You want to be a better person. You want to finally start taking care of yourself and stop with the destructive and unhealthy behaviors (coping skills) that make you feel great in the short-term, but crappy and guilty in the long-term.
Congratulations, you have made an important decision to focus on yourself.
The journey to creating healthier coping skills can be a roller coaster of events. It can be hard, especially if you are going in blind and you have no idea what you are doing.
But you’re smart. That’s why you’re here and trying to learn the best way to kick your old habits to the curb with yesterday’s trash.
You want to stop giving in to your temptations to binge-eat that carrot cake at 2AM, or checking your phone every single time you feel a twinge of boredom, anxiety, or emotional discomfort.
5 Reasons You Will Fail At Stopping Your Unhealthy Coping Skills
1. You Haven’t Found A Healthy Coping Skill To Replace It With
According to Charles Duhigg in The Power Of Habit, “a habit cannot be eradicated- it must, instead, be replaced.” Therefore, trying to just stop smoking or eating snacks late at night isn’t going to work.
You have to find something else to replace the unhealthy coping skill with that will give you the same feeling or effect. Think about how your unhealthy coping skills make you feel. Then, find a healthy coping skill that will give you a similar feeling.
For example, if an unhealthy coping skill you currently have is grabbing a beer whenever you are stressed out- how does that make you feel?
Relaxed? Refreshed? Distracted?
Then find something else (like drinking a flavored seltzer or venting to your partner) that you can do anytime you have the urge to drink a beer because of stress.
2. You Are Trying To Stop Too Suddenly
Unhealthy coping skills can start to become automatic. So automatic that you aren’t even consciously thinking about choosing to do them. And because of that, it can be difficult to stop them out of nowhere.
The best way to stop an unhealthy coping skill is by gradually decreasing it over time so you become less and less dependent on it to change your mood.
Let’s say you have a problem with getting sucked down the Instagram (or You-Tube) rabbit hole when you’re having trouble getting to sleep because you can’t stop overthinking.
Instead of completely cutting off that time at first (which will probably be really difficult), set a time limit on the app to lock you out after a specified amount of time.
Create a reminder to decrease the time by 2-5 minutes each week, and over time you won’t start to notice the difference as much.
3. You Haven’t Identified The Root Cause Or Trigger For The Unhealthy Coping Skill
This is a big one. Why are you even using this unhealthy coping skill to begin with?
What is your trigger?
This is when it helps to become more aware of your emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. Stress is a big trigger, but it could also be relationship conflict, avoidance of a difficult situation, fear, etc…
4. You Are Putting Too Much Pressure On Yourself
Nobody is perfect, and when you set standards for perfection you are always going to fail.
Be realistic with your expectations. It’s okay to let yourself enjoy indulging in your desires, and that’s not what stopping unhealthy coping skills is about.
The key to remember is that unhealthy coping skills are a means of avoidance, not a way to have fun. Identify how you feel afterwards– is it better or worse? Do you feel guilty or relaxed?
Use your emotions as clues (but not facts)!
5. You Haven’t Made The Unhealthy Coping Skill More Difficult
It might be hard to stop shopping whenever you feel like crap if you have an Amazon Prime membership, are subscribed to newsletters sending you tons of discounts daily, and make regular stops at the mall on your way home from work.
Accessibility is a huge reason why people fail to stop their unhealthy coping skills. It’s not that you don’t have the willpower- it’s that your willpower is usually extremely low in the moments when you are emotionally down.
It’s easier to make positive choices when you are in a good mood, and more difficult when you are in a bad mood.
Your willpower to choose positive coping skills is influenced by your mood, energy levels, and your mindset.
Leave less up to chance and make it harder to make unhealthy choices. If shopping for things you don’t really need is your vice: unsubscribe from those email newsletters with coupons, disable your Amazon Prime account, and take a different route home from work.
If binge-eating is your vice, then don’t buy junk food when you go food shopping. Get rid of it, give it to a friend, and buy healthier options!
Nobody Is Perfect
I cannot say this enough- nobody is perfect! So don’t beat yourself up for slipping up once in a while.
Focus on the fact that you have the awareness and the desire to improve your mental health and you will make progress everyday!
Let me know in the comments, do you have any tips to stop unhealthy coping skills? I’d love to know!