Are Your Coping Mechanisms Harming You?
“We are the most in-debt, obese, addicted, and medicated adult cohort in U.S. history.”
— Brené Brown
Do you ever feel like instead of dealing with your stress, your stress is dealing with you?
Stress is so commonplace that many of us have stopped questioning it. We’ve accepted it as simply a part of our day-to-day. It often builds and builds, but just before it overtakes us, we seek some way to offload it—to escape or cope with our emotional pain.
At Onsite, we often refer to the ways we cope as medicators.
If this is a new concept for you, we like to say a medicator is “anything we reach for to turn up a feeling we want more of or turn down a feeling we want less of.” They relieve the “dis-ease” of the stress we experience.
Where do you turn to when you’re disturbed, distressed, or need a distraction?
When faced with emotional pain, we all have our “go-to” escapes. While seeking temporary relief is understandable, in the long run, continuing to escape without dealing with the root of our pain is detrimental to our well-being.
When we think of unhealthy coping methods, it’s easy to conjure images of addiction, excessive substance use, isolation, and other obvious and less socially acceptable escape methods. But what about the more sneaky, socially-acceptable ways of medicating? Are they really that bad?
In this blog, we’ll explore a few common (yet surprising) coping mechanisms that are not only socially tolerated but are often rewarded.
For many of us, work can be an escape when our personal lives feel out of control. When we throw ourselves wholeheartedly into what we do, it can be easy to intertangle our worth and identity with our work. On the surface, passion for what we do can be an incredible gift and goal. But, like all good things, working can be taken to extremes, and overworking can become a coping mechanism that causes us to neglect what is really going on in our lives. It can lead to burnout and neglect of emotional well-being. When we use workaholism to escape, we become human doings and forget that we are human beings.
If you use work to escape, consider setting boundaries around your time and investment. Explore how intertwined your identity feels with your work, and take steps to affirm and build up the other areas of your life: community, hobbies, family, etc.
In our bustling world, busyness has become a badge of honor. We often fill our schedules to the brim, constantly moving from one task to another, not realizing that this relentless pursuit of productivity can be a convenient (and detrimental) distraction.
Busyness can trap us in a cycle of avoidance, preventing us from healing. It’s important to recognize that genuine healing requires acknowledging our emotions, taking time for introspection, and nurturing our well-being.
If you find that you have overscheduled your life, consider getting curious about what you’re trying to avoid. Schedule some time to intentionally “do nothing.” Take time throughout your days to check in with yourself – even for five minutes.
Another common and sneaky strategy to medicate our emotional pain is by pouring ourselves into serving others. While helping other people can bring immense joy and satisfaction, it can often serve as a shield to avoid feeling or dealing with our own problems. Focusing solely on the needs of others, we may neglect our own well-being, inadvertently suppressing our emotions rather than addressing them.
True altruism requires a balanced approach that acknowledges the importance of self-care while finding meaningful ways to contribute to the lives of others.
If you tend to pay attention to the needs of others at the expense of your own, consider what it might look like to tend to your own needs. At Onsite, we remind people that we cannot pour from an empty cup. Make a list of things that “fill up your tank,” and schedule time each week for you. While it may seem selfish, it’s the most selfless thing we can do for the people around us!
Isolation Masked as Solitude
Solitude, when taken in moderation, can provide a much-needed space for self-reflection, rejuvenation, and introspection. However, excessive and prolonged isolation can harm our emotional and mental well-being.
We are hard-wired for connection, and isolation can lead to feelings of loneliness and depression. The lack of social interaction and emotional support from others can exacerbate underlying mental health struggles and increase our risk of developing new ones. Isolation also negatively impacts our ability to form and sustain meaningful relationships. It is important to balance time alone and time spent with safe people.
Are you seeking healthy solitude or isolation? A helpful lens to consider using is to assess how you feel after spending time alone. Solitude refreshes and rejuvenates; isolation leads to feelings of loneliness and overwhelm.
Moving our bodies is an essential part of a well-rounded emotional health regime. While regular exercise is generally considered beneficial for our physical and mental well-being, it is important to recognize that working out excessively or obsessively can negatively impact our mental and emotional health—especially when used as a distraction that keeps us out of sync with ourselves.
Overtraining, pushing oneself beyond healthy limits, or developing an unhealthy fixation on physical appearance or performance can lead to various emotional challenges. Over-exercise can create stress, anxiety, and a sense of failure when those expectations aren’t met. We can use exercise to neglect and ignore the signals our body is giving us.
Moreover, strict exercise regimes can disrupt other areas of life, strain relationships, and contribute to social isolation. It is crucial to approach exercise with balance, self-compassion, and a focus on overall well-being, ensuring that it enhances rather than undermines our emotional health.
Being with People
While isolation can be a way to medicate, the opposite can also be true. We may be hard-wired for connection, but constantly being in the company of others without ample time for solitude and self-reflection can serve as a way to escape what’s going on within us. Seeking constant social interaction as a distraction from emotional pain can prevent us from addressing and processing our emotions. The pressure to constantly engage, entertain, and please others can lead to burnout and neglect of our own needs and desires.
It is important to balance social interactions and personal solitude, allowing for meaningful connections while prioritizing self-care and establishing healthy boundaries to protect our emotional well-being.
If you constantly need to be around people or the thought of spending time alone makes you squirmish, it might be time to take yourself on a date!
Medicators provide temporary relief but do not address the underlying issues or foster genuine healing. We embark on a journey towards true emotional healing only by fully feeling and connecting with our inner world through reflection, self-care, support networks, professional help, and mindful engagement. By understanding these coping mechanisms and seeking healthier alternatives, we can nurture our emotional well-being and embrace a more fulfilling life.