Cultivate Healthier Coping
Coping is natural and essential. It’s how we attempt to stay balanced in the face of stress, and it takes many forms: exercise, eating, drinking, listening to music, talking to friends or family.
But some turn to more extreme forms of coping, like self-harm or heavy drug or alcohol use.
As the final month in a stretch of heightened drinking, March in particular is a time when many turn to alcohol to cope with anxiety, depression, or shame.
Heavy drinking and other extreme coping techniques may feel more tolerable than the strong emotional states that stress us out. In this way, heavy drinking is an attempt to address or alleviate such states.
In other words, it’s how some of us choose to cope.
But while extreme coping behaviors may seem to temporarily alleviate such emotional states, they don’t actually help us heal.
Drinking to excess isn’t healing because it doesn’t positively desensitize the pain of stress or difficult emotions, and it is more related to coping with anxiety that you may think.
So how do we get a handle on coping?
Awareness and acceptance are the keys to coping more effectively and more healthily.
Becoming more aware of how and why you cope helps reduce the need for extreme forms of coping. For example, if you drink to dampen your anxiety, depression, or shame but recognize that this how you cope, then you at least know why you’re drinking.
Next time you feel an extreme emotional state coming on, try taking a deep breath—or three.
And if you can accept your emotions and your desire to drink to cope, you can then ask yourself more clearly and calmly: “Is that really how I want to cope with my anxiety, depression, or shame? Will this help me heal?”
With some clarity, the answer will usually be no. And that clarity can lead to cultivating healthier coping techniques with additional support.
Schuyler Cunningham, LICSW
Washington, DC Center for Neurocognitive Excellence LLC