We are complex creatures. Personalities, idiosyncrasies, habits, and behaviors are just some of the complicated traits that make us who we are. Various factors play a role in shaping who we become: upbringing, family dynamics and relationships, cultural influences, and personal experiences just to name a few. We all have different ways of coping with all that life throws at us. Some of these coping mechanisms may be perfectly normal and healthy. However, some may actually be both unhealthy and ineffective and are also known as maladaptive coping methods. Regardless, recognizing some of these coping mechanisms may indicate that there is a bigger problem beneath the surface. Here is a list of some popular coping mechanisms, both healthy and unhealthy:

Ever known someone who always maintains an unconquerable sense of humor? Some may employ humor as a tactic when dealing with small problems. While it’s wise counsel to always see the humor or bright side, there are just some problems that can’t be solved by finding the humor. But generally speaking, humor can be an effective coping mechanism.

For some, stressful situations may cause immediate action. This coping mechanism is often quite effective, because it motivates and encourages action. These types of people see resolution of the problem as the only way to eliminate the stress. It’s not difficult to see that this behavior frequently results in the elimination of the stress. This coping device is also very useful in the workplace.

Acting Out
There are those who simply cannot deal with the stresses in their lives, and they use these stresses as an excuse to act out irrationally or by misbehaving. These types of people use their misbehavior as a form of expression, since they cannot verbally and calmly communicate their feelings. This behavior may also include diverting attention to someone or something else in order to avoid the real problem.

Sometimes, acting out can provoke self-injury. Children often throw temper tantrums when they do not get what they want; this is their way of releasing built-up pressure and frustration which can lead to a calmer mood. However, this behavior in adults is typically a sign that something else is wrong. Acting out can result in self-harm and harm to others, both emotionally and physically.

This is one of the more common coping mechanisms that can be found in a variety of people. When stressful situations arise, some may avoid the problem altogether. Instead of tackling the problem through healthy problem-solving methods, some may use distractions like work, alcohol, drugs, or excessive sleeping as a way to avoid facing reality. Procrastination is also closely related to denial.

In other cases, a stressful event or situation may cause one to revert back to earlier developmental behaviors. A common example is an older child or teenager who regresses back to wetting the bed after years of being potty-trained. The inability to face current stresses or fears has caused the child to regress in development. This behavior can also be found in adults who regress to a catatonic state because they are unable to face their problems.

Physical Activity
There are many who use the gym, sports, the outdoors, or any physical activity as a way of calming their nerves. In truth, this could end up being a distraction if the person is really in denial or postponing the inevitable. However, more often than not, physical activity may be the best way for these individuals to calm down, granting them the ability to approach the problem with more ease and resolve.

There are potentially hundreds of coping mechanisms that different people employ. Some are more emotional than others, but all are used as ways to deal with stressful situations. It may not be difficult to see that some of those mentioned above may not be the most healthy. If someone you care for is in denial, has regressed in development, or often acts out irrationally, they could be attempting to cover or larger problem. With professional help, they could learn healthier ways of coping, leading them to live happier, more fulfilling lives.

Dr. Anthony Termine
New York City Psychiatrist