If you are struggling with an addiction (of any variety), it may well be that you have not yet fully developed the coping strategies that provide a way to handle various stressful situations. Certainly everyone handles loss and stress differently – and this way of doing things is known as their coping style.

If you are falling apart and screaming because you can’t find your keys in the morning, chances are that you have not been employing effective coping strategies in your life to keep you and your life balanced. Then, when (not if) a true life changing loss occurs such as loss of a loved one, loss of a job, or some other type of extreme loss, because you have not recognized your coping strategies and have not worked on your own personal form of effective coping strategy, not only you, but everyone around you will have to pay for this loss or situation, too. This personal and individual way of responding to traumatic change and psychological stress plays a significant role in the responses that can be expected in terms of whether a person will turn to addiction or if they will use other emotions, behaviors, and thoughts to adjust to that change.

Here are a few of the various coping styles that you may be using to handle both negative and positive changes in your life – some of which are more effective than others – and some coping styles are less helpful to yourself and others and are deemed as maladaptive coping strategies. These types of coping are counterproductive and may lead you down the path to addiction, but we will deal with the positive and effective coping strategies first.

Effective Coping Strategies

Here are a few coping strategies that often prove effective:

  • Humor is used to look at the positive and amusing aspects of a problem, even a huge problem. Being humorous is beneficial in dealing with those things where you feel like you have failed to some degree. “Oops, my bad,” will often take care of it. In this short sentence, you have owned up to “it” and then you can move on. In every truly terrible situation you will be able to see an irony or something humorous. However, if you are in the company of individuals who would not really appreciate this great humorous thought of yours, especially if it’s one of the “shame-ers,” there is nothing wrong with enjoying that thought you are keeping to yourself.
  • Outreach for emotional support from friends or loved ones as well as direct requests for help from your circle is an effective way to handle stress and loss. If you don’t have a “circle” this may be the time you need to start building it. Let people in. The likelihood of an employing an effective coping strategy in a time of loss is less likely if you haven’t set up your “circle.” Start now. Reach out to a family member, an old friend you lost touch with, someone at work – anyone. Reach out now while you are still okay. Or, if you are not okay right now – reach out anyway. Outreach often involves talking, sharing, and getting advice from others that maintain your emotional health. It is easier to maintain your emotional health now than to try and get your balance back after the stressful event has ended.
  • Relaxation is a good way to cope because it helps keep you calm and provides a way to reflect and meditate on the stress and problems you are facing. Have you set up ways to help yourself relax? Do you even know how to relax? Sitting down to a great night of relaxing – while working on your computer in front of the T.V. doesn’t count. Find out what helps you. Find that out now. Does a long hot bath help you relax? Would bubbles and candles help you relax in that bath? If the bubbles and candles help you in that bath, then you best have them on hand when your personal hurricane hits, because when your personal sadness hits – you won’t go to the store and get those things for yourself. Whatever you need, prepare for that now, and know what actions you can take to relax. In terms of loss, relaxation can also help you focus on the positive memories you may have of a person or situation.
  • Problem solving is a proactive coping mechanism because it involves getting to the heart of the problem and finding solutions. This coping strategy can also be applied to a loss because it can help you look for ways to move beyond the sense of loss and come to terms with it. A problem solving “things to do” list may help.
  • Exercise and physical activity has been found to regulate a body’s hormonal circuitry, helping to curb emotional issues that may result from loss or stress. This can involve everything from running, cycling, and swimming to yoga and massage. We all know that exercise and physical activity is very beneficial – so why don’t we do it? Okay, we don’t, however, in a crises, if you haven’t been exercising – it doesn’t matter – just go for a walk. People arguing, go for a walk. Too much sadness, go for a walk. Need to think, go for a walk. Can’t deal with this, it’s too hard – go for a walk.

Maladaptive Coping Strategies

On the other end of coping strategies, there are those reactions that are not necessarily effective:

  • While venting can be somewhat beneficial in small doses, it should not be the only way of dealing with stress or loss. This is because venting tends to fixate on the negative aspects of a problem and can even stop you in progressing toward a solution. Too much dwelling on the negative can inhibit any positive thoughts and approaches from getting through. Find the right person to vent to. Again, better set up your “griping” buddy ahead of time. Possibly make a deal with this person. “I’ll listen to you gripe and you listen to me gripe.” If this venting system is not set up ahead of time, you will vent to everyone you see, and that will have the less helpful – yes – maladaptive consequence of leaving you alone with no one there to hear you. Vent. Get it out. (You can do this alone for yourself, too.) Then, begin building the situation with speaking of the positive, and problem solve in the positive. Don’t leave yourself on the bottom rung still venting.
  • Denial is one of the most common maladaptive coping strategies and is most often linked with behaviors like overworking, substance abuse, and addiction as means of distracting you from actually dealing with how you feel or the change that’s in progress. Sometimes denial is all you can do. In a terrible loss situation, where it will never be okay or will never be fixed, you may need to take the “real” in small doses. One effective copying strategy you can begin is to say, “I will feel real, (and scream and cry covering my mouth in a towel in the bathroom or into my clothes in the bedroom), for 10 minutes everyday. When the ten minute timer rings, you stop and go back to denial. With this strategy you can lengthen the time of mourning about every week or two (or whatever time it takes you). Finally, you will get to a time when you go to set the timer – you say, “25 minutes, are you kidding me, I’m not wasting that much time on this!” If you are not denying anymore, then at this point you are ready to start reducing the time you spend (mourning?), and you have began to leave denial behind. You finally realize, de-Nile is a river in Egypt.
  • The last maladaptive coping strategy is self-blame, which leads you to internalize the issue and place responsibility for the change or problem on yourself. The result can be low self-esteem (to say it lightly), depression (duh), and possibly addiction. This type of coping does not deal with the real problem nor does it proactively address the behaviors you will do and the emotions you will feel, and generally speaking you will not really understand what is needed to help you change. Self-blame seems to be a lifelong issue that you have to “fight” through – and keep fighting it. Self-blame turns into all the “stuff” that makes the rest of life tough to deal with. Self-blame often seems to turn into self-harm, because you don’t care for yourself, you don’t take care of yourself. You don’t eat right, sleep right, or exercise. You don’t socialize, talk, buy yourself a new outfit or get a massage. Why? Because you feel unworthy of being cared for, so you don’t do it for yourself. Self-blame seems to make a person feel guilty, out of place and unwanted. Self-blame is the maladaptive coping strategy that is – well – maladaptive, meaning it does not adapt. It will not translate into adaptive. You will probably need to reach out and get help. Only you can do this for yourself – and (explitive) it takes action, which is a little harder for the low self-esteemers. But, that action can be done.

Recognizing How You Handle Loss

Recognizing which coping style you use most and how its effectiveness is working for you is a way to help you understand how you handle loss – and what behaviors you might need to employ when you have those sticky parts of life appear – the ones that you will have to deal with. This understanding can help you seek out help prior to having serious problems in other areas of your life. A health care professional can guide you through any medications you may need in times of extreme distress. Don’t medicate yourself – that’s how you can become substance addicted. You may need to have assistance with your rehabilitation and recovery if you have already been helping yourself out with harsh chemicals, substances, alcohol, and so forth. There is no shame in seeking help so that you can have the understanding of how to make the necessary changes to cope more effectively now, and then learning how to deal with your future changes in life.

Once you determine your coping strategy, you may need to adjust what actions you take or you may need to learn to deal with any of the resulting behaviors and thoughts you’ve been using in your personal mechanism of coping which you don’t want to use anymore. Rather than brood and internalize, it’s best to approach coping with an outward facing, proactive strategy that involves analyzing the situation, working through the problem, applying what you are learning, and leaning on others you can count on for support.

There will be situations in life that may require more effort to cope with than others. Again, you may need to seek out professional assistance to help you work through the loss or problem you are facing.


Gloria Horsley

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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