4 min read

When Unhealthy Coping Skills No Longer Serve You

Both healthy and unhealthy coping skills can offer temporary relief from our problems. Unhealthy coping skills are like a heavy suit of armor that lets us hide from the issues or shield us temporarily from the fallout. Using this suit of armor is exhausting and never fully addresses the key issue.
Photo of woman with her eyes blurred out.
Image by Thiago Matos on Pexels.com

Recognizing The Danger of Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms

Do you feel overwhelmed by the challenges that come your way?

Do you avoid your issues or deal with them directly?

Every human faces unique challenges and difficulties that test our resilience. When the weight of these difficulties piles up, we look for different ways of handling them.

We can either handle those issues proactively with healthy coping skills or ignore them with unhealthy coping skills.

This article will focus on unhealthy coping skills so we can recognize when we fall into their toxic cycle.

What are Coping Skills?

Coping skills are our ability to deal with unwanted emotions, thoughts, or feelings. These are the ways you deal with heartbreak, rejection, loneliness, sadness, and trauma. They help you ignore, tolerate, reduce, and deal with negative emotions.

Coping skills can be healthy or unhealthy. Both can immediately reduce negative emotions or thoughts. However, unhealthy coping skills only give temporary relief and have more negative consequences in the long-term.

Unhealthy coping skills are like a heavy suit of armor. It can protect us for a little bit, but wearing it increasingly becomes heavy and cumbersome. We never deal with the key issues, only hide away from them or cower behind the armor waiting for the next blow. Unhealthy coping skills create a toxic cycle of dependency, as the issues are never addressed.

Healthy coping skills are like tools in a toolbox. The more tools you have, the more likely you can solve any issue on your own. Not only do you need a wide variety of tools, but you also need to know how and when to use them. A therapist can provide those tools and teach you how to use them effectively. Sometimes, no matter how many tools we have, some problems need more than one person to help resolve them.  

What are  Unhealthy Coping Skills?

1. Drinking Alcohol or Substance Use

Substances and alcohol can temporarily numb emotions or thoughts. They won't resolve the issues. In the long term, they tend to cause more issues. They damage your relationships with other people and risk your physical health.

2. Overeating or Under-eating

Both under-eating and overeating can have a detrimental impact on your relationship with food and your physical health. Binge eating is a common disorder that results from unhealthy coping.  

3. Self Harm Behaviors

These are any behaviors that physically hurt yourself. It can include cutting, burning, and pinching yourself. Another common self-harm behavior is hitting or punching a wall. It can include head-banging, hair-pulling, or engaging in risky behaviors (such as reckless driving).

4. Lashing out at others

Rather than deal with your negative emotions yourself, you find yourself lashing out at colleagues, friends, and family. This results in further isolation and hurts your relationships.

5. Sleeping too much

This common technique is used to avoid confronting the issue. It offers a temporary escape where you can pretend the issue does not exist. However, it does not deal with the issue and it will still be waiting for you when you wake up.

6. Venting to others

Talking to others about your problems can offer support. It can help you find solutions and view the problem differently. However, if you are only venting without focusing on solutions, it makes you stuck in a negative feedback loop. This can make you feel worse because you are hyper-focused on the issue without any solutions.

7. Overspending & Seeking Dopamine Hits

Buying new things gives us an instant hit of dopamine (a "feel-good" hormone). Immediately after purchase, there is to your mood. However, in the long term, it can create de dependence on spending to get that dopamine. It can create overspending, as you need to buy more, but the positive effects of it last shorter. The financial stress created by overspending will add more problems to your life.
Similarly, other sources of dopamine hits can be unhealthy, as they only temporarily make you feel better. This can include things like scrolling on social media, watching hours of Netflix, or seeking validation from others. At the end of the day, the core issues are still there, unaddressed.

8. Avoiding

If you are avoiding the core issues, even healthy coping skills can become problematic. For example, if you decide to spend time with friends because you are stressed about an upcoming deadline. While this can be a good coping skill in other situations, this time it is procrastination. It risks making you rush your work, submitting sloppy work, or missing important deadlines. The long-term consequences are more severe than the short-term distraction.


Both healthy and unhealthy coping skills can offer temporary relief from the challenges that life throws at us. Unhealthy coping mechanisms are like a heavy suit of armor that lets us hide from the issues or shield us temporarily from the fallout. However, using this suit of armor is exhausting and never fully addresses the key issue.

Health coping skills are like tools in a toolbox that you can access whenever you need them. It is important to have a wide variety of tools and to know when and how to use them. The more tools you have, the better your chances are of resolving that issue on your own. Sometimes there are issues that need the help of someone else (like a therapist) to resolve them.

Unhealthy coping skills include, but are not limited to:

  • Using alcohol or Substance Use
  • Overeating or Under-eating
  • Self-Harm Behaviors
  • Lashing Out At Others
  • Sleeping Too Much
  • Venting To Others
  • Overspending & Seeking Dopamine Hits
  • Avoiding

If you can think of other common unhealthy coping skills, please leave them in the comments.

If you like this article, subscribe.