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Knowing the Difference Between Unhealthy and Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress

It can sometimes be unclear whether something is a healthy versus unhealthy coping mechanism for stress.  For instance, is distracting oneself from a stressful and overwhelming situation an example of a healthy or unhealthy coping mechanism?  In this blog, we will review some of the most notable forms of healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms, as well as elucidate clear ways to determine the difference between the two. 

Unhealthy coping mechanisms are often harmful tactics one partakes in to try to respond to stress, difficulties, and/or negative emotions, while healthy coping mechanisms are often productive strategies that produce more reliable and lasting results.  

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Several common distinctions between unhealthy coping strategies versus healthy ones are:


The former often involves momentary relief from the issue, while the latter may not lead to the most dramatic immediate relief, but will be much more likely to address the underlying problem.  

Unhealthy coping strategies tend to result in a compounding of problems, whereas healthy ones are much less likely to do so.  

Along these lines, it is important to know that whatever we resist persists.  So, when we go for the unhealthy, short-term fix like denying or avoiding our problem, for instance, we are likely to maintain the difficult negative emotions on some level.  Then, when we run into a problem or a different problem later on, these initial negative emotions will likely compound things, making the issues much more intense. 

Healthy coping mechanisms lead to generally lower stress levels and therefore improved overall happiness, satisfaction, and peace, whereas unhealthy ones usually lead to further distress, intense negative emotions, overall problems, and strained relations.

When we engage in healthy coping mechanisms, we are also often choosing improved emotion regulation. 

Meanwhile, when we utilize an unhealthy coping mechanism, we are typically choose something that provides us with short-lived improved positive feelings, followed by a big drop in those feelings.

Healthy approaches to stress concentrate on comprehending and working to improve upon the underlying causes of the struggles.  When we take these healthier approaches, we are embracing patience and curiosity as we work to gain insights into the connections between our thoughts, emotions, beliefs, and behaviors to improve our life. Meanwhile, unhealthy approaches to stress focus on avoiding, suppressing, numbing, and distracting from the core problems, which prevents us from identifying and using sustainable solutions and often contribute to a perpetuation of emotional difficulties.  

Some of the most prominent examples of unhealthy coping tools are as follows:

  • A man holds his head while sitting in front of liquor. Learn how to cope with stress in San Diego, CA and healthy coping skills. Learn more about the help an online therapist in Oregon can offer via online therapy for men in Portland, OR.
Negative self-talk/”Constructive self-criticism”
    • The great couples’ therapist, Terry Real, has stated that there is no such thing as constructive criticism and that there is nothing that harsh criticism can’t bring us that loving and firm kindness can’t bring us in greater numbers.  Additionally, when we beat ourselves up with negative self-talk and/or “constructive self-criticism” we, by definition, are disconnected from others and are instead absorbed in our own minds/pain.  Furthermore, in these moments, we are filled with guilt and even shame, which are often debilitating emotions.
  • Substance abuse 
  • Emotional eating
  • Isolation
  • Impulsive and/or Risky Behaviors
  • Self-harm
  • Avoidance
  • Denial
  • Continual distraction
  • Procrastination 
    • While this strategy can bring us momentary relief from pain, over time, it works to undermine our health and well-being.  Each time we procrastinate, on some level, we are confirming that we are ineffective/incapable, so this reduces our self-efficacy and self-esteem.  Additionally, each time we procrastinate, we are likely to feel those dreaded guilt and shame feelings that keep compounding each time we choose to procrastinate. 

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Some of the most notable examples of healthy coping mechanisms are as follows:

  • Ask yourself if a particular line of thinking is useful and/or productive.  If the answer to either or both is no, do your best to think in a different, more productive, and useful way
  • Positive reframing of unhealthy thoughts
  • Engaging in deep, belly breathing (inhaling for at least 3 seconds, holding the oxygen for at least 3 seconds, and exhaling for at least 3 seconds)
  • Using a grounding technique, such as using as many of your senses as possible to feel present in your current surroundings and moment
  • Healthy hobbies
  • Setting and maintaining realistic goals
  • Journaling
  • Physical exercise
  • Healthy forms of social support with trusted individuals with whom there is mutual care and concern
  • Mindfulness and meditation
  • Viewing setbacks and losses as opportunities to gain feedback and improve/grow 

Cope with Stress in San Diego, CA, and Improve  Your Knowledge and Coping Tools for Anxiety Through Individual Therapy in California, Oregon, and Florida


It’s not always so easy to identify unhealthy versus healthy coping mechanisms for stress and negative emotions.  Additionally, it can often be difficult to know and remind oneself of the critical importance of, at least most of the time, utilizing healthy coping tools.  Here at Stress Solutions, we adore teaching you about all these important facts and approaches so you can live your most successful, peaceful, and satisfying existence.  You deserve to know the difference between unhealthy and healthy coping mechanisms, learn and regularly be able to engage in a myriad of healthy coping tools, and therefore live your best life. Start your therapy journey with our team by following these simple steps:

  1. Schedule your free, 15-minute phone consultation with our therapist, call today! 
  2. Meet with a caring therapist 
  3. Start coping with stress in healthy ways!

Other Services Offered with My Stress Solutions

Stress management isn’t the only service offered by My Stress Solutions. We understand you may experience more than one mental health concern at a time. This is why we are happy to offer a variety of services. Other services offered include online therapy, therapy for traumaanxietyEMDR, and addictions. We are also happy to offer support for individuals, couples, and men via in-person and online therapy. Visit our blog or learn more about us for more helpful info today!

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