This year has been incredibly stressful. Between COVID19, BLM movement, political unrest, racially police killings, salary losses due to budget cuts, and so much more; we find ourselves trying to cope with trauma, stress, and manage our relationships in unique ways. We do the best we can, while trying to stay strong for ourselves and our family – in isolation. Social distancing aka isolation has been challenging for those who desire in person connections. In addition to the new challenges of the pandemic in 2020, the burden of stressors have increased exponentially. Thus, we look for ways to manage our stress which we think will make us feel better; and it does momentarily. We engage in these coping mechanisms to achieve the desired effects of self-soothing. Some common ways of unhealthy self-soothing include:
- Spending money incessantly. Raise your hand if you have been engaging in more retail therapy to deal with stress. Has Amazon or online shopping in general has become your new best friend? There is something about clicking a button and having something brand new delivered to your house the very next day that is gratifying.
- Substance abuse. In order to escape the emotional turmoil or relax after a long day, we may come to pour several glasses of wine or perhaps even smoking marijuana. Drugs and alcohol allow us to emotionally escape and feel numb, if even only for a little while. Before you know it, what was once an occasional indulgence turns into an everyday ritual.
- Emotional eating or abstaining from eating. Food is easily accessible and affordable in most cases. We use food to comfort us when feeling distressed. Feeling upset – eat ice-cream, feeling stressed out after a long day at work – order pizza. We often turn to carb and sugars to make us calm down, relax, or just to feel good in general. On the other hand, there are those who stress out so much that they stop eating altogether. Stress has exacerbated them so much mentally that they physically lose the desire to nourish their bodies.
- Spending excessive time at work. On the surface, spending a lot of time at work can appear to be a good thing. You feel like you are overachieving, staying productive, and dedicated to getting your job done. By digging a little deeper, one can see that spending copious amounts of time at work is a defense mechanism where one may be attempting to avoid problems at home. Spending time at work becomes a welcome escape to not have to deal with issues at home.
- Using Band-Aid tactics to fix relationship problems. Instead of addressing relationship problems with our significant others or family members, we use other things to move on past the situation quickly. Some examples include: buying material things, having a baby, taking a trip, relocating, or renewing vows just to name a few things. These things by themselves do not cause issues, however many people embark on these endeavors with the idea that this wonderful thing will fix all of the problems in the relationship.
- Avoidance of conflict. Sometimes we may avoid conflict or having to deal with a difference of opinion. The way that we do this is by ghosting people or avoiding our obligations to them. With respect to ghosting, in this context, it does not reference toxic people that need to be cut off; but more of the people who avoid coming home after work, who avoid talking to their children or significant others just because they don’t want to hear their problems, problems in the relationship, or deal with the stress of someone else in general.
- Projecting blame onto others. To avoid dealing with our own issues within our lives, we take it out on the person that is closest to us. We may be a little more edgy, irritable, or pick irrelevant fights with the ones that we love, simply because they are there.
- Depending on others to fix responsibilities. We avoid our responsibilities altogether because we are so checked out or overwhelmed. We procrastinate and put things off. We may look to our significant others or someone close to us to fix it for us, thereby creating a relationship that is codependent.
- Self-harm. When someone has difficulty coping with emotions, sometimes they feel better through engaging in activity that physically help them to release pain. Self-harm can come in may forms such as hitting, burning, cutting, scratching yourself.
- Sex. Sex can be a release. It can come in many forms from masturbation, pornography, hooking up with strangers and various other things that we do to quell anxious energy and fulfill the needs of instant gratification.
- Gambling. Gambling is another impulsive activity that is easily addictive and can cause you to get caught up in instant gratification – that is until you lose. Some people who engage in gambling are so caught up in the high of winning or winning potential, that they find it difficult to stop and face reality.
- Refusing to be proactive in problem-solving and leaving it up to a higher power or chance to fix issues. There are those that choose to leave problem-solving to luck, God, prayers, or karma. You’ve probably heard some of these before “give it to God, he will take care of it” or “all we can do is pray about it” or even “karma is a bitch.” While not disregarding the power of a higher being or beliefs about chances in life; there is a dismissiveness about sitting back and not being proactive about problem-solving. Sometimes life requires more than just prayer or karma, and let’s not forget – if you believe in God or some other higher power; there are tools that are placed in your life to help you be more proactive in dealing with things in life.
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This blog was written by Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC. This blog is meant to be educational and not meant to diagnose anyone or to be used in place of therapy or treatment with a licensed mental health professional.
© 2021 Dr. Natalie Jones, PsyD, LPCC
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