Talking To Your Therapist About Coping Mechanisms
When we face difficult situations in our lives, we rely on our coping mechanisms to get us through. When we have to handle trauma, stress or difficult emotions, we turn to the coping strategies that we’ve learned and developed over our lives to help us to adjust. While in some cases those coping mechanisms are healthy ones, all too often they are ineffective, counterproductive, or even harmful. Being able to talk about the strategies you use when you encounter some of life’s hardest moments is key to being able to address your mental health issues and find new ways forward to help promote your recovery and a better state of mind.
What Are Coping Mechanisms?
The term “coping mechanisms” is used to describe the strategies used by people when they face trauma or stress in their lives. Coping mechanisms or strategies help us to adjust to the most difficult emotions so that we can maintain our emotional well-being.
Both positive and negative life events may result in psychological stress. This is something which can come as a surprise to many people. While it’s easy to see how a death, divorce or redundancy could cause distress or grief, it’s harder to see how having a baby, buying a property or getting married could cause mental health problems. Yet, all of these situations have one thing in common – they promote a state of high emotion, and whether that emotion is good or bad, it can result in major stress.
When it comes to coping with that stress, we use combinations of thoughts, emotions, and behaviors to adjust. Coping mechanisms are what we turn to when we need to cope with loneliness, depression, anxiety, and anger. When those mechanisms are positive ones, we can help ourselves to feel better, but when they have negative results, they can cause us to feel worse and suffer more in the long run.
What Types of Coping Mechanism Are There?
We all have our own ways of coping with the challenges thrown at us by life. There are many different coping mechanisms and styles, and here are the most common:
- Emotion-focused – these help us to handle the feelings and emotions which result from a stressful situation.
- Problem-focused – these involve finding ways to deal with a problem to reduce the level of stress experienced.
- Active – an active coping mechanism involves being aware of the stressor and taking action consciously to reduce the stress,
- Avoidant – an avoidant coping mechanism involves avoiding or ignoring the problem.
- Adaptive – an adaptive coping mechanism is seen as an effective and healthy way to cope with a stressful situation.
- Maladaptive – maladaptive or ineffective coping strategies are counterproductive and have negative overall consequences.
What Do Coping Mechanisms Look Like?
Some of the most common adaptive coping strategies include:
- Seeking support – this involves talking about stressful situations and events with someone who can offer a listening ear.
- Relaxation – many people find that relaxing activities such as meditation, listening to peaceful music or taking a walk in natural surroundings are helpful in reducing stress levels.
- Problem-solving – this involves identifying the cause of the problem then finding an effective solution to effectively manage it.
- Humor – finding a way to make light of the stressful situation often helps people to maintain their perspective of a situation so it doesn’t become overwhelming.
- Exercise – physical activity is a healthy and natural way to relieve stress. Yoga, running, dancing, swimming, and team sports are all useful in helping people to cope when they’re going through a challenging time in their lives.
While all of these are effective and positive ways to cope with difficult and painful emotions and feelings, they sometimes don’t come naturally. All too often, we find that we resort to maladaptive coping strategies instead. These include:
- Escaping – withdrawing from loved ones and friends is one unhealthy way to handle stress and anxiety. Spending time browsing the internet, reading or watching TV alone may seem effective but isolation only worsens mental health.
- Self-soothing and numbing – although self-soothing and numbing behaviors may help to reduce pain and suffering in the short term, they can be dangerous when allowed to persist unchecked. Binge drinking, gambling, overeating or taking drugs are just some of the maladaptive self-soothing strategies that are commonly used.
- Risk-taking – when some people are exposed to stress, they often try to cope by taking risks like having unsafe sex, taking drugs, driving recklessly or gambling. Clearly these behaviors aren’t healthy and can cause a host of problems.
- Compulsive behaviors or self-harm – some people find that they end up behaving in compulsive ways or harming themselves when they need to deal with trauma or extreme stress. The dangers associated with self-harm are clear, but compulsive behavior can be equally problematic. Something which starts out as a simple form of checking can end up being severely restrictive and limiting. When left unaddressed, something as simple as checking to make sure that the windows are all locked in the house can end up taking hours of time and huge amounts of emotional resources.
How Are Coping Mechanisms Connected To Our Mental Health?
Having an effective set of coping mechanisms helps improve emotional and mental well-being. When you can adjust to a traumatic or stressful situation and its lasting impacts, you are less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety. Unfortunately, if you default to a maladaptive coping strategy every time you are facing challenging times, your emotional and mental health will soon see the negative impact.
If you are suffering from mental health issues and you are seeing a therapist, a key element of your treatment will involve discussing your coping mechanisms and how they are impacting on your life. Although it can be difficult to discuss the strategies that you employ, especially when they involve maladaptive behaviors such as self-harm or substance abuse, it’s important to open up fully as it is only by knowing the full extent of your problems that your therapist or counselor can help you.
Therapists are there to help support you and give you advice about how to develop healthier coping skills. Your therapy sessions should be a non-judgmental and safe environment in which you can feel free to explore the coping mechanisms that you’ve been relying on and identify just how they are hindering or helping your stress management.
Opening Up About Coping Mechanisms To Your Therapist
While it may sound easy to talk to your therapist about your coping strategies and mental health problems, it can be surprisingly difficult to open up. Many of us struggle to talk about our emotions and feelings at the best of times, but when we are going through particularly challenging experiences or when we know that the ways in which we are behaving are outside the social norm, it can be even harder to tell the truth.
To make matters even more complicated, some people have adopted silence as their primary coping strategy. By avoiding the issues and refusing to discuss problems and feelings, some people feel that they are keeping themselves safe. This makes it even more difficult to open up fully to a counselor.
Nevertheless, it’s important to recognize that your therapist is not there to judge you or criticize you for coping mechanisms – even ones that you may think seem “silly” like skin care. Even if you have faced judgment or criticism in other areas of your life, or from those who you feel should have been supporting and helping you, you can rest assured that your counselor is completely neutral. They are there to give you a supportive and open environment that you need to express yourself and to get to the bottom of the issues that are bothering you.
Top Tips For Talking With Your Therapist About Your Coping Mechanisms
Although it may not be easy at first to discuss the coping strategies that you use with your therapist, rest assured that the first step is always the hardest. Once you have begun to open up, you’ll almost certainly find that it’s as if a flood gate has been opened and you’ll soon find it easier than you imagined to disclose the full extent of your issues.
To help you get to that point, however, here are some top tips for getting started with your therapy sessions.
- Express what you want to achieve by having therapy. Discuss the problem you need to overcome, the areas of your life that you wish to make better, and what has brought you to the realization that you need help. You should do this in your first session.
- Share your feelings and thoughts as openly as possible. It can be tempting to hold back but remember that your therapist will not be shocked and will almost certainly have heard worse than what you have to say. Tell your therapist how you feel, even if you believe it isn’t important. If you hold anything back, it could delay or even prevent your recovering. People who leave out information about their mental health because they’re shy or embarrassed can’t make as much progress and may even be wasting their time.
- Imagine that you’re talking to a close confidante. Rest assured that your therapist is legally obliged to maintain your confidentiality. Unless you’re expressing an intent to hurt yourself or someone else or are confessing to a crime, your therapist won’t be discussing your case with anyone and certainly won’t be laughing at you, criticizing you or judging you.
- Be open-minded. Recognize that therapy takes as long as necessary – you won’t be cured overnight. It may also take several different methods before you find one that works for you. Not everything your therapist asks you to do will work, but it’s important to give it a try even if you’re skeptical. It’s important to comply with instructions, even when what you’re asked to do is out of your comfort zone. It may be just this that gives you the breakthrough you need. You’ll probably also be given homework to do in between sessions. These aren’t there to take up your time or cause your problems. Homework is assigned for your own good and will help to further your understanding and help you to develop new skills. Complete any assignments you are given and make sure you’ve taken them seriously. It’s the best way to ensure you achieve personal growth.
- Journal your thoughts and feelings. If you’re finding it difficult to discuss your coping mechanisms and problems with your therapist, you might find it helpful to journal your emotions and feelings first before attending your session. Write down everything you fear, feel, are anxious or frustrated about. This won’t just help you to feel more liberated, it’ll also give you something concrete to work from during your therapy session.
- Apply your learning. Success in therapy isn’t just about attending and listening to what your therapist has to say. You also have to contribute and be willing to apply the things that you’re learning to your everyday life. You will be developing new tools and coping mechanisms during your treatment that you must then use outside the office. It isn’t easy to apply a new and healthier coping strategy, especially when you’re using to avoiding a problem or using a self-soothing technique to get by. However, the strategies that you’re learning in therapy are the key to getting better, so make an effort to begin applying them as soon as possible.
Changing Your Negative Coping Mechanisms For Positive Ones
Making changes in your life is never going to be easy. Most of us who have negative coping strategies have been using them for years and the habits have become engrained. Nevertheless, it’s important to talk about them with your therapist so you can get to the bottom of why you developed these strategies in the first place and how you can replace them with something more adaptive. It won’t be easy to learn new ways to cope in a stressful situation, but with practice and effort, you’ll eventually make progress.
Let The Meadowglade be the first step on the road to recovery as you develop healthy coping mechanisms for your mental health issues or eating disorder. Our dedicated team of therapists work with you to get you back to where you want to be when it comes to having a healthy, healing relationship with your body and mind. Contact us today for more information about how our facility can help you!