April 27, 2022

Reach for self-care and healthy coping strategies, instead of alcohol and other drugs

Man and woman go for a morning run

Most of us will face tough times in our lives – it may be the stress or loss of a job, end of a relationship, or a health challenge.

While you may not have control over the difficult situation, you can control how it impacts you.

What are unhealthy coping strategies?

We all have different ways of dealing with stress and tough times.

Some are these are helpful – but, some are less helpful and can lead to bigger problems.

Common unhealthy coping strategies include:

  • using alcohol and other drugs
  • sleeping a lot
  • excessive spending
  • anger and aggressive behaviour
  • risk taking – unsafe sex, gambling
  • binge eating
  • heavy gaming.1

These quick fixes might give you short-term relief or escape from stress, but there are better alternatives for managing stress and supporting positive mental health.

Healthy coping strategies to deal with stress

Check out these healthy coping suggestions:2, 3

  • Exercise – exercise reduces your body’s stress hormones and also releases endorphins which boost your mood. Whether it’s a run, yoga, martial arts, lifting weights or a footy game, exercise can help relieve tension, anxiety and anger and make you feel calmer and in control.
  • Take care of yourself – eat nutritious food and get enough sleep. These are the fundamentals your body needs for good health.
  • Take a break – even 10 minutes of ‘you’ time to turn off your phone, meditate, do some stretches or listen to music can help tackle stress and challenges.
  • Talk it out – share your worries with someone you trust. Working through problems with someone can help put things in perspective and may provide solutions you hadn’t considered.
  • Make time for relaxation – prioritise downtime to connect with friends and family, kick a footy around, take a walk in nature, or play/listen to music.
  • Hang out with people who motivate you and make you feel good about yourself - we all need social connection. Being around people who inspire and encourage us can make life better.
  • Distract yourself – keep busy doing the things you enjoy, like watching movies, cooking, reading, drawing or playing video games, or join a gym or sports club.
  • Help others – whether it’s volunteering or taking an older neighbour’s bin out, helping others makes us feel good and can give us a sense of purpose.
  • Reach out – if you’re struggling with stress, feeling like you aren’t coping, or feeling depressed – ask for help. Speak to a friend or family member or talk to your GP or a counsellor. Help is available.2, 3

Remember to practice these tips during the good times, so you’re equipped to handle stress when things get tough.

Where to get help

If you or someone you know is doing it tough, there’s help available. You can call one of these support services:

  1. Harvard Health Publishing. Watch out for unhealthy responses to stress [Accessed 11 April 2022].
  2. The Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health: Nutrition Source Website. Stress and Health [Accessed 11 April 2022].
  3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Coping with Stress [Accessed 11 April 2022].

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