I spoke about coping mechanisms in my most recent post, where I was addressing one particular bad habit that I’ve developed over the years.
While I don’t want to get too repetitive here, I’m not quite finished with this topic of conversation. I’ve been thinking a lot about coping mechanisms, habits, and the things we do to self-soothe. I suppose with the way the world is right now, we’re relying on these behaviours more than ever and it’s resulted in a lot of overthinking from me – as usual.
Fear not, tonight’s post is going to be a lot shorter than the last but I do want to have a chat with you about the way you cope with things in your life.
WHAT IS A COPING MECHANISM?
an adaptation to environmental stress that is based on conscious or unconscious choice and that enhances control over behaviour or gives psychological comfort
Essentially, a coping mechanism is something we do in times of stress or upset to bring us comfort. As I mentioned in my last post, shopping has become a way I try to cope with whatever is going on in my life. But instead, this habit has become a way for me to actually avoid what’s going on.
This ‘coping mechanism’ works by distracting myself with spending money and obtaining new things, so I don’t have to deal with whatever’s going on in the current moment.
I’ve found that I do this with any kind of issue, or even success. Instead of sitting with any kind of feeling I have, good or bad, I’m looking for outside things to distract myself with so I can ‘keep going’ – whatever that means.
And that’s the thing that I want to address tonight. Because I think for a lot of us coping mechanisms have transformed from a behaviour that makes things easier to deal with, into something that distracts us completely from what’s going on.
For example, if you’re dealing with a period of stress and upset right now (I mean, who isn’t on some level?!) you might rely on your coping mechanism of shopping, drinking, eating, or exercising to make things feel easier. Coping mechanisms are a way to soothe yourself, to give yourself a breather, so you can be more productive even in a stressful environment.
But I think a lot of us have changed the purpose of these habits to distraction, rather than assistance.
DISTRACTION VS. DEALING
What I’m trying to say is, coping mechanisms in themselves are not a bad thing. We all have them to some extent and they’re something we can rely on when times get tough to soothe ourselves.
However, this depends on the mechanisms you use and how you use them.
Like buying a little treat for yourself when you feel bad isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but if you take it to the extreme like I explained in my last post then the negatives are certainly going to out way the positives. Like spending more than you need, shopping instead of feeling, and so on.
This is something I’m dealing with right now , in more ways than one.
While I addressed my shopping addiction on Monday, there are other habits in my life that are just as destrutive.
For a while, I considered these to be ‘coping mechanisms’ and thought that it was ‘just the way I handle’ things. As I said, we all have different coping mechanisms and I thought that while some people choose yoga and meditation, I choose to eat chocolate for every meal.
No big deal, right?
But through reading, researching, and taking some time to watch the way I behave during times of stress or upset I’m learning that I don’t have any real coping mechanisms. Instead, I just have ways to distract myself and that’s no way to live.
You see, the coping mechanisms I’ve created – like shopping, binge eating, and drinking excessively – do not help me cope with the situation at hand. They do not help me feel stable, healthy and centred so I can actually deal with what’s going on, but rather they offer a temporary escape from the issue.
So what happens when the high of buying a new thing, eating two bars of chocolate in one go or drinking a whole bottle of wine wears off?
WE ALL NEED AN ESCAPE
Much like coping mechanisms, there is nothing inherently wrong with escapism. Hey, it’s the reason why I’ve read hundreds of books over my lifetime or you might play video games on a daily basis.
Finding ways to escape the everyday and get your head out of your problems can be brilliant for your health, especially during things like a global pandemic and the general unrest like we’re living in now. But again, it’s how you use it that determines whether your habits are healthy or not.
Escapism is important and at certain points of our lives it is vital.
Notice I said certain points there?
That’s because we shouldn’t feel like we have to escape our lives every minute of the day. With this mindset, we aren’t even living – we’re not being fully present, which can result in us missing out on our life.
If you find yourself desperate to escape all hours of the day, then I’m sorry my friend but this is a call for some self-work.
There’s only so far reading YA fiction, playing video games, or binging TV shows on Netflix will get you. At some point, we’re going to have to put our devices down and take a cold hard look at what’s really going on.
And because this is something I really don’t feel like doing, ever, I know how hard this is. Trust me, we’re in this together.
HOW I THINK I’M COPING
The following are ways that I think I’m coping with whatever life has to throw at me, when really all I’m doing is distracting myself for a small amount of time:
- Overeating, buying a lot of sweets, and constantly craving fast food
- Drinking several glasses/bottles of wine
- Spending more money than I earn in a month on trinkets to ‘treat myself’
- Isolating myself
- Spending a lot of time grooming my outward appearance because ‘self-care’
Here’s the thing, we’ve all been duped in the same way. Media, influencers and brands will tell you that ‘self-care’ (aka the Mecca of coping mechanisms) is fun! It’s all about bubble baths, a glass of something bubbly and a nice face mask.
You know what girl, you work so hard! Why don’t you treat yourself with that thing?
Self care is basically the same as treating yourself. It’s a way that you can take a day off, spend loads of money, and stop trying for a bit, because you’re ‘taking care of yourself’.
We’ve all seen it, and we will continue to see it until self-care is no longer a trendy topic anymore.
And while there is nothing wrong with treating yourself, pampering yourself, and having a glass of bubbly every now and again – this isn’t self-care.
These are not the ways we should be coping with the world.
I read somewhere that real self-care, as in that thing doctors and therapists reccomend, is basically self-parenting.
Self-care should be the kind of things that you would do for a child or a pet, if that’s your thing in your care. Things like ensuring they get enough sleep, eating proper meals, getting some form of exercise, and being clean.
This video by Prachi S covers this topic in depth, so give it a watch for more info.
But spending, drinking, and eating excess sugar are not how we should be looking after ourselves. We’ve been lied to – I’ve been lying to myself – and I don’t know what to do now.
WHERE DO I GO FROM HERE?
It’s bloody hard learning that everything you thought about yourself and the way you interact with the world is, in fact, not quite right.
I thought that overeating, overspending, and overdrinking were just little ‘quirks’. They were things I did to make myself feel better, to pick myself up, when I needed it – after all, everyone else does the same thing, right?
However, because I’m requiring these little pick ups more and more often these days (aren’t we all?), I can’t resort to them in extreme measures. It’s not good for my physical or mental health.
To be honest, I feel cheated because I thought I was doing so well for so long, when really I was just distracting myself, keeping myself numb.
It takes a lot to step back and realise that something isn’t working, but hopefully it’ll be worth it in the long run.
I need to find some healthier and more effective coping mechanisms – and habits and hobbies – if I want to live the life I want.
This is a call for help, for some requests from you reading. How do you cope with things and what can you suggest I replace my old habits with?
I’m trying guys, and it’s all we can do right now. Please take care of yourself. I’m hoping to continue working on this and I can update you with some brighter news in future.