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Recognizing Harmful vs. Beneficial Coping Mechanisms

healthy habits mental health stress Jun 19, 2023

Content warning: This post contains brief mentions of self-harm.

Written by Brianna Gutierrez, a 21 year old senior and Health Science Major at CSUCI.

There are many internal battles that individuals go through alone. While it is okay to try and figure out our way through the hardships that life throws at us on our own, we may subconsciously be creating harmful coping mechanisms. I would like to discuss what some of those harmful coping strategies may look like and introduce more productive ways to manage mental health battles such as stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Harmful coping mechanisms often provide temporary relief or fixes to our problems. As a first-generation college student in my family, school has definitely taken a toll on my mental health and caused a lot of stress and anxiety whether it's time-consuming assignments, endless nights studying for exams, or constantly fearing that my grades will drop. Some of the harmful coping mechanisms I have recognized that I use when I’m stressed include avoidance of my responsibilities. I am a big procrastinator, or I try to distract myself from completing tasks that I need to complete. This is an example of temporary relief to my stress because I give myself a small break in the meantime and I end up adding more pressure to myself and run the risk of making my outcome mediocre at best.

This is just one thing I do that feeds into my unhealthy coping skills when dealing with stress. Other harmful coping mechanisms to mental health struggles according to the Clear Recovery Center website may include:

  • Substance abuse
  • Toxic positivity
  • Self-harm

Substance abuse is one of the most common harmful coping mechanisms used to deal with mental health struggles that many people normally choose to resort to. This includes the use of alcohol and drugs that can lead to addiction and a number of physical health issues. You might think that alcohol helps you cope with stress or anxiety, but it's actually known to increase the symptoms of panic and anxiety disorders, depression, and other mental health issues. The same can be said for other drugs like marijuana or pills. These things might feel like they help you in the short term by distracting you from your stress and problems but when you sober up, your problems will still be there.

Toxic positivity is something that may be initially seen as a good thing because you are teaching yourself to only see the good in any given situation. However, this can be harmful to an extent because it may lead to false hopes and expectations or it may ultimately lead an individual to avoid feeling their negative emotions which is sometimes important for us to feel. 

Self-harm is extremely dangerous and can lead to serious health complications. Some ways to identify self-harm would be cutting, burning, starving, and hitting yourself. This act of harmful coping can also be psychologically harmful because it can become addicting. 

There are many alternative measures we can take when we are feeling stressed, anxious, and/or depressed that would be more effective in dealing with these emotions, not just in a temporary sense. While procrastination is a form of avoidance, it can be beneficial to step away from a stressful situation and allow yourself to reset and come back ready to work. To limit procrastination, we can create schedules which can balance out work and leisure time.

Talking to a counselor or therapist is another great way to validate your feelings and hear new ideas from an outside perspective on how to deal with these feelings and emotions. If you are not comfortable talking to a counselor, there are support groups or talking to close family and friends can also be quite helpful. Hobbies such as journaling, exercise, participating in sports, drawing, etc. can also be quite therapeutic and allow you to spend some time alone or with people who share similar interests. There are many ways we can deal with the stresses of life in a healthy way. It's important to recognize what we are doing to help ourselves cope and identify what is harmful and what is beneficial.

For more ideas and tips on creating healthy habits, visit Building Healthy Habits and Wellness Every Day.


  • Admin. (2023, January 11). Unhealthy coping mechanisms: Clear recovery center. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Treatment Los Angeles Clear Recovery Center. Retrieved April 28, 2023, from