Often when life feels overwhelming and when depression feels quite heavy to bear, people tend to turn to certain habits in order to cope with anxiety and depression. Some choose to sleep, some meditate, and some isolate themselves from the world for hours and even days. These are all coping mechanisms.
It is important to seek professional help when dealing with mental health issues, but how do you cope, when you can't get in touch with a therapist? We spoke to psychologist, Sian Green about how the right coping mechanisms can help you.
According to Sian, "coping mechanisms or techniques are ways or strategies people use to manage stress, stressful situations, trauma or another form of psychological distress. Often these are to cope with the overwhelming emotions such as anxiety, low mood, rejection, self-esteem, paranoia and so forth. Coping mechanisms are behaviours or thoughts that aim to provide relief from the distress."
While there are a number of ways to deal with anxiety and depression, the coping mechanisms we choose aren't always helpful or beneficial in the long run.
Sian explains that harmful coping strategies involve using a behaviour or thought to avoid your emotions. "Generally, the relief is only temporary and thus the distress or issue left unresolved - these are short term relief," she says. Examples of unhelpful coping strategies include avoiding the problem entirely, smoking, binge eating or drinking, compulsive spending, sleeping all day, and withdrawing and isolating oneself.
This is much like merely covering a wound instead of cleaning it first - the relief is temporary but not effective. "Less helpful or harmful techniques bring immediate relief but simultaneously exacerbate problems in the longer term," Sian says.
On the other hand, the coping techniques that allow you to understand what you are going through and to deal with it without avoiding what you're feeling are the ones that are most beneficial to your mental health. The healthiest and most effective coping techniques, as Sian explains, require you to be vulnerable and courageous in finding more effective ways to resolve the difficulty.
Sian suggests these few techniques you can use to cope with mental health issues:
- Relaxation exercises such as breathing, progressive muscle relaxation, meditation, guided imagery are helpful for coping with anxiety.
- Exercising can help lighten up your mood, in addition to the other benefits of it.
- Practicing self-care when you're feeling low ensures that you are not worsening the problem by neglecting your well-being. Exercising, doing what you love, and making your well-being a priority are all ways that you can practice self-care. Read more about it here.
- Talking about the distress within a safe space or non-judgemental relationship allows you to express what you feel instead of ignoring or suppressing it.
- Learning the art of saying "no" and of identifying and expressing your needs is helpful, especially when your anxiety stems from your taking on more than you can handle.
Seeking professional help should always be a priority when trying to resolve mental health issues, and speaking to a therapist may help you find more effective ways to cope with anxiety and depression in your every day life.
A few people share their coping techniques with us:
Watch: Things to remember when your life is falling apart
If you feel overwhelmed by depression or anxiety, contact the South African Depression and Anxiety group on 0800 12 13 14.
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