10 Healthy Coping Mechanisms you can use when life gets tough
Life can throw so many unexpected events at us sometimes.
How do you manage when your life gets tough?
For me, personally, I’m going through one of the most challenging times right now, and I’ve been experimenting with how I can cope with difficult times in healthy ways.
If you are going through these situations like me, maybe you can try my 10 healthy coping mechanism ideas I will share with you later in this article.
- There are too many things to do
- You have uncertainty
- You have something to worry about
- You feel like things are out of your control
- You feel like you have no time to rest
Do any of those situations resonate with you?
Do you want to feel a bit lighter and breathe again??
Alright, let’s take a look at WHY it’s important for you to have healthy coping mechanisms for your health!
Reasons to have coping mechanisms when things are hard
A coping mechanism is a term we hear very often, but what exactly does that mean?
According to Good therapy, coping mechanism means:
“the strategies people often use in the face of stress and/or trauma to help manage painful or difficult emotions. Coping mechanisms can help people adjust to stressful events while helping them maintain their emotional well-being.”
So how exactly can coping mechanisms can be useful for our health?
Madison Visintainer, Ph.D. can prove the point with the experiment she conducted.
She divided rats into three groups and all the rats were implanted with cancer cells.
- First rat group was given an escapable shock and they learned how to avoid the situation
- Second rat group was given an unescapable shock and they became helpless
- Third group was not given shock at all
Can you guess what happened to those poor rats? 🐭
- 70% of the rats in the first group fought back against the tumor while the others died
- 27% of the rats in the second group fought back against the tumor
- 50% of the rats in the third group fought back the tumor
So what does this experiment teach us?
Well, by knowing how we can cope with tough situations, we could become sick or healthy!
We may often think, “I want NO stress in my life!”
However, having challenges in life may not be bad at all.
Like this experiment showed us the rat group which learned how to cope with the challenging situation had a higher chance to beat the tumor than the rat group which had no shock at all.
So we can should start seeing life challenges as a chance to cope with stressors in a better way next time!
Are you ready to see the 10 healthy coping techniques?
Don’t worry, I am not going to teach you something complicated. These are going to be something simple but powerful so that you can start reacting to stressors mindfully.
So let’s take a look!
10 healthy coping techniques
Meditation can be a very very strong tool when your life gets tough.
Because you will start being more aware of your emotions or what’s happening in your life!
In fact, Harvard research shows practicing mindfulness can increase the density of the hippocampus in your brain which is considered to be important for compassion and self-awareness.
Believe it or not, I was often very anxious and angry before I started practicing meditation. Because I was not AWARE of what was triggering my anxiety or anger!!
So what happened to me after I made meditation a daily habit?
Now I can recognize when things are too much and it was very hard for me to notice it before!
But how you can incorporate meditation in your busy life? – Don’t worry! It can be as short as one to three minutes.
If you want to change your relationship with life challenges, maybe you can start meditating three minutes a day and start exercising your awareness muscle!
I’m telling you, recognizing the “busyness” will become your treasure, and then you can think about what you can do with it!
When there are too many things to do, we feel like “there is no time to rest!“. However, if things are too hard for you, you need to slow down a bit and have some time for yourself.
So how do you do that?
You prioritize your tasks.
You may feel like each task is so important and you need to get them done today, but some tasks may not be!
Do you want to know how you can sort out your tasks so that you can have some downtime even when things are piling up?
It’s simple. Here is what you can do.
- Prepare a piece of paper and a pen.
- Write down all the tasks you need to get done today or this week (both work and personal tasks).
- Take one big breath and then categorize your tasks by “Most important”, “Relatively important”, and “maybe later is ok”.
- If there is something you can do later, you don’t need to do it today! If there is absolutely nothing you can do later, see if you can ask for help from your friends and family. You could also consider hiring someone too!
When things are too much and you feel like you are going to have a breakdown, it’s helpful to choose what you TRULY need to do today and this week. You may feel guilty not getting done everything you planned, but it’s OK!
For me, I always think this way.
Maybe it’s ideal if I can deal with everything as I planned, but if I have a nervous breakdown by pushing through all the plans, it takes time for me to recover from my breakdown.
It may feel unproductive to slow down sometimes but it’s actually more productive after all!
3. You deserve rest without feeling guilty
Have you ever been so overwhelmed that you convince yourself you have no time for rest?
Do you feel guilty taking a break, even though you feel you need one?
How can you let go of that guilt?
Well, by understanding that resting is more productive than not resting!
This study outlines how taking a break from a problem has been proven to reset your brain and allow you to continue to be more productive when you return. You will avoid burnout, get more work done, and most importantly, NOT feel like garbage at the end of the day.
I’ve been using time management software while I work to make sure I take breaks and be more productive. The key to this is scheduling your breaks because if you’re scheduling your breaks, it doesn’t feel like you’re being lazy, it feels like you’re following the optimal plan.
So, don’t feel guilty when your mind tells you you need a break!
You need it!
Everyone experiences this from time to time, so it’s really important to remember that plowing through while you feel mentally exhausted is a bad strategy for productivity.
4. Stop being perfect
If you are like me, you may be sometimes disappointed in yourself for not being able to get everything done.
Curious about how to go through everything whilst not feeling like you’re being choked?
One thing I learned from my recent crazy schedule is not making a detailed schedule for each day. Rather list things you want to get done for the week and try to finish throughout the week.
Also, I’ve been practicing not being too harsh on myself when I couldn’t get done everything I wanted. It’s quite OK not being able to finish everything you planned.
Do you still feel bad not getting done everything? – This is when “Prioritizing” comes into play! Unless you prioritize and let go of something, you will be stretched too thin, and could have a massive meltdown sooner or later!
It may be hard for you to be kind to yourself when things are difficult. – So what can you do about it?
Maybe you can practice this 5-minute compassion meditation to water your kindness? Take a short break and get back to whatever you were doing before meditation 🙂
5. Stretch your body
Did you experience shoulder pain or back pain when you are stressed?
It’s because when you are stressed, your body tries to protect you from injury and pain, so that’s why you feel strain or pain in your body.
I often find myself feeling more grumpy if I ignore the pain in my body, so I try to make sure that I stretch and not let the pain sit there.
No time to stretch 30 minutes at the end of the day? No worries!
It’s more effective if you stretch here are and there throughout the day and keep the blood flow going.
My favorite way is to use a mobility stretch app called GOWOD. The stretches on the app are effective and short, and more importantly, it customizes stretches just for me!
I also recommend ASkDoctorJoe’s Youtube channel if you are looking for a free option!
She is a physical therapist and she has tons of videos for you depending on the symptoms you are having trouble with!
If the pain in your body is constant or too strong, you can also consider going to physical therapy or physiotherapy. I personally go to physical therapy every two weeks to balance my body condition!
6. Rely on your support system
Your friends and family are there to help you, so let them!
Even if it just means evening about your problems for a few minutes over the phone, you’ll feel better after making that call.
I used to think I could only rely on myself, but I gradually started to realize that it’s so much better to let others help me.
Research has shown that having a social support system has an overall positive impact on your mental health, especially for women, older adults, patients, workers, and students.
So basically, everyone!
During my toughest times, it has been so so so valuable to have friends and family to go to for advice or just a sympathetic ear.
It takes a lot to carry your problems around on your shoulders yourself, so remember that you don’t have to.
You aren’t alone, so allowing yourself to receive support from those around you will make everything MUCH easier.
If you don’t feel comfortable talking to your friends about some problems, check out this post for my experience with affordable online therapy.
My therapist has been an AMAZING resource during stressful times in my life.
7. Schedule self-care time
We all know self-care is important especially when things get tough, right?
If you are like me, you may decide to do something good for yourself when you get up, but by the end of the day, your self-care time is taken up with other tasks, and you may not have the energy to take care of yourself.
So how can you set aside some time for self-care when you feel like you can’t afford the time to stop and breathe?
Well, you can schedule time for self-care. Remember, you don’t want to treat self-care time as something to get done ✅
You want to be excited about your self-care time and use it as fuel for the day!
So when is the best time to schedule self-care?
It depends on when you have the time, but I would recommend the morning! – Why is that?
Because I found myself not sparing time for self-care if I planned to do it later on in the day! My go-to self-care is 10-20 minutes pilates, or short meditation, or 10 minutes yoga! (Check out this article if you’d like to learn more about self-care!)
So try to block some time on your calendar or your phone (doesn’t need to be an hour-long!) in the morning for self-care!
8. Find joy in difficult times
When things are difficult we all tend to see things negatively. But we don’t necessarily need to feel bad all day.
So how can feeling joy can help you during stressful times and HOW you can actually feel joy in your daily life??
Let me explain why you want joy on your side.
As you already may or may not know, stress (especially chronic stress) can cause many problems including chronic pain in your body, heart problems, bowel disruption, weakened immune system, and weight gain.
Having joyful moments in your daily life can help you strengthen your:
- Immune system
- Heart (prevent heart disease)
- Release hormones to help optimize blood sugar level, metabolism, and memory
So how can you increase joy in the midst of a storm?
Well, I recommend you incorporate what you love spending time on! – Sounds simple?
When things are swirling around us and we are on autopilot, we tend to forget our coping mechanisms!
So how can you keep reminding yourself? I recommend you to write down what makes you feel good and pin it! wherever you can see! (Maybe in front of your work desk!)
If you are not sure what may bring joy to you, you can check out my complete guide to joy!
9. Remember What You’ve Learned From Difficult Times
So how can you get through a super difficult time? – The answer is you can remember the difficult time you already went through!
As Jon Kabat-Zinn says,
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”
When you are in a midst of the storm, you may feel like you just want to get out and not deal with it. However, as Jon says, you can’t stop the wave!
Are you interested in hearing my story?
When I was a university student I joined a fitness company as an intern. I was in charge of a new project that I eventually wanted to expand into my own company.
One day, out of the blue, they fired me. It felt unfair, cruel, and devastating. It was one of the most difficult and painful times in my life.
Now, when I experience hardships, I look back at that time and remember how I’ve grown and learned from that experience.
Life will never become easier, but you will become stronger and more resilient as you face challenges and learn from them. I truly feel like every day I’m a little bit stronger than I was the day before.
Can you think of any really difficult times in your life?
How has it made you stronger? You can always reflect and remember how much you’ve changed and learned from your most difficult experiences 🙂
10. Eat Foods High in Antioxidants
Did you know there are certain types of food that help you during a stressful time?
This study shows that a diet high in antioxidants can reduce your stress! Specifically, burnout-related stress. So, if you’re feeling like stress is becoming too much for you, antioxidants might be part of the solution.
So what foods are high in antioxidants?
Well, broccoli, spinach, carrots, potatoes, artichokes, cabbage, asparagus, avocados, beetroot, radish, lettuce, sweet potatoes, squash, pumpkin, collard greens, and kale are all high in antioxidants.
Adding these foods to your diet can decrease the load you put on your cells and give you more energy and less stress overall!
Personally, I feel less stress when I know I’m eating foods that will help me both mentally and physically, so when I’m going through a tough time I make sure to cook food at home so I know how I will feel and that I won’t have to deal with any consequences of heavy comfort foods.
There is another thing you could keep in mind.
This article from Harvard Health Publishing does a great job of summing up the effects that diet can have on the chemistry of your brain.
Essentially, if you eat processed food that is heavily refined, your body will react negatively and you will feel more stressed.
What does this mean?
It means your “comfort food” may actually be hurting your mental health!
Adversely, antioxidants are friendly to your brain chemistry because they put less stress on the digestive system. If you want to take care of your brain you should avoid processed foods and look for antioxidant-rich ones!
I hope you found my 10 tips useful! You don’t need to start all 10 tips at the same time, because being overwhelmed is the last thing you want when things are tough!
Pick one strategy you’d like to try this week and make it a habit!