Experienced by an astounding 284 million people globally, anxiety is now the most common mental illness, and with social isolation and pressures only growing in light of pandemics and social media, that trajectory is still very much on the up.
For obvious reasons, this has led to an age where one simple Google search can reveal a whole load of suggested coping mechanisms. But, without the personalized oversight of professional counselling, psychotherapy, or cognitive behavioral applications, many individuals are finding that these so-called coping techniques often do more harm than good as they’re poorly implemented or misused altogether. Here, we’re going to consider three common coping mechanisms that, too often, result in ever-escalating anxieties that are far harder to work past.
# 1 – Avoidance
Just like the keyboard warriors who tell people experiencing depression to ‘cheer up,’ there’s always going to be some smart aleck on an anxiety forum suggesting that people just avoid their fears. Unfortunately, individuals often find that avoiding things based on their anxiety amplifies feelings of low self-worth or panic. Worse, ongoing avoidance makes it far harder to remain strong in the face of future anxiety-inducing situations, creating growing feelings of fear and further escalating the problem. This is why most counsellors instead encourage individuals to face their fears, creating a positive cycle of reward that takes all of the power out of worry itself.
# 2 – Deep breathing
While few counsellors would advise you to avoid your fears, most do recommend breathing exercises as a way to tackle both general anxiety, and physical manifestations like panic attacks. However, self-prescribed breathing can be just as bad as avoidance in some ways, especially if our brains begin to connect the dots of those breathing exercises with wider feelings of panic meaning that deep breathing actually incites anxiety rather than erasing it. In this case breathing exercises can create a tightness in the chest or an encroaching feeling of doom. Counsellors will overcome this by tracking the progress of breathing exercises, and only ever recommending techniques that they think suit a patient’s unique situation.
# 3 – Exercise
Exercise is perhaps the healthiest coping mechanism for any form of mental illness, not only allowing for stress releasing endorphins but also increasing general fitness and outlook. Unfortunately, much like avoidance, individuals who blindly use exercise as a way to cope with anxiety may also fall into a trap of dependency that’s definitely not going to help. As well as failing to address anxiety in itself, an inability to exercise could then lead to further feelings of panic or inability. By comparison, expertly prescribed exercise that runs alongside in-depth analysis and treatment plans can work as a fantastic springboard to complement and enhance recovery in general.
It can be incredibly difficult to recognize when coping mechanisms become unhealthy, especially if they’re generally reported as beneficial. Only by seeking professional advice and comprehensive treatment can you be sure that you’re paving a path to health rather than worsening anxiety overall.