How to Effectively Cope with a Mental Illness

We all develop coping mechanisms in order to help with our mental health condition. However, these techniques may be doing more harm than good.

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During difficult times and stressful events it is common to try and seek some sort of comfort in order to process the challenging circumstances that we face. However, now that these circumstances are occurring on almost a daily basis, the need to seek comfort – to search for reassurance in order to cope with this craziness – is completely understandable.

It’s also important to understand what are practical and safe ways of coping with anxiety and stress. For there are coping mechanisms that are not the best for our mental or physical wellbeing.

Throughout this article, we are going to explore the concept of coping mechanisms and why we naturally try to reassure ourselves. We’ll also dive into the idea of how some our most common coping techniques might be manifesting from our own mental illnesses and how we can identify and treat them accordingly.

Coping Mechanisms: What & Why

In order to discuss coping mechanisms and how they manifest, we first have to have an understanding of what a coping mechanism is. Coping mechanisms are simply techniques and behaviors that people use in order to deal either with stress or complex emotions and trauma.

It is entirely common for those suffering from undiagnosed to use and utilize various different coping mechanism methods that, in hindsight, are found to be bad ways of dealing with the complex emotions. We’re going to explore both the good and the bad when it comes to coping techniques.

However, it’s vital to keep in mind that there is no shame in trying to deal with anxiety or stress. We here at Bedlamite just want to point out those techniques that are healthy and unhealthy for you to identify on your own.

Common Coping Techniques

Common coping techniques are frequently used by a large majority of people who find that they help in easing symptoms of mental illness. They range in practicality and effectiveness but are so common that they might surprise some who might not have known that they were in fact coping mechanisms.

What Are Good Coping Mechanisms?

When we discuss the idea of coping properly, it’s imperative for us to state that if you have a particular coping mechanism that is working for you and isn’t harming you or others, we don’t want to dissuade you from doing what makes you feel is right.

However, there are some key coping mechanisms that mental health professionals have deemed as appropriate and healthy for your wellbeing. Coping mechanisms that aid in healthy and in some cases preventive mental care are classified by mental health professionals as “adaptive” coping methods. The flip side to that equation is of course having coping skills or mechanisms that are maladaptive” or only exacerbate the underlying mental health issue. ¹

We’ve gathered a list of common beneficial or adaptive ways to cope with stress, anxiety and symptoms of depression: ²

  • Engaging in relaxing activities that will help in reducing stress, anxiety and some of the major symptoms of depression. These relaxing activities isn’t just sleeping but actively engages the mind, establishing links of being able to control the sufferer’s emotional or mental state.
    • Meditation
    • Reading
    • Writing
  • Participating in mental and physical strengthening. This is important as those in anxiety or depressive states are more likely to spend more time in a subdued state and thus need to physically and mentally reconnect with their own wellbeing. Exercising the mind and not just the brain helps in staying present and “in the moment” so to speak, which can dissuade opportunities for disassociation and disconnection from the reality at hand.
    • Exercising
    • Problem solving activities like puzzles and adaptive stimulating games of concentration.
    • Playing a musical instrument or engaging in a creative endeavor.
  • Establishing a pattern and routine. This might seem like its a no-brainer, but having a consistent daily routine can actually help in pattern recognition, reduction in stress due to being unorganized and help cope with anxiety by having a plan ahead of time and having a structure to adhere to. Researchers have found that those who establish a loose structure to their day to day lives feel more confident in their ability to get tasks done.
    • Scheduling out daily tasks, meetings and commitments days or weeks ahead of time.
    • Creating and committing to structured lists of tasks that need to get done can not only help with seeing what needs to be done but also can ensure that these tasks will get done.
    • Establishing a pattern of scheduling social meetings, engagements and dates can aid in developing and strengthening relationships with friends, family members and significant others as well as giving yourself something to look forward to.
  • Utilizing natural and herbal methods to calm symptoms of anxiety and stress. There has been research to show that herbal supplements and extracts can assist in reducing and relieving the more troubling symptoms that arise out of mental disorders like anxiety and depression. Herbal extracts from plant sources like chamomile, cannabidiol (CBD), and passionflower has been shown to help reduce symptoms. We highly recommend that you read our coverage of this exact topic if you would like to know more.

What Are Bad Coping Mechanisms?

Now that we have established not only good patterns of coping mechanisms but also what beneficial and non-beneficial coping mechanisms are called, we should take a look at what are considered as maladaptive coping techniques.

The reason why these coping methods are considered “maladaptive” is because they have been shown to actively deter a patient’s ability to cope properly and move on effectively from the issues that come from stress, anxiety and depression. ³

Here’s a list of common maladaptive coping techniques:

  • Increasing the intake of substances in order to “self medicate” against problems. This includes the imbibing of alcohol, tobacco, and other substances deemed hazardous for one’s own health and wellbeing. This of course could establish a pattern of substance abuse which could lead to addiction.
    • If you have further questions or concerns about substance abuse and addiction we recommend that you take a look at our coverage on this exact issue here.
  • Avoiding commitments and engagements out of fear or in an effort to actively avoid other people. Someone who suffers from anxiety or depression are far more likely to try and avoid social situations in order to try and steel themselves off from anything that might pose any chance of agitating symptoms. And although it is beneficial to have time to yourself, it’s also important to ensure that you are keeping a social life and not putting off commitments or plans that might hinder your friendships or relationships with loved ones.
    • This is also important to keep in balance for one’s own work life and career commitments as they might need to make physical engagements in order to get tasks or meetings done.
  • Increase in unchecked anger, aggression, hostility, or violent temperament.
  • Inability to control compulsive behaviors or intrusive thoughts. Those that suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) or have issues with controlling one’s own thoughts and actions might suffer from compulsive behaviors and intrusive thoughts becoming not only more frequent but more apparent to others as well.
  • Heightened thoughts or actions of self harm. In times of strife and stress, when the weight of the world is seemingly crushing someone, the next step might be the need to relieve their angst and frustration through self harm or worse through suicide.
    • We must remind you that if you are suffering from thoughts and actions of self harm that you reach out to a trusted friend or loved one or seek medical intervention as soon as possible.

Unconscious Defense Mechanisms Used As Coping Methods

It is common for us, as human beings, to laugh off criticisms or concerns from loved ones about our mental state. However, actions like making jokes, shrugging off complex issues, or shutting down completely are not only considered dismissive actions against their mental health and wellbeing, but these actions are classified as defense mechanisms. ⁴

It’s important to remember that defense mechanisms can be used as unconscious coping techniques in order to not deal with issues that the patient might be affected by and may not be a decisive maneuver to try and skirt responsibility for their mental wellbeing or actions.

It is recommended not to criticize inherent defense mechanisms but instead to point them out and try to establish more adaptive ways of communicating and dealing with their feelings or mental state.

How To Cope Appropriately

Now that we know about the good, the bad, and the defense coping mechanisms, the question remains: How do we try and cope appropriately?

As with a lot of topics and situations we cover here at Bedlamite, it’s a case-by-case basis. Still, there are some guidelines to keep in mind when you or a loved one is suffering from a mental crisis and it comes to proper coping techniques:

  • Making sure to not slip into addictive behaviors, especially if there’s a past of substance abuse.
  • Ensuring that you or the sufferer you may know isn’t closing themselves off or shutting down in order to try and not deal with problems.
  • Finding a trusted source to discuss issues or even vent if necessary.
  • Making sure that the sufferer is checked in on, ensuring that they aren’t self medicated
  • or self harming.
  • Actively seeing a mental health professional and sticking to the recommended treatment plan if one has been set up.
    • This includes taking the proper meds, seeing the specific specialist if necessary as well.

Coping Complications

If you or a loved one finds themselves in a situation where they are having
complications, it’s imperative that they are intervened in the proper way as soon as
possible.

The consequences for unchecked poor coping methods could lead to alienation,
dissociation or self harm. Intervention by a caring support team with the right mental
health professionals can ensure that the patient is treated correctly.

These are resources that have been helpful in intervening in improper or unhealthy coping mechanisms and assisting in finding proper treatment and support:

  • SAMHSA (Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services) Hotline is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders. Their service is avaliable for both English and Spanish speakers and can be reached toll-free at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).
  • The Crisis Text Line is a free text line that helps with those experiencing a mental health crisis which as of publishing of this article include depression, bullying, self-harm, anxiety, and most recently concerns over COVID-19. You can text 741741 from anywhere in the US or message them on their website or through Facebook to text with a trained Crisis Counselor. Crisis Text Line trains volunteers to support people in crisis and are available 24/7.

Final Word

It’s only natural that we would want to find ways in trying to cope in times of strife and worry, however its imperative that we find adaptive ways to cope and not slip into maladaptive ways of trying to deal with our problems. We know now why it’s important to not only discern the adaptive from the maladaptive ways of coping but to also implement it into our own lives to model it to those that might be looking to us as examples.

We know the dangers of maladaptive coping methods and techniques and we can help others not go down the same road of self medicating through substance abuse, closing ourselves off due to self isolation and ignoring or laughing off our issues or concerns due to defense mechanisms. And now that we know all of this we can ensure that others don’t wander down the same rocky road.

Your Questions?

Still have questions concerning coping mechanisms and whether they are adaptive or maladaptive?

We invite you to ask them in the comment’s section below. If you have any further advice to offer – whether personal or professional – we’d also love to hear from you!

Reference Sources

¹ GoodTherapy: “Coping Techniques: Adaptive vs. Maladaptive”

² British Colombia’s Department of Health’s HealthLink: “Common Coping Responses for Stress”

³ WellMind: “How Maladaptive Behaviors Worsen Social Anxiety Disorder”

⁴ WellMind: “Common Defensive Mechanisms During A Mental Health Crisis”

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