What are negative coping strategies for anxiety?
People who struggle with anxiety disorders can feel desperate to try to ease their symptoms. Unfortunately, they don't always choose healthy coping mechanisms.
Negative or "maladaptive" coping strategies may feel beneficial for a while. But over the long run, they can have detrimental effects that end up worsening the anxiety disorder. Consider these common examples.
It may seem like a simple solution to managing anxiety -- avoid the situations that make you feel anxious. Avoidance, however, isn't realistic, nor is it likely to make the anxiety go away.
A person who avoids anxiety triggers also misses opportunities to work through the anxiety. Avoiding situations prevents you from having positive and healthy experiences that communicate to your brain that feelings of anxiety aren't realistic or necessary.
Some people with anxiety disorders develop a mentality that they can overcome the problem if they reach some level of perfection. Rationally speaking, this is impossible. A person who becomes a perfectionist in response to their anxiety is likely to get more anxious when they inevitably fall short of their ideal.
Obsessive thoughts, thinking about something over and over again, is called rumination. Sometimes people feel as if they can think their way out of their anxieties or fears, or they simply allow their brains to obsess over the things that trigger their anxiety.
The trouble is many fears are irrational to begin with and unlikely to become real. Focusing on that fear only communicates to the brain that there is something to worry about, which strengthens the connection between the anxiety and the trigger.
Some people with anxiety disorders get hung up on the notion that there's something they can do to make the distress go away. They think certain compulsive behaviors or routines, like excessive handwashing, for example, help keep the anxiety in check.
However, compulsions are a temporary fix. You may feel as if you're taking action against your fears, but you're reinforcing them by communicating to your brain that you need to be afraid. The anxiety will return over and over again unless you break the cycle.
Trying to control everything around you is a coping mechanism that some people develop in an attempt to prevent disaster. Not only is this exhausting, but it also can cause anxiety in situations that don't go as planned.
You can't control everything, and sometimes, other people are unpredictable. Then, when the unforeseen happens, you become even more anxious because you weren't able to foresee it. The brain is then even more convinced that the worst will happen, and the anxiety will continue.
It's common for people with anxiety disorders to turn to alcohol or drug use as a way of dulling the physical and mental discomfort of anxiety. Not only can this lead to substance use disorder, but it can prevent you from actually working through the anxiety.
Learning to manage problems is important to all aspects of your life. If you don't do the work, like going through treatment, you prevent the brain from reacting appropriately and solving problems.