Coping mechanisms are behaviors or actions that people either willingly or subconsciously engage in to manage stressors in their lives. When we feel pressure, it is only natural to wiggle and adjust to find a way to release some or all of the things that are exerting force and causing the discomfort of stress. How do you cope? Are you aware of your coping mechanisms? I’ve asked myself these questions through the years and really took some time to evaluate events in my life that have caused pressure and ultimately stress. Did I truly address the forces or just wiggle around to bring temporary relief to regain my comfort for the moment?
There have been countless studies that prove the devastating effects stress can have on a person physically and mentally if not properly addressed. I can personally attest to the physical effects of stress and why I developed a coping mechanism that eventually became counter productive in the long-term for my overall mental health and emotional well being. The early pressures of my strict religious upbringing, having a long distance father, not fitting in at school, feeling alone, without direction, and then being a teenage mother trying to find my way in the major metropolitan of Los Angeles after living my entire life in a smaller city in Washington State, created a scared, introverted, naive young woman who didn’t know how to deal with her feelings or manage change. I was not quick to talk to people about what was happening to me, my emotions, or even speak up for myself when I felt wronged or in disagreement. I just went with the flow and kept so much inside. It wasn’t until I heard the words “Lupus, or MS, or some possible neurological disorder” come from my Doctor’s mouth as he tried to explain the possible causes of these mini strokes I was experiencing visible by lesionic impressions on my brain MRI, that I knew I had truly been doing a disservice to myself. My Doctor explained the importance of reducing and avoiding stress where possible, and documenting behaviors and eating habits that might be triggers. When he said “stress”, I knew I had allowed life’s pressures to build up and it had now manifested itself physically. Overcoming neuropathy and paralysis is no joke, especially when you’re working and trying to keep from sharing and explaining to others what you’re dealing with. I was depressed and unsure of the solution, but I knew something had to give. I was now dealing with health issues, a stressful job, children, and newlywed contentions. All of this and I was only in my twenties. I set out to reduce my stress and steer clear of anything that seemed to display uncomfortable resistance. I left my job and moved to Arizona in search of sunshine. I started considering what things brought me joy and began to explore entrepreneurial opportunities that allowed me to spend more time with my children and take care of our home. I thought I could improve my health by reducing my stress and I committed to this process by any means necessary. Well, I believe it worked, but remember when I said my coping mechanism became counter productive? I was happy. I felt good. I was enjoying the sunshine and the free lifestyle, which also brought my husband and I closer together, (and more children!), but eventually the stressors began to appear. In an effort to cope, and fear of losing the happiness I was experiencing, I went on the path of avoidance and disconnect from anyone or anything that had the slightest appearance of stress, pressure, or drama. I have never been a confrontational person, nor have I been good at expressing things as I mentioned before, so I just didn’t. I separated myself from friends when there was a disagreement, and family when I felt it was impossible for me to effectively preserve who I was while maintaining respect all the way around. While my coping mechanism of avoidance and disconnect secured my peaceful place in an immediate sense, it only created more hurt, stress, and discomfort in the long run. Difficult situations don’t just go away because you ignore them or walk away, they actually escalate and compound stress over time. I eventually learned that confronting conflict right away has a greater positive outcome in the long run. You have the opportunity to immediately release the burden of pressure rather than let issues linger and build while pretending they have disappeared. For some people confrontation is easy or comes naturally, but for me, and many others, it is something we truly have to work at. I chose my path early on in an effort to live in peace and avoid pity and explanation. I chose to handle my diagnosis in the way I thought would best help me. The scare of symptoms beginning to reappear even recently only confirmed the negative counter productive affect of my actions. As I address my struggles and cling to my transformation of strength, I am committed to changing my coping mechanisms and confronting issues, stresses, and pressures as they present themselves…my mental, spiritual, and physical health depend on it.