The word coping generally refers to adaptive coping strategies … strategies that help to reduce stress. However, some strategies may actually increase stress, and in turn, may be considered maladaptive.
You had a grueling day at work. You come home to find the house a mess and your spouse is nagging you to fix supper. The kids are hyper and the noise is making your head hurt. You feel like you may have a nervous breakdown from all the stress.
What do you do?
Leaving the situation for a little while is a good decision. Leaving the situation, driving to the local bar and drinking yourself into mental oblivion is an unwise decision.
Taking a time out from the stressful situation by going to your bedroom or taking a long hot bath is positive, or adaptive, ways of coping. Participating in negative behaviors such as getting drunk or harming yourself are maladaptive ways of coping.
What Does Adaptive and Maladaptive Mean to Cope?
How you react to events and situations you encounter in life is how you cope. Coping can be negative or positive. Throughout your life, you have developed emotional survival skills that help you get through tough times.
These emotional survival skills are not always healthy. Just because something works, does not mean it is the right way of handling a situation.
Coping mechanisms need to be positive for you to lead a mentally healthy lifestyle. Learning how to properly cope can happen at any time, it is never too late.
Types of Coping Mechanisms
There are several diverse ways of coping with stress. Positive coping mechanisms include seeking help from supportive people, such as a counselor or friend. Other positive ways to cope include meditation, journaling, and exercising.
A negative way to cope with adaptive and maladaptive stress is to attack the other person, making them feel uncomfortable. Or, to avoid the person, place or thing that causes us stress. Some choose to become defensive or even find ways to harm themselves.
Furthermore, there are people who remain in denial after a stressful situation. For instance, to avoid the feelings of grief when a loved one dies, it is easy to stay in denial. But refusing to admit what is true can be harmful if it continues for a lengthy period.
Also among the unhealthy coping mechanisms is aggression, passive aggression, suppression and going to the extremes with your emotions. These may appear in the form of outbursts or fits of rage. None of these are beneficial to your health.
Negative coping skills are defined as being maladaptive.
Reacting to stress in a maladaptive manner can cause several types of anxiety disorders. It can also cause you to become reliant on objects or people. For example, if you have a stuffed animal that when held, makes you feel less anxious, you will want to have that stuffed animal with you always.
You may even feel like you can’t go anywhere without the stuffed animal, keeping it near you for easy access. You do this because it provides you with a sense of security.
You can see how dysfunctional this behavior is. And not too many of your adult friends are going to want to associate with you if you are holding a stuffed animal all the time.
So, while the stuffed animal stopped your anxiety temporarily, it created more problems for you in the long run. Using the stuffed animal as a way to feel secure is an example of maladaptive coping.
Maladaptive coping can also cause you to go out of your way to avoid stressful situations and eventually you begin to isolate yourself from society.
You are too great to be isolated and filled with anxiety. That’s why it is important to learn about adaptive coping now.
When you react to a stressful situation in a mature and healthy manner, you are adaptively coping. This means you are using your knowledge and internal strength to adjust to a negative situation and avoid an overreaction or other wrong reactions.
Instead of flipping out, yelling and screaming because someone cut you off in rush hour traffic, you turn the radio on and listen to music you know will make you smile.
Instead of quitting your job on the spot after your boss yells at you, you use a journal to jot down your thoughts and feelings.
You redirect your negative thoughts, or stop them altogether, to create a more peaceful ending to the situation.
Adaptive coping mechanisms are plentiful. Below is a list of some of the more common positive coping techniques.
Adaptive Coping Strategies
Meditation or prayer can give you the time you need to self-reflect and refocus on what is important. Meditation is best used daily before crises arise. It teaches you self-control, making it easy to avoid reacting poorly to a negative situation.
Many of our problems relate to negative self-talk. Find a way to stop these negative thoughts. As soon as a negative thought crosses your mind, put a stop to it. Interfere with the thought with a command to yourself to stop thinking negatively.
With practice, you will retrain your brain to get rid of any negative self-talk.
You can also practice the art of distraction. The idea behind distraction is that you can stop having negative thoughts about yourself if you find a way to get distracted. If you are at work and your invisible voice starts trying to tell you what a failure you are, find a distraction.
Leave your office, go for a drive or walk, or just get up and walk around your office. Do whatever you can to slowly retrain your brain to think positive thoughts.
One of the best ways to learn adaptive coping strategies and avoid negative ones is to meet with a professional counselor. They are trained and certified in this specific area.
Counselors spend countless hours helping people just like you change their thoughts, feelings, and actions. They do this because they want you to recognize your potential and live a happy and healthy life.
You can learn more about adaptive coping skills and how to implement them into your life. While it may take a little practice, you will be able to adjust and cope with life’s stressors in a healthy way.