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Navigating Mental and Behavioral Health Conditions: Replacing Unhealthy Coping Strategies With Healthy Ones Through Therapy

Navigating Mental and Behavioral Health Conditions: Replacing Unhealthy Coping Strategies With Healthy Ones Through Therapy

Man using healthy coping strategies to manage mental health.

To alleviate the discomfort caused by psychological  conditions, many rely on detrimental coping methods that worsen their well-being. Therapy guides individuals in integrating positive tools to replace unhealthy ones.


Coping describes ways of dealing with stressful situations, unpleasant emotions, and other difficulties. Constructive coping mechanisms can be powerful techniques for adapting to obstacles, but destructive ones negatively impact mental, behavioral, and physical health. 

Examples of healthy coping skills include:

Related: Emotional Wellness: Practical Strategies and Clinical Interventions For Emotional Health

Unhealthy coping mechanisms include:

Related: Craving Change? Learn To Let Go of Self-Destructive Behaviors and Replace Them With Healthy Habits


Psychological conditions typically manifest in adverse ways. To attain temporary relief from these at-times debilitating effects, individuals may turn to destructive coping. Depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and eating disorders are closely linked with maladaptive coping.


Those with depression are often plagued by hopelessness, fatigue, and loss of interest in daily life. They may utilize the following actions in an attempt to manage their depression:

  • Substance abuse: Research shows that up to 70% of those with depression may abuse drugs and alcohol.
  • Self-harm: Depression has been linked to elevated rates of self-harm. 
  • Avoidance behaviors: Additionally, those with depression commonly self-isolate to avoid confronting negative emotions in social settings. 


Anxiety is characterized by constant worry and restlessness. To try to manage these symptoms and others, individuals with anxiety often turn to:

  • Substance abuse: Increased rates of substance abuse have been linked to anxiety.
  • Disordered eating: Up to 80% of individuals with anxiety may utilize disordered eating as a way to handle difficulties.
  • Avoidance behaviors: Those with anxiety may also refrain from going to places, interacting with others, or participating in activities that they associate with stress.


Often occurring in victims of abuse, victims of sexual assault, and individuals who’ve experienced violence, PTSD is characterized by expressions of intrusive thoughts, hypervigilance, flashbacks, and feelings of shame. Those with PTSD may engage in problematic actions as a way of navigating the condition, such as:

  • Substance abuse: Studies suggest that individuals with PTSD are three times more likely to abuse substances. 
  • Self-harm and suicide: PTSD is also associated with increased rates of self-harm and suicide
  • Avoidance behaviors: Additionally, PTSD may cause a person to isolate themself, fearing triggering their symptoms. 

Related: Veteran and Service Member Mental Health Concerns and How Clinical Care Can Help 

Eating Disorders

Those with eating disorders may use disordered eating and other harmful tactics to manage uncomfortable emotions and distressing circumstances, such as:

  • Food restriction: Individuals may fast, purge, count calories obsessively, exercise excessively, and more to limit caloric intake. 
  • Binge eating: Characterized by feeling a loss of control causing a person to eat large amounts of food, binge eating typically involves feelings of shame associated with the episode of food consumption.
  • Avoidance behaviors: Eating disorders may cause a person to avoid situations where food is present. 
  • Substance abuse: Up to 50% of individuals with eating disorders use alcohol or drugs, which is five times more than the general population.

Related: How Sexual Assault Can Lead to Eating Disorders and How to Find Healing

Over time, these harmful actions become ingrained. All negative coping can contribute to more severe symptoms, leading to a dangerous cycle that can perpetuate a person’s condition and severely worsen their quality of life.  


Clinicians support clients in effectively managing any psychological conditions in ways that promote their well-being. 

The therapeutic process may involve:

  • Gaining a better understanding of the condition: Often a therapist will work with the client to identify the factors that may be driving the individual’s mental or behavioral health challenge and any maladaptive coping that may be exacerbating their struggle.
  • Exploring a person’s thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. A clinician will generally help the client uncover the relationships between the individual’s patterns of thinking, feeling, and acting, and their impact on the person’s overall well-being.
  • Integrating effective self-management tools: Personalizing the skills to the client, a therapist will typically guide the client in creating beneficial habits that they can rely on when they encounter challenging circumstances, rather than resorting to detrimental conduct.

Related: Nine Tips For Finding a Mental or Behavioral Health Professional That’s a Fit


Considering the interconnected nature of mental, behavioral, and physical health, our therapists offer expert support in uncovering the root causes of a person’s struggles and help them establish empowering ways to adapt to obstacles and create a flourishing life. To learn more about our therapeutic services, reach out