How to Turn Unhealthy Coping Skills into Healthy Coping Skills

– Written by Morgan Coyner, Grant and Communications Coordinator

It’s safe to say that the whole world is on edge right now. We watch as numbers of positive coronavirus cases increase and as the number of deaths continues to climb. Some of us are stuck at home, knowing it’s the right place to be, but feeling the claustrophobia and cabin fever growing. Others go to work each day wondering if today is the day they will contract the virus and put the ones they love at risk. It is not easy for any of us.

As someone who has struggled throughout my life with anxiety, I’ve felt the waves swelling around me recently. And even though I’ve been taught coping skills throughout my life, I find myself reaching for the ones that aren’t so healthy. The main culprit: ordering takeout.

For me, this coping skill is adjacent to overeating. I can always find an excuse to order take out. New job? Celebrate with food! Heartbroken? Eat as many slices of cheesecake as you want. Hard day at the office? Drive through Taco Bell on the way home. While I am often able to stop myself before going into a full-on binge, the problem is that my indulgences are unhealthy both physically and mentally.

During the pandemic, I’ve found a way to take this unhealthy coping skills of mine and turn it into a healthier coping skill. I’m using this time to try recipes I’ve pinned on Pinterest over the years. My “Yummy Food” board is filled with recipes I always wanted to try but never quite got around to. Due to social distancing, my sister’s family (I’m quarantining with her) and I order groceries to last us for two weeks at a time. That means that we have to concentrate on planning ahead for meals. We get only the ingredients that we need.

Cooking the recipes has been fun for a few different reasons. One, my sister and I get to spend time together. When we cook together, we chat and laugh. It’s time we will always cherish. Two, all meals require a least a little bit of prep. The prep time gives me time to think and focus on what’s in front of me. This prevents me from spiraling into worst case scenarios about coronavirus and the future. Three, most of the recipes have been really, really good. Here are a few of my favorites so far:

Crockpot Swedish Meatballs
Chimichurri Sauce
Dijon Baked Salmon

This time lends itself to binge watching TV shows or movies. While there’s nothing wrong with watching TV, it can be another way to avoid our own lives. We find ourselves engaged in the life of a fictional character, more invested in what happens to them than we are in ourselves.

To avoid this, another staff member at The Next Door “Marie Kondo-d” her apartment. She got rid of the things that no longer brought her joy, the things that she’d been meaning to get rid of. After that, she picked up her old hobby of cross stitching. “I’m just trying to find easy activities that I can do while watching TV.” It eliminates the singular focus on the television, and at the end, you have a product you can be proud of! The repetitive motion of pushing thread and needle through a canvas can be quite cathartic, especially for those with anxiety.

Here are some starter kits if you are interested in learning this craft:
Sweet Cupcake
Take Time

How are you coping with the world around you today? Is there a way that you can change how you’re coping and make healthier choices? Not every coping skill has a perfect pivot. Some need to be eliminated and replaced with something completely different. The more I learn about mental health, the more I realize that so much of maintaining mental wellness is learning to cope well with what life throws you. It sounds so simple, but it takes work. I’m not perfect. I still order takeout more than I’d like. You might find yourself glued to the TV with a craft in your idle hands. But hey, it’s a process.

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