When Unhealthy Coping Skills Get In the Way of Life

Last week I wrote about the power of negative thoughts, and how our thoughts affect our feelings and behaviors

When we experience unpleasant feelings in response to negative thoughts, we usually try to do something that makes us feel better (after all, it’s not very fun to feel sad, anxious, lonely, guilty, or angry).

Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Skills

Our behavioral responses to negative feelings can also be referred to as coping skills. When people hear “coping skills,” they usually assume that it’s in reference to healthy behaviors — like deep breathing or exercising. However, coping skills are considered to be any skills that people use to cope with certain feelings, including the unhealthy skills.

Nearly everybody has both healthy and unhealthy coping skills. And when people respond to negative feelings with unhealthy coping skills, they feel trapped by feelings of guilt and shame and end up feeling worse. In fact, a big reason why people choose to seek therapy is because they find themselves stuck in this yucky cycle.


When Unhealthy Coping Skills Get In the Way

It’s normal to have healthy and unhealthy coping skills, and it’s important to notice when your unhealthy coping skills are getting in the way of living a happy and healthy life.

Some common unhealthy coping skills for college students and young adults include drinking and drug use, binge eating unhealthy foods, isolating, or spending excessive time on video games, Netflix, and social media.  

If you’re reading this and thinking to yourself – “hey, that’s me!” – know that there are ways to free yourself from this frustrating cycle.

I’m going to go back to the tip from my previous blog post on taking control over negative thoughts – the first step is awareness. Start to notice the patterns you tend to find yourself stuck in. After you have an awareness of the specific thoughts and feelings that lead to isolating and watching Netflix for hours on end, you can begin building up your toolbox of healthy coping skills.

And remember — having healthy and unhealthy coping skills are normal responses to unpleasant feelings, which we all experience. There is no need to feel ashamed of the things you do to try to feel better. Simply recognize and notice the behaviors that have been getting in the way, and remind yourself that there are other healthy skills you can use that can help you feel better.

It may take some trial and error to find the healthy coping skills that work for you, but once you find them, you’ll be able to respond to unpleasant feelings in a more positive and effective way.

If you’re interested in receiving some extra support for controlling negative thoughts and learning healthy coping skills, read more about Cognitive Behavioral Therapy in St. Paul, MN. Feel free to schedule a free 20-minute phone consultation with me so we can connect and see if we would be a good fit.

Chelsey Wirtzcoping skills