Self

5 Coping Skills That Don't Work At All — Despite Being Incredibly Tempting

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woman smiling in the rain

Living with the stress of prolonged uncertainty takes a toll on physical and mental well-being. Even if it’s not pandemic-level uncertainty, every day you can bump up against low-grade uncertainties that amp-up anxiety if you don’t build up your coping-skills toolbox

To get through uncertain times, you may adopt less effective skills and strategies to cope. These often self-sabotaging coping skills can side-track you from your goals and can even damage your most important relationships. 

Not all coping skills are created equal 

When you're caught up in the Ferris wheel of uncertainty and worry without getting off, you're taken out of the present moment and can have trouble enjoying what is here for you in the now. The luster of life darkens.

You forget the daily glimmers of light available in every moment.

RELATED: This Is Your Brain On Anxiety

Here are five common less effective strategies you may be used for coping during times of uncertainty and stress:

1. Mentally fast-forwarding and imagining worst-case scenarios

Or other bad possible outcomes in an attempt to relieve some anxiety or in an attempt to pre-plan.

Why it’s a less effective coping strategy: fast-forwarding and guessing outcomes take you out of the present moment with yourself and others and increase your anxiety.

2. Turning to alcohol and other altering substances

To relieve anxiety and de-stress.

Why it’s an unhealthy coping strategy: Damages your overall health, creates dependence on the substance, and can have a negative impact on relationships and family. 

RELATED: 13 Small Things Anxiety Makes You Do

3. Over-distraction

Binge-watching TV shows and movies, doom scrolling, overconsuming news, web surfing, internet shopping, and TV tune-out are common themes. Some of us clean or do random chores instead of dealing with an issue. Some of us distract ourselves with other people’s problems to distract from what’s going on in our own spheres.

Why it’s an unhealthy coping strategy: All of these take you out of the present moment, sabotage the ability to stay present for yourself and those you love, and can take you away from important goals you could be working on. 

4. Mentally hyper-focusing on the uncertainty and unknowns

This might mean going over all of the uncertainty and worry in your mind day and night, and steering conversations with friends and acquaintances back to the uncertainty and unknowns.

You might think that if you keep the danger in sight and at the tip of your tongue, it will be less likely to sneak up on you.

Why it’s an unhealthy coping strategy: Constantly thinking about and focusing on the unknowns isn’t a solutions-oriented approach and does little to keep anxiety in check. What you focus on grows. 

RELATED: 12 Struggles Only People With Anxiety Will Understand

5. Binge-eating

Have months of uncertainty and stress been marked by the many empty containers of ice cream in the recycling bin? Or bags of popcorn, cookies, or chips?

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If you, too, are reaching for your favorite comfort food when you feel uncertainty and anxiety coming on, you’re definitely not alone. Emotional eating thrives in times of stress and uncertainty but never relieves what is at the core of the cravings: the longing to feel safe or to fill the void that comes with uncertainty. 

Did any of these coping skills look familiar? If so, you don’t have to take this as an opportunity to beat yourself up.

Remember, even if you have gotten off your path over the past months or more, you can always course-correct.

The four mindfulness and coaching skills that you can start to put in place right away:

1. You’ve done it before, you can do it again. 

Identify and keep a list of uncertain and stressful circumstances that you have dealt with and already lived through.

Write down concrete examples on an index card or in a small notebook and keep it nearby for a week, to start.

Look at your own examples daily and add them to the list each day. This empowers you instead of keeping you going in circles in the unknowns by reminding yourself of your past ability to weather tough times and that you are strong and resourceful.

RELATED: 5 Ways The Most Successful People Turn Anxiety Into Productivity

2. Create new, pleasurable rituals. 

Alcohol, food and other substances can become time-bound habits with dopamine-fueled rewards that our brains anticipate to help calm down and unwind when pummeled with worry, anxiety, and stress. Daily use of substances can become woven into our lives in such a way that they become rituals.

Think of the post-work or dinner drink that can go from one to many and from once or twice a week, to the daily pleasure spot we look forward to when under uncertainty-induced stress. Interrupt the pattern by creating a new ritual.

This could be concocting a creative and delicious non-alcoholic cocktail or a cup of your favorite tea. It could be a post-dinner or after-work walk in nature or even a luxurious shower or bath to unwind naturally.

The important part is that it feels pleasurable to you and that it is something that is repeatable daily that you will look forward to doing. While stocking your fridge and pantry with healthy food options is one way to go, if the core of your binge-eating is coming from an emotional place, it’s common to then transfer the binge-eating to other foods in an attempt to fill the worry void.

Learning mindful eating, drinking water, and meditation can help lessen the binging.

RELATED: 4 Ways To Know If Your Anxiety Is Actually A Mental Illness

3. Employ positive action as self-care.

Do something kind for someone else. Write a real letter to a friend and mail it, help out an elderly neighbor or family in need. Join a group for an interest, cause, or hobby that you are passionate about

4. Slow down and deeply tune into your senses.

Slowing down your mind is not an impossible skill to learn. When your mind feels like a runaway anxiety train, you can create simple mindfulness activities that cue you back into the present. Take a sensory walk with the intention of slowing down. You may be surprised at what new smells, sights, and sounds come into your awareness and bring delight and a renewed feeling of aliveness. 

Instead of trying to do a complete swap-out, I recommend a try-on period of a week to start. While it's common to experience some backsliding or resistance, the key is aiming for consistency so the new habit can take hold.

RELATED: Why Defining Anxiety & Anxiety Disorders Matters

Stephanie Lazzara is an ICF-certified holistic life, health, and relationship coach. She helps her clients build healthier habits to manage stress and anxiety. More info about Stephanie is available on her website.

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