How Do You Cope?

Coping Strategies Counseling Denver Centennial

Do Other People Bug You?

Have you ever been angry at someone because it seemed like they were spending WAAYYY too much time with a particular thing or situation? We’re so easily frustrated by other’s coping strategies. Here are some examples: a wife who’s angry with her husband for spending too much time at work. A husband who is angry with his wife because she’s on her phone ALL the time. A son who plays video games every waking moment of the day? Or how about a daughter who hangs out with friends as much as possible, rarely spending time around the house and family?  Perhaps your husband is spending A LOT of time watching sports on TV. Or maybe your wife seems to be spending way too much time exercising and going to the gym.

It’s easy to get judgmental about the behavior of others—but judging others rarely results in change, and often results in damaging our relationships.

What Is Coping?

Rather than judging, we need to take a step back and get curious about human behavior. As human beings, we all find ways to cope with life. Let me repeat that for emphasis.  ALL of us find ways to cope. There is no such thing as not coping. We could argue that there might be healthier ways of coping than others, but that’s not the main focus of this article. Rather than dictating what is and isn’t healthy coping behavior, I would encourage each of us to approach this subject in a non-judgmental and curious way. This is about asking ourselves why we cope in the way that we do.

First off, let’s define the word cope. Cope means to “deal with and attempt to overcome problems and difficulties.” Because we are all human and because life is not a bed of roses, hardships come in every person’s life. It’s unavoidable. And when problems come our way, and depending on the severity of the problems, we are naturally drawn to cope, or deal, with the pain that accompanies such hardships. And that translates into coping behavior. 

Coping Strategies & Behaviors

Something important to remember is that ANYTHING can be used as a coping strategy or behavior. Some behaviors are more noticeable and easily vilified based on societal norms, but again, we’re not here to judge which are “good” and which are “bad.”  This is about building awareness of how we cope.  This is an important point to remember since we all tend to be judgmental and critical of others who cope differently than ourselves. We are all guilty of judging others from time to time. We are often our own worst critics as well.

Examples of Coping Strategies:

How do you cope? There are so many ways that we can react to the stresses of life: Consuming food, alcohol, or drugs. Watching TV, movies, or Social Media. Reading books. Doing housework, yard work, or house projects. Engaging in church or volunteer service. Engaging in hobbies. Working long hours at one’s career or job. Avoiding work and responsibilities. Playing games or video games. Increased or decreased sexual interest and activity. Comfort eating or abstaining from eating. Exercising. Vegging out. Having an affair. Viewing pornography. Cutting behaviors or self-harm.

You get the point: basically, just about anything can be used as a way to cope.

Do You Cope in a Healthy Way?

We aren’t making excuses for truly harmful or criminal behavior. We’re all responsible for how our coping strategies impact ourselves and others. Yet even with harmful behavior and unhealthy coping, it’s important to understand why we do what we do.

Another way of looking at coping is seeing it as a way to escape from pain or stress. Again, let’s normalize what’s happening. We all need to escape or relax from time to time. And we all have our favorite ways of doing so. Clearly, some ways of relieving stress are healthier than others. But unless one’s coping behaviors harm others, this is for the individual to address rather than outsiders.

Identifying Healthy Coping Strategies

In and of themselves, most coping strategies and behaviors are not “bad” or “good.” Many coping behaviors can be engaged in on a healthy level.

For example, it’s good to work out and stay healthy. We all need to work and make money to live a decent life. Most people don’t abuse drugs, and many people can drink responsibly. No one will say that food is bad since we all need it to survive.  But can we eat too much? Without a doubt, yes. We can also restrict our eating in unhealthy ways. Is it OK to watch TV? Most will say yes. But are we binge-watching to an unhealthy amount? Maybe.

So how can you know if your coping tools are healthy or not?  Ask yourself: “Am I taking my behavior too far?” 

What To Do if You’re Taking It Too Far

Nearly any coping mechanism can be taken too far. Any of these things can be abused.  And if that’s the case, then we need to pull the reigns back a bit and find out why we’re coping in this way.

Honest, Non-Judgmental Awareness

So all of this is about building awareness (since we are often unaware that we are numbing and escaping!), which isn’t too difficult to do as long as we’re being honest with ourselves and not trying to minimize our coping behaviors. 

Part of why it’s hard to be honest with ourselves and own up to our behaviors is because of the judgmental society we live in. It’s very easy to condemn a drunk, homeless person when we’re not in their shoes. It’s all too easy to think the worst of a spouse who is numbing out on a digital device or a withdrawn child playing video games or a husband who just wants to be left alone so he can watch the latest sports game uninterrupted. 

And if we find it easy to judge others, it’s likely that we judge ourselves for our own coping styles as well.

Understanding Others & Ourselves

When faced with perplexing behaviors in others, the challenge is to stop judging and to approach these situations with curiosity. “Why is he so drawn to that thing? Why is she working so much? What is going on to cause her to cut herself?” This is hard to do because we’re often hurting and wanting connection with the other person. And that hurt can make it difficult to empathize with the other person. The interesting part is that the other person often wants connection too but he/she numbs/escapes in different ways than you … not worse ways, just different.

When trying to make sense of  how we cope, the challenge is to be curious, be honest with ourselves, to own up to the behavior that we are possibly taking too far, and to dig deeper emotionally to find out what’s driving us to numb/escape. Again, we all need to numb/escape from time to time and the ways in which we do them aren’t necessarily good or bad. However, perhaps we need to evaluate which ones aren’t very healthy for us personally and replace them with healthier ones. This can be done with the help of a trusted and non-judgmental individual, someone who’s got our back and will be kind and honest at the same time. 

As we grow more aware of our own coping behaviors, this will allow us to be more aware and compassionate towards people around us who cope differently than us.  This will allow us to approach them in a kinder, gentler way. Rather than assuming the worst in another person, we will seek to understand what that person is going through.

Do You Need Help to Stop Judging Yourself?

If you need a trusted and non-judgmental counselor to help sort through some of your own ways of coping, please don’t hesitate to contact us. We love to help people just like you. Individual counseling may be just the thing to help you understand yourself and move forward. We’ll be there to help you, every step of the way.
Call today, or schedule an appointment by clicking below!

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About Kevin Hales

Kevin Hales, MA, LPC offers marriage counseling as well as individual counseling for adults and teens at Colorado Counseling Center. Kevin’s clients find that he wholeheartedly devotes himself to helping them heal and move forward in life. To learn more about Kevin's counseling specialties, please visit coloradocounselingcenter.com/kevin-hales/

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