10 Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms That Only Make Things Worse

Understanding how to properly diffuse and handle stress requires healthy coping skills. Unfortunately, many people aren’t equipped with such and resort to using unhealthy coping mechanisms.

What Are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms?

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Unhealthy coping mechanisms are the ways people distract themselves from stress. These distractions tend to feel good in the moment but have long-term negative consequences. Here are some common unhealthy coping mechanisms to avoid indulging.

1. Doomscrolling or Excessive Screen Time

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Are you a doomscroller, or someone who spends countless hours scrolling screens? Doomscrolling is when you actively seek out negative or sad content to read or scroll through on social and news media outlets. It’s an avoidance technique used to cope with anxiety.

Furthermore, doomscrolling aims to grant access to all the information you need to protect yourself from what’s dangerous around you. However, it’s a dangerously unhealthy coping mechanism for mental health as it reinforces negative thoughts and feelings.

2. Negative Self-Talk

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Negative self-talk is excessively criticizing or putting ourselves down, which manifests into issues, including lower self-esteem and depression. Do you catch yourself talking badly to or about yourself?

Still, Positive Psychology reports: “Negative self-talk is a very common coping mechanism. It is a mechanism that starts out as a protective strategy designed to save us from danger that subsequently morphs into a maladaptive one that holds us back in numerous areas of our life.”

3. Avoidance

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Avoidance types, including procrastination, oversleeping, toxic positivity, overworking, and living in the past, are often used to cope with stress as a means to not think about it. However, burying emotions and avoiding problems will only cause them to manifest under the surface. Unhealthy coping mechanisms hinder our emotional processing, contributing to increased stress and anxiety.

4. Substance Abuse

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Do you know how many Americans are suffering from substance use disorders? Substance abuse is one of the worst, unhealthy coping mechanisms that people employ. It leads to substance use disorders, health problems, legal issues, and death.

Still, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) reports: “48.7 million people aged 12 or older (or 17.3%) had a substance use disorder (SUD) in the past year, including 29.5 million who had an alcohol use disorder (AUD), 27.2 million who had a drug use disorder (DUD), and 8.0 million people who had both an AUD and a DUD.”

5. Romanticizing the Past

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Romanticizing the past is one of the quickest ways for someone in recovery to relapse. It’s also a standard means of avoiding the present time and returning to a comfort zone you’re familiar with but unsuitable for you.

If you moved away, left a relationship, or quit a job, there was a reason behind it. Being nostalgic for a time in your life when you weren’t happy is a toxic coping mechanism that may pull you back into places and situations you don’t want to be a part of.

6. Isolating

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Do you feel overwhelmed or constantly annoyed by others? It’s becoming more common for people to express a dislike for being around others, choosing internet validation over real connection.

Isolating yourself from everyone may seem like the logical way to remove stress, but it’s counterproductive. Human connection is an essential part of a healthy lifestyle. So, decreased social interaction can harm your mental and physical health if you isolate for too long.

7. Binge or Stress Eating

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Engaging in emotional eating or binge eating to numb your emotions and cope with overwhelming life stressors is another unhealthy coping mechanism. Unfortunately, people who binge eat become trapped in a cycle of guilt, shame, and self-loathing.

8. Overthinking

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Overthinking, or excessive worrying, is detrimental to maintaining mental health. When fear and worry begin holding you back from living your life, they can become toxic. When you feel out of control in the present time and are uncertain how to handle that feeling, you may find projecting a desire for control onto an imagined future circumstance.

9. Catastrophizing

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Similarly, the unhealthy coping mechanism, catastrophizing, involves trying to predict and respond to perceived threats before they can affect you. This process consists of a lot of conclusion-jumping (usually worst scenarios) with minimal information or objective reasons to perceive such a threat.

When a situation is upsetting but not necessarily catastrophic, people who employ this coping skill still feel like they are in the midst of an end-of-the-world crisis.

10. Overreliance on Others

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When your happiness is entirely dependent on others to the point where you are not happy on your own, it will be challenging to cope with life’s adversities in the future.

Support is good, but wrapping too much of your self-worth and validation needs on family or friends can put your self-esteem in an unstable predicament. When your happiness depends on others around you, it’s much more difficult to handle hardship without them.

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Elizabeth Ervin is the owner of Sober Healing. She is a freelance writer passionate about opioid recovery and has celebrated breaking free since 09-27-2013. She advocates for mental health awareness and encourages others to embrace healing, recovery, and Jesus.