Six Healthy Coping Strategies (and Some Unhealthy Ones to Avoid)

May 19, 2021

Six Healthy Coping Strategies (and Some Unhealthy Ones to Avoid)

woman working out

Stress can be short term, like a hard assignment at work, or long term, such as a seriously ill loved one or the process of divorce.

“Our body’s natural response when life becomes stressful — and it’s out of our control — is to try to regain a sense of equilibrium or calmness,” said Malia Holbeck, CSW-PIP, LAC, MSW, Outpatient Behavioral Health Services Manager of the Avera Addiction Care Center in Sioux Falls.

When the COVID-19 pandemic started, everyone found themselves in the same boat wondering what was going to happen next regarding their business, career, child’s education and more. In an attempt to self-soothe, many people turned to whatever they could in an instant to cope — some healthy and some not-so-healthy. Some unhealthy examples were the increase in alcohol consumption and disordered eating habits.

Healthy Coping Strategies

Doesn’t it seem like unhealthy coping habits develop easily? Developing healthy coping techniques might take a little time, but it’s worth the effort over the long run.

Exercise – “Hands down, one of the best ways to manage stress is to work out on a consistent basis,” said Holbeck. “It lifts the mood, builds confidence and supports physical health.” Do some physical activity every day, even just going for a walk.

Go to counseling – Regular sessions with a licensed counselor can give you the outlet you’re looking for to process various kinds of stress regarding grief, relationship issues and more.

Get a support system – Identify a family member or friend you can turn to now and then for support. Be a friend yourself, and return the favor if they need to chat. Agree on certain boundaries so the relationship remains healthy.

Pray/meditate – When the heat starts to rise, slow down. Close your eyes, take deep breaths and ground yourself in the reality that this stressful moment won’t last forever. If you are a person of faith, use this time to pray.

Journal – Writing down your thoughts and feelings when stress creeps in gets some of that negativity out of your head and onto paper.

Eat healthy – Just like regular exercise, choosing nutrient-dense foods supports your physical health over the long run when life throws you a curveball.

Unhealthy Coping Strategies

Do not handle your stress by:

  • Drinking too much alcohol or turning to drugs
  • Eating too much or not enough
  • Sleeping too much
  • Avoiding opportunities to be accountable
  • Catastrophizing situations in your head

“Remember, too much of anything that is typically healthy will oftentimes have an unhealthy outcome,” said Holbeck. “A vice here and there could snowball into an addiction that may have serious consequences and need treatment later in life.”

Symptoms of Stress

Everyone faces stress, but it’s good to recognize when things are out of balance. Some of the symptoms of unmanaged stress include:

  • Anxiety and depression
  • Changes in diet
  • Digestive problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Aches, muscle tension, including chest pain

If you’ve brushed off stress in the past — STOP!

“So many chronic conditions and diseases often have a root of unmanaged stress,” said Holbeck. “That’s why it’s imperative to start practicing healthy coping techniques and teaching them to our children.”

If you are struggling to cope with stress or life, schedule an appointment with a certified mental health professional by calling the 24-hour behavioral health line at 800-691-4336