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  • Writer's pictureKelli Niewhoner

Coping Skills: Healthy or Not So Much?

Life can be a rollercoaster of emotions, and at times, we find ourselves facing challenges that seem overwhelming. It's during these moments that coping skills become our invaluable companions, helping us navigate through stress, depression, anxiety, and other emotional hurdles. In this blog post, we'll explore what coping skills are, distinguish between healthy and unhealthy mechanisms, and shed light on how therapy can guide you towards discovering constructive ways to cope.

Understanding Coping Skills:

Coping skills are the tools we use to manage, tolerate, and adapt to life's stressors. Think of them as your emotional toolkit – strategies and techniques that empower you to respond effectively to various challenges. These skills can be broadly categorized into two types: healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms. In simple terms, healthy coping mechanisms are things that allow you to continue to function and live a healthy life. Unhealthy coping skills are things that inhibit your ability to lead a healthy life and tend to create further disfunction and chaos. Those 'unhealthy' coping mechanisms may seem like a good choice in the moment but often mask or only momentarily help the overarching issues.


What makes a coping skill healthy verses unhealthy?

I'm so glad you asked! There are major differences between what is classified as healthy and what is not. Below are just a few ways to determine the difference:

Healthy Coping Skills:

  1. Promote Long-Term Well-Being: Healthy coping mechanisms contribute to your overall well-being over time. They address the root causes of stressors and provide sustainable solutions.

  2. Build Resilience: Effective coping strategies foster resilience by helping you bounce back from challenges, setbacks, and adversities with a strengthened sense of self.

  3. Empowerment and Self-Efficacy: Healthy coping skills empower you to take control of your emotions and situations, enhancing your belief in your ability to handle difficulties.

  4. Address Underlying Issues: Rather than masking or avoiding problems, healthy coping mechanisms encourage you to confront and address underlying issues, fostering personal growth.

  5. Enhance Emotional Regulation: These coping skills contribute to improved emotional regulation, helping you manage and express your feelings in a balanced and constructive manner.

Unhealthy Coping Skills:

  1. Provide Temporary Relief: Unhealthy coping mechanisms often offer quick but short-lived relief. They don't address the root cause of the problem, leading to recurring issues.

  2. Escapism Rather Than Confrontation: Instead of facing challenges head-on, unhealthy coping skills involve escaping or avoiding the issue, perpetuating a cycle of temporary relief followed by increased distress.

  3. Create Additional Problems: Some unhealthy coping mechanisms, like substance abuse, can create new problems, exacerbating the original stressors and potentially leading to addiction or health issues.

  4. Damage Relationships: Coping strategies that involve isolating oneself or engaging in harmful behaviors can strain relationships, isolating individuals when support is most needed.

  5. Contribute to a Cycle of Distress: Unhealthy coping skills often perpetuate a cycle of distress, where the individual relies on temporary fixes that fail to address the underlying issues, resulting in a continuous loop of negative emotions.

In summary, understanding these distinctions can empower you to make conscious choices when navigating challenges. Healthy coping skills encourage personal growth, resilience, and long-term well-being, while unhealthy coping mechanisms provide only temporary relief and can contribute to a cycle of increased distress. Seeking support, such as through therapy, can be instrumental in developing and reinforcing healthy coping strategies tailored to your individual needs.

Every Day Coping Skills

Great, now we understand the distinction between what is healthy and what is unhealthy as it comes to coping skills, but you may be wondering what a coping mechanism is. Think of coping skills as a collection of behaviors, thoughts, and actions that help individuals cope with the demands of everyday life. They serve as a means to regulate emotions, alleviate stress, and maintain a sense of balance and well-being. These skills can take various forms, ranging from simple activities to more complex cognitive and behavioral approaches. Coping skills are not a one-size-fits-all solution but are instead personalized strategies that individuals develop and employ based on their unique needs and circumstances.


Healthy Coping Skills:

Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques: Engaging in mindfulness exercises and relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation, can help you stay present and centered in the moment.

Physical Activity: Regular exercise releases endorphins, the body's natural mood lifters, and helps alleviate symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

Social Support: Sharing your thoughts and feelings with trusted friends or family members fosters a sense of connection and support, promoting emotional well-being.

Expressive Arts: Creative outlets like art, writing, or music can provide a constructive channel for processing emotions and promoting self-expression.

Problem-Solving: Developing problem-solving skills enables you to approach challenges with a proactive mindset, breaking down issues into manageable steps.


Unhealthy Coping Skills:

Avoidance: Ignoring or avoiding problems may provide temporary relief, but it doesn't address the root cause and can lead to long-term difficulties.

Substance Abuse: Relying on substances like alcohol or drugs to cope may offer a temporary escape, but it often exacerbates underlying issues.

Isolation: Withdrawing from social connections can intensify feelings of loneliness and isolation, contributing to a cycle of distress.

Self-Harm: Engaging in self-destructive behaviors is a harmful coping mechanism that can have serious consequences on mental and physical health.


Changes to the Brain

Scientifically, engaging in healthy coping mechanisms has been linked to changes in the brain. For instance, mindfulness practices have shown to induce structural changes in the brain associated with improved emotional regulation and stress resilience. This means that you can literally change your brain! If you practice healthy means of coping regularly you have the power to 'rewrite' your brain to become more resilient. How cool is that!



In the journey of life, having a robust set of coping skills is akin to having a reliable compass – it guides you through the ups and downs, helping you face challenges with resilience and grace. By understanding the distinction between healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms and embracing the support of therapy, you can embark on a path towards discovering constructive ways to navigate the complexities of life. Remember, you're not alone, and there is a wealth of resources and assistance available to help you thrive.

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