What Is the Difference Between Healthy and Unhealthy Coping Skills in Mental Health Treatment?

When you are learning to live with a mental health disorder, coping skills can help you manage your emotions and feel relief from stress. However, no one really teaches you coping skills. People typically learn them by adult example during childhood.

Without those examples, a person may use unhealthy coping skills to manage difficult situations. They may not even know they are using unhealthy coping skills. However, through therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) offered at Alter Behavioral Health’s inpatient and outpatient programs, a person can learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy coping skills.

What Is Mental Health?

Society has come to give room for mental health; however, what does the term really mean? Mental health can be defined as “emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.”

If you are struggling with your mental health, you may experience warning signs such as:

  • Eating or sleeping too much or too little
  • Having low or no energy
  • Experiencing unexplained aches and pains
  • Smoking, drinking, or using drugs more than usual
  • Yelling or fighting with family and friends
  • Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head

Why Is It Important to Develop Coping Skills?

Sometimes when you have an endless list of tasks to accomplish, work to go to, and family to take care of, it can feel like the only option is to push through. Get things done; then, you can rest. However, by doing that, you ignore your feelings and ignore your mental health.

Ignoring your mental health only increases the feelings of stress. Symptoms of mental health problems, such as those listed above, may worsen. Coping skills allow you to manage overwhelming feelings in the moment. They allow you to manage your feelings, thoughts, and actions by yourself with mental and physical exercises. By doing so, you are able to live your life and find enjoyment rather than constant stress.

How Does a Person Learn Coping Skills?

Learning to manage your emotions and thoughts takes practice and work. Here is an example: a child steals a toy from another child. The child who has the toy stolen from them gets upset and begins crying. An adult steps in to console the crying child and provide options to fix the problem, such as providing comfort, talking to the child that stole, or finding a new toy.

In this example, a child learns that there are options to manage their emotions in challenging situations. Children need to see many interactions like this example. By having an adult help provide alternative options and ways to comfort themselves, they can learn ways to cope.

However, when someone experiences adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), which are lasting traumatic events and situations, they may not have gotten the attention and help to learn coping skills.

Unhealthy Coping Skills

Living through ACEs, a person learns to survive and cope in different ways. ACEs are a wide variety of negative experiences, but examples include:

  • Experiencing violence, abuse, or neglect
  • Substance use in the home or community
  • Growing up in a home with low education

A child in an unstable household learns to survive in whatever ways are available to them. Those survival methods can work at the moment but, in the long run, be unhealthy.

One of the risk factors for developing substance use disorder (SUD) is ACEs. A person may turn to substances to cope with their memories or feelings. Mostly unknown to them, it is unhealthy since early and prolonged use of substances can develop into SUD.

Another example of unhealthy coping is when someone engages in random sex. There is no shame in a person having a healthy sex life, but when a person does so in unsafe ways, like having unprotected sex to escape their feelings, it can become dangerous. They can get hurt or contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI).

Learning to cope with difficult situations is a strength, especially in a child. However, when a person continues to use unhealthy coping skills, especially if the coping skill is substance use, it can be hard to unlearn that.

Healthy Coping Skills

Every person has their own way of coping with stressful or painful situations and emotions. Coping has to be learned and practiced. You can be practicing coping skills and not even realize it. Coping with stress in a healthy way can be done by:

  • Take breaks from the news or social media
  • Taking deep breathes
  • Connecting with culture, community organizations, or church
  • Talking with a trusted friend

Coping skills can be almost anything as long as it comforts, soothes, and makes you feel safe.

Learning How to Cope Through Treatment

When you begin treatment at Alter Behavioral Health, you will participate in individual and group therapy. Your therapist and group facilitator will use aspects of different therapy modalities, such as CBT. Alter Behavioral Health also offers support services. These can help provide healing, education, or support in other aspects of life, not just the immediate symptoms of addiction. The support services include:

  • Psycho-education groups
  • Acceptance and commitment therapy (ACT)
  • Dialectical behavior therapy (DBT)
  • Medication management
  • Treatment and discharge planning
  • Family and community services

With the support of these other services, you will immediately start learning new coping skills and life skills. Within groups, you hear how other people cope in situations to help inform you of options. Your therapist helps you work through problems and past situations to understand how you could have reacted, which helps inform your future actions. Just by being in and participating in therapy, you start to learn coping skills you may not have had before.

Has it seemed like the ways you deal with your life are not working anymore? Repressed and unprocessed emotions and memories can unconsciously affect you in your day-to-day life. Through Alter Behavioral Health’s treatment programs, you can discover how to feel your emotions appropriately and process them without engaging in unhealthy coping skills. We believe every person can heal with the right support; we aim to be that support for you. With three specialized facilities located in California, you can find the right treatment program to meet your individual healing needs. Contact us today at (866) 691-4386 to learn more about our locations and programs. Making the call is the first step in your healing journey.