used a bad coping mechanism, I'd be a very rich man.

Bad coping mechanisms come in lots of forms and affect everyone who has a heart and breath coming out of their mouth.

Ignoring the problem. Drinking too much. Mindlessly eating while watching TV.

All of these bad coping mechanisms feel good in the moment but wreak havoc on mental health in the long term.

And they primarily come from being way too stressed out.

So if you're human, you probably have ways of coping that are not exactly helpful.

This three-part process to get rid of bad, stress coping mechanisms will shine a light on things you may not have even realized you were doing.

Don't beat yourself up. Take it all in. Read through the process to gather awareness--and the tools--to make a lasting change in your life.

What's a Bad Coping Mechanism? (Identifying the Source of Stress)

Bad coping mechanism is a common mental health term, but what does it actually mean?

If you're like me, mechanism is a term that feels like it's something out of the middle ages, reminiscent more of catapults and crossbows than anxiety and depression.

A bad coping mechanism is anything that you do to relieve yourself of pain in a way that actually continues the pain over the long-term.

That's it.

Here's what I mean by coping in a bad way.

You're frustrated with a family member. He's been bugging you about how you're not doing enough with your life. He's telling you that you'll never amount to anything. The whole situation is really bringing you down.

Now, you have a few options here. Option one would be to address it with the family member a number of times, all the while maintaining good boundaries and politely holding your ground no matter what your family member does.

Who does that?

At first, that scenario seems far from realistic. It seems impossible.

What's more realistic is option two: parking yourself in front of the TV with comfort food or beverage of choice (probably alcohol) and letting yourself relax for an hour or two.

This is a common coping mechanism.

But is that really relaxing?

The reason that is a bad coping mechanism is that it doesn't address the root issue--the family member that is making your life miserable. It shoves off the issue for another day. But in the background, your brain keeps working on the issue, and all the things that the family member has ever said continue to percolate like a never-ending, rancid coffee machine of doom.

Terrible, right?

There's another way that won't put your health at risk and will help you address any neglected mental health issues.

How to Get Rid of Bad Coping Mechanisms (A 3-Step Process for Dealing With Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms)

Now for the fun part, the part where you do the work to change your life for the better.

This three-step process isn't easy, but nothing worthwhile ever is. It's the difficulty of dealing with a negative impact that gives it meaning.

To go from bad coping mechanism zero to positive coping skills hero, you need to acknowledge the pain--and do something about it.


1. First, do some detective work

Before you can rid your life of negative coping skills / bad coping mechanisms / crossbows and catapults, you need to do your research.

This is often the hardest part.

You have to figure out what it is that is tormenting you. It seems easy enough, but if you don't get this right, then you can end up tackling the wrong problem. What is it exactly that is making you lose sleep? Many people start with a problem pile-up and don't even realize what the root issue is. That's OK. Sit with it for a while. Write a list or speak the issue out loud if you need to. It may not be the family member that's bugging you after all. Maybe it's your reaction to your family member that is the bigger culprit in your life. Maybe, before you can do anything else, you need to address the self-doubt that is creeping in. Spend your time doing this important detective work. It WILL pay off in the long run.

2. Identify the negative coping mechanism you want to change

If you're like most people, you probably don't even realize that the way you're coping is unhealthy.

Working out every day of the week? That's great, right??

Well, it all depends.

Is it preventing you from hanging out with your friends? Is it making you obsess over your muscles more than you obsess over your relationships? Then, it might not be so good. If we go back to our definition of negative coping mechanism, you have to identify the activity that feels good in the short-term but is actually prolonging your pain in the long-term. That's the mechanism you need to get rid of.

3. Replace and repeat your unhealthy coping mechanisms

Lots of people jump to this final step before they've done the work in steps two and three.

Only do something new when you know why you're doing it.

For behavior change to stick, there has to be intention behind it.

Here's where a list could come in handy again. Don't doubt the power of the simple list.

Write down 10 activities you could do that would help ease whatever pain you're in that WON'T prolong the pain long-term.

Instead of pounding your body at the gym 7 days a week, could you go for a swim three days a week? Instead of talking with a friend who loves to gossip, could you hang out with that coworker who you look up to and seems oh so responsible? Options are everywhere--you just need to look for them. Replace activities until you find one that works for you. This is a cyclical process. You're not failing if something doesn't work right away--you're failing upward.

Each positive coping mechanism you try gets you closer to the one that is right for you.

It's only a matter of time before you transform your daily routines and your unhealthy coping mechanisms become healthy coping skills.

It's Your Turn - Choose a Positive Coping Mechanism (Healthy Coping Mechanisms are Within Your Reach)

This is your life, the only one you've got. It's time to acknowledge the pain that you're in. Because we're all in it.

I have issues that needle away at my mind and cause me to lose sleep. I'm no different than anyone else. The only major difference is that I've made the commitment to embrace pain and tackle it head-on.

You can do this, too.

You can build healthy coping skills.

It sounds downright awful--and maybe even a little stupid--when you first start doing it.

But soon you realize that the road to happiness is etched with little decisions, the little turning points in your life that chip away until they carve an entirely new path forward.

What are Healthy Coping Mechanisms / Coping Skills?

"That's not a good way to cope."

If you've been an adult for more than a few minutes, you've most likely heard that phrase.

But what actually makes a good coping skill?

And are there universally good coping skills?

Probably not.

But there's something even better.

Being Someone I Wasn't

In high school, in college, and for several years after, I pretended to be someone I wasn't.

What did I do? I tried to be the center of attention. I tried to make people laugh whenever I could. I cracked jokes during class, and I was loud and obnoxious in certain social settings. Anything I could do to get people smile in my general direction.

Why did I do this? There were a lot of reasons, but it was mainly because of anxiety and feeling insecure about myself. I did it to fit in. I did it to feel better about myself.

Was this a good coping skill? Some might say it wasn't so bad. Even I can admit that goofing around had its time and place. But deep down it didn't feel right. It wasn't me. And that last point gets to the heart of the matter.

Good Coping Skills Versus Bad Coping Skills

The truth is this: only you can ever know if a coping skill is good or bad for you.

Is having one drink at a party bad? If you know you deal with addiction, it could be a terrible idea.

How about exercising? Isn't that universally good? Not if you exercise so much that you no longer spend any time with friends and family.

It always comes back to you. Here are some general guidelines to help you determine how you're coping.

Good Coping Skills

To determine if a coping skill is good for you, you have to look at the context--your personal context. Are you participating in an activity with friends who truly understand you and have your best interests in mind? Then, what you do together is most likely going to be good.

Good coping skills are good not because they come with a label attached. They're good because they leave you feeling sustained and ready to take on the day. They leave you better off than they found you.

Bad Coping Skills

Like we've already discussed , bad coping skills, also known as unhealthy coping mechanisms, are different.

And they often wear a disguise.

Watching a movie with friends might be good. Binge-watching movies for five hours straight with friends can quickly tip the scale to bad.

It's a personal assessment, and it's one that only you can make.

Here's a good rule of thumb: Does what you did leave you feeling energized, or does it fill you with regret? Are you supercharged and ready to take on the world, or are you paralyzed by anxiety and wanting to hide away from it all?

Coping skills are personal assessments, yes, but the positive feeling they should generate is a universal one. It's attainable by anyone.

Learning to Cope Well is Your Task in Life

Make learning to cope well your task for today. Start with one day. You'll be amazed by what you can do when you simply get started, and here's how to get started.

Write down a simple list of the ways you are coping right now. Dig deep. You'll probably find there are several activities you are using to cope that don't immediately appear to be coping skills. Get it all down.

Then, select the top two that are positive and cross off the bottom two negative ones. The simple act of writing your coping skills down is enough to make them a bit more real in your mind. The goal is to hone in on the ones that are actually serving you and discard the ones the ones that aren't.

What's one good coping skill that you can rely on more this week? Start with one. Start small. It's the small, incremental gains that have the biggest impact.

It's the smallest coping skills, carried out with consistency and intention, that end up changing your life.