How to Get Rid of Bad, Stress Coping Mechanisms

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, Stress Coping Mechanism?


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.

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.

How to Get Rid of a Bad Coping Mechanism

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 it 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 - 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 Your Turn - Choose a Positive Coping Skill

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.

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 carve an entirely new path forward.