Emotional Wellbeing

Mental Health

Mandy Kloppers

Unhelpful coping strategies

Have you ever thought about whether you have unhelpful coping strategies? The evidence shows that we all have some type of unhelpful coping strategy. we use coping strategies to help us feel less threatened by people and the world around us. So what exactly are coping strategies?

Types of common unhelpful coping strategies


This is a very common coping strategy. This is when someone does not even acknowledge that a problem exists. If we don’t accept that there is a problem, we don’t have to go about dealing with it. Denial is one of the most common forms of coping strategies but the problem with denial is that the person never grows or repairs what is wrong. Perhaps they are an alcoholic or they have suppressed emotions for years and this has manifested in others ways – such as inner anger. They may find that they are losing friends or that life and others in it seem more hostile. Instead of looking outwards AS WELL AS inwards at themselves, they blame everything around them. A healthy assessment of a problem involves a comprehensive approach. Sure, there may be external factors contributing the problem but there will undoubtedly be internal factors that the person is bringing to the situation. Living in a bubble of denial with only reinforce the problem and allow it to ‘snowball’ over time.


I know I use this one. I procrastinate or delay things that make me fearful. I ama ware of this tendency though so I do try to push myself out of my comfort zone regularly. It’s important to approach rather than avoid. Often the thoughts we have in our minds are far worse than what would happen if we approached. Instead we give in to the fearful thinking and avoid the feared person/situation at all costs. Doing this effectively strips us of the opportunity to ‘reality test’ our thinking – big mistake. Try life out more – it’s not half as scary as our minds/thoughts tell us it will be.

Judgement of others

We take the heat off ourselves when we judge others. We also tend to be quite hypocritical in our judgements in that we judge others more harshly and let ourselves off the hook for similar behaviour. Being very judgemental is a way that we compensate for our own feelings of lack, loss or inadequacy. People who are in denial are often found to be judgemental as well. For some reason these two coping strategies often go hand in hand.

If you are insightful enough to realise that you are judgemental of others, ask yourself why this is so. What does it help you to achieve by doing this? often, clients tell me it helps them to feel better about themselves. When we look at why they need to feel better about themselves we begin to uncover areas that they find difficult to deal with. It could be something that happened in their past that they have not fully resolved and judging others helps them to self soothe and feel comfort. This comfort is only temporary however and often, those who are judgemental (and often stressed and bitter as a result) need to see a counsellor to really get to the bottom of their dissatisfaction with themselves and their lives.


It’s easy to see why many would turn to distraction as a way to cope with unpleasant emotions. It’s an easy way to receive a dopamine hit (such as with illicit sex, gambling, etc) quickly and can become a favoured way to self soothe. Again, the problem with this strategy is that it is short lived and temporary and the underlying problem will still exist long after the dopamine hit has disappeared. Distraction can work but only when a person acknowledges the underlying problem, has dealt with it and then goes about distracting themselves.

For example, with some of my clients, they are incredibly anxious and at times distraction is a good thing. But the acknowledgement and self awareness needs to kick in first. It could involve some type of self talk such as, “I realise I am stressed right now. it is just my old brain believing I am in danger but there is no immediate danger, I am just worrying unnecessarily.” Once this acknowledgment has taken place it might then be a good thing for someone to paint or watch a funny movie instead of living inside their tortured mind for another few hours.

The type of distraction I am referring to here is complete distraction where a person desperately attempts not to think or feel anything unpleasant.In this situation, the unpleasant feelings will always return. In the previous example, repetition of the acknowledgement of what is going on and then the distraction can teach a person to ‘extinguish’ that anxiety trigger for good over time.

Healthy coping strategies involve behaviours that help us by providing further insight into the issue and then dealing with the issue in an effective and productive way.

Healthy coping strategies:


Being present in the moment. Using all five senses to stay present and focused rather than living in our minds where there are scary thoughts at play.


Accepting that life is full of challenges and that injustice exists can help us to find more effective strategies to cope. It’s when we resist ‘what is’ that we run into problems.


Talking about our thoughts and feelings in an open minded and non judgemental way can be increduly soothing and comforting. If you don’t have someone close that you can talk, find a good counsellor. We all need a positive place to let go of our inner woes.

Self compassion

Learning to love ourselves by finding positive, non-seof critical ways to deal with the not-so-good and congratulating ourselves on the good can lead us to a balanced life where we go forth from a strong solid inner foundation. Self knowledge is key to a life where peace of mind exists abundantly. Leanring to understand and love yourself can make all the difference.

A sense of humour

Being able to laugh at yourself and life is a positive quality that helps people feel mentally stronger. It is a clever way to detach and maintain perspective as well.

Get to know yourself and start to be more aware of how you cope with stress and unpleasant experiences in your life. Do you pick them apart and try to do better or do you just blame everyone around and thereby repeating the same old bad behaviour? Be in tune, there are many clues pointing you in the right direction, you just need to be more aware of their existence.

Mandy X