We’ve probably all heard the term ‘coping mechanism’ especially if we’ve been in treatment before. Coping mechanisms are behaviors we enact in moments of tension, stress, and trauma. When we are struggling with addiction, we can teach ourselves negative coping mechanisms such as drinking after a bad day or spending time with someone who isn’t nice to us, but the goal of recovery is to remap those learned behaviors to find healthy coping mechanisms that will shift our lives into health and happiness.

First, we need to understand how we currently cope before we can make corrections. Why? Because if we don’t know our triggers and what we are currently doing to subdue them, we won’t be able to find the right access point towards making positive changes.

Negative Coping Mechanisms and Breaking the Pattern

In moments of stress or panic, it’s easy to look for the closest exit, the quickest way to end the pain or conflict we are experiencing. No human wants to sit in suffering; they want to relieve themselves of the tension in whatever way they can. It’s not difficult to see why so many people turn to a substance to relieve pain, tension, or anxiety, but this type of negative coping rewards the brain in more ways than one.

When using a substance, you’re putting outside chemicals into your body to manipulate how you feel. On top of that fact, you’re creating a conditioned response to reach for said chemicals every time you are feeling bad. These two conditioned behaviors work together to keep you in the addiction cycle. We have now created a negative reward system by selecting negative coping mechanisms in times of distress.

To break the cycle, we need to figure out what sets off the need for the reward system. Did you have a bad day at work? Did someone trigger you? What caused the need to use, drink, or self-harm? Once we can figure out this key access point, we can begin to rewrite the narrative.

First, pause when you want to reach for a drink or a drug and assess your feelings. Are you trying to avoid, distract, or maybe even hide? From here, you have a gateway into a new life. Once you realize the reasons you turn to substance, you can then replace those behaviors with positive steps in the right direction.

The job then becomes to switch off the negative reward cycle you’ve created in your mind and body and turn on positive reinforcements, reinforcements that are healthy and will create a life of abundance, but the only way to make this happen is through time, discipline and self-compassion. 

Positive Coping Mechanisms

When we talk about positive coping mechanisms, we want to make sure we understand that the pain, the sadness, the anxiety won’t just magically disappear. Just like riding a bike, learning takes time. Be kind to yourself during this process and take your recovery journey day by day. The goal is to focus on those moments when using seems like the only option and switching out that negative behavior with a healthy one.

Here is a quick reference list of healthy coping mechanisms that can help you transition from a negative reward cycle to a positive one.

  • Take a walk
  • Go for a run
  • Phone a friend or support system
  • Take a hot shower or a long bath
  • Eat a comforting meal, some candy, or chocolate
  • Listen to music
  • Meditate
  • Exercise alone or head to a group class
  • Watch a favorite TV show or movie
  • Play a video game/board game
  • Draw/color
  • Write in a journal
  • Write a list of your favorite things, your dreams, and or gratitude
  • Work on a long term art project such as a vision board, pottery, painting, scrapbook, etc.

This list may work for you, or you may find other positive reinforcements that you can add to your own list. The goal is to supplement healthy behaviors in place of a negative ones. The more times you’re able to pick a healthy option, the easier it gets. Give your self space and time to make the magic happen and be gentle with yourself in the process.

Change Takes Time

Change does not happen overnight. The pyramids were not built in a day and neither was Rome. During this process, you may make mistakes, and that’s okay, but if you can focus on the learning aspect of your journey and realize you are here to overcome these hurdles, you will begin to see the beauty of the bigger picture, removing the lens of addiction and relapse from your view.

Change isn’t easy, especially if you’re struggling with substance, but Burning Tree Ranch is here to help. We know how hard it is to break the cycle of addiction and reinforce good behaviors. That’s why we offer residential treatment programs with licensed medical professionals who can help you safely get clean and stay that way. The time is now. Call today to learn what Burning Tree Ranch can offer you: (855) 791-7142