3 Unhealthy Emotional Coping Mechanisms



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Carl Thomas

Pastor | Live Free Founder | Lover of Jesus, Philly sports, fitness, tattoos, sarcasm, and craft beers.

Experiencing emotional discomfort or feeling “unsafe” is an inescapable aspect of life.

Every day, we encounter diverse emotions that leave our minds in a state of unease. And while it is healthy to confront and process these emotions, many people find it challenging to face them head-on. 

Consequently, they resort to various coping mechanisms to flee from emotional that can lead to disastrous consequences. Recognizing these coping mechanisms in advance can enable one to proactively identify these inclinations and develop healthier approaches to managing their emotions.

Substance Abuse: 

One very common method people use to escape emotional discomfort is turning to substances such as alcohol, drugs, or even sex. These “substances” can provide a temporary numbing effect while increasing pleasure-inducing dopamine levels, making it easier to ignore or suppress negative emotions all together. 

However, such relief is short-lived and often accompanied by detrimental consequences.

Studies have linked substance abuse to an increased risk of developing mental health disorders, including anxiety and depression. Additionally, the use of substances as a means to deal with emotional distress can rapidly lead to addiction, further complicating the process of confronting and resolving the root causes.

According to a study published in the Journal of Substance Abuse Treatment, people who relied on substances to deal with emotional stress experienced much worse mental and physical health results than those who adopted healthier coping strategies.


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Avoidant Behavior:

Another common mechanism for escaping emotional discomfort is engaging in avoidant behaviors. These behaviors can take various forms, including isolating oneself, procrastinating, or withdrawing from activities that would typically bring happiness and fulfillment.

Like substance use/abuse, avoidant behaviors also provide a sense of short-term relief from emotional discomfort by creating distractions and keeping individuals preoccupied. However, this approach ultimately will lead to a sense of isolation, decreased productivity, and a worsening of emotional well-being.

In fact, according to a study published in the Journal of Social and Clinical Psychology, employing avoidant coping strategies has been linked to elevated levels of stress and anxiety, resulting in a diminished capacity to effectively handle difficult emotions, perpetuating feelings of helplessness and exacerbating psychological distress.

Excessive Screen Time and Technology Use:

In today’s digital age, excessive screen time and technology use have become prevalent coping mechanisms for escaping emotional discomfort. Whether it be through the endless scrolling of social media feeds, online gaming, or binge-watching television shows, people often turn to technology as a method for distracting themselves from unpleasant emotions.

Although utilizing digital platforms and devices can serve as a valuable means of unwinding, too much aimless screen time can result in emotional detachment and an unhealthy dependence on virtual encounters. This digital escape can prevent individuals from effectively processing their emotions and finding meaningful connections in real life.

Worth noting it can also lead to other behaviors such as online pornography use, chat rooms, and the like.

Recognize that emotional discomfort is a natural part of life, and it is essential to acknowledge and address our feelings rather than escape from them. Coping mechanisms like substance use/abuse, avoidant behavior, and excessive screen time may provide temporary relief, but they lead to detrimental consequences.

Instead of fleeing from emotional discomfort, we must cultivate healthier coping mechanisms. Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and journaling, can help us become more attuned to our emotions and promote emotional processing. Seeking professional help from therapists or counselors can also provide valuable support in navigating challenging emotions.

By familiarizing ourselves with these typical coping mechanisms and the possible repercussions they may have, we can initiate the first stages of developing resilience, enhancing our emotional intelligence, and liberating ourselves from these maladaptive behaviors.

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Khantzian, E. J. (1997). The self-medication hypothesis of substance use disorders: A reconsideration and recent applications. Harvard Review of Psychiatry, 4(5), 231-244.

Kassel, J. D., Stroud, L. R., & Paronis, C. A. (2003). Smoking, stress, and negative affect: Correlation, causation, and context across stages of smoking. Psychological Bulletin, 129(2), 270-304.

Brosschot, J. F., Gerin, W., & Thayer, J. F. (2006). The perseverative cognition hypothesis: A review of worry, prolonged stress-related physiological activation, and health. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 60(2), 113-124.

Twenge, J. M., Joiner, T. E., Rogers, M. L., & Martin, G. N. (2018). Increases in depressive symptoms, suicide-related outcomes, and suicide rates among U.S. adolescents after 2010 and links to increased new media screen time. Clinical Psychological Science, 6(1), 3-17.


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