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  • Writer's pictureCassandra Martin-Himmons

13 Unhealthy Coping Skills For Chronic Stress That You Should Avoid

What’s your go-to method for coping with stress?

For some its healthy outlets like clean eating or exercise. For others, not so much. Life in 2021 is full of stressors. Exposure to long-term (chronic) stress can have many negative consequences such as increasing inflammation in the body, causing a wide variety of serious health issues such as depression and making it harder for you to do the things needed to progress in life.

And because many people are unable to manage their stress before their stress manages them, they turn to unhealthy methods to cope with the stress that they feel. This post will cover 13 things that you should not do to cope with your stress. Instead, it’s important to learn how to cope with your stress in healthy ways rather than the methods listed below.

1. Vices (Miami Or Any Other Kind)

For the purposes of this post, I’m going to count vices as excessive drinking, smoking, and general substance abuse, none of which do anything to alleviate stress.

When you’re feeling stress and pressure, it may seem like having those cigarettes is relaxing you and making you feel better, but ultimately, it’s not. Just like alcohol and other drugs, cigarettes provide temporary (key word – temporary) relief from your stress and the effect wear off you’re right back where you started and need more of those substances to get those fleeting feelings back.

Besides the fact that these vices don’t really do anything for you, having these habits can have a serious impact on your long-term health. They can increase your risk of depression, anxiety, and a ton of physical conditions. According to one study, (Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction; Rajita Sinha) those who are under chronic stress are at greater risk of addiction.

Falling into this cycle will do nothing to alleviate stress and will only cause more problems that will need to be dealt with in the future.

2. Problem? What Problem?

Denial is not a stress management tool; as a matter of fact, in the long run, denial usually causes more harm than good because ignoring your stress only makes it worse. Confronting your stress head on and managing it is the only way to get it under control.

Now to be clear, there’s a difference between taking some time out like indulging in a funny movie or meeting friends for lunch and completely avoiding your stress. Going the avoidance route means ignoring your issues which means that they don’t get processed.

And if they don’t get processed, it will be hard for you to understand why something is stressing you out, but also how you’re going to deal with it. The longer you’re in denial about an issue, the bigger it gets, whether it’s the emotional fear of relationship issues or a financial issue like a late credit card bill.

The best way to handle this type of situation is by putting a plan in place and acting on it to relieve your stress.

3. Stress Eating

Stress eating is something that many people are familiar with. It’s easy to fall into that trap as you have to eat to live. Food can become a crutch and like the vices above, it might give you initial feelings of relief, stress eating can quickly spiral out of control.


Because your mind (and your body) starts to associate eating with the negative emotions you experience (because that’s when you indulge) so you’re intensifying those emotions.

Do you reach for a snack every time you experience a bit of sadness, anger, or stress? This can fuel obesity, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues.

4. Negative Self-Talk

When things go differently from what we’d like, there are some who immediately think about worse case scenarios. For example, the person that panics about losing their job because they’ve made a small mistake.

But immediately going to the negative and blowing things out of proportion will only intensify your stress levels.

While negative self-talk can be easy to turn to when you’re stressed out, in the long run, it’ll only damage your self-esteem and lead to a negative self-fulfilling cycle. And more stress. Instead, take charge of your stress management by changing your tune and adjusting your self-talk. Talk that positive self-talk, using a tone like that you would use with a friend going through the same struggles you’re facing.

5. Uncontrollable Spending

As you’ve seen so far, there are many different unhealthy ways to “cope” with your chronic stress. And for some people, retail therapy is another coping mechanism. People often use this to fill a void.

However, there’s a big difference between treating yourself once in a while to a small pick-me-up gift and spending money on things that you don’t need or can’t really afford. Because you’re setting yourself up for potential financial problems, which can only increase your stress.

6. Going Into Hibernation

A close cousin of denial is hibernation. But you are not a bear! And while it may be comforting to think about building a pillow fort to hide away from the world, it’s not going to do a thing to help manage your stress. You also might feel like sleeping as a way of making yourself feel better, but oversleeping can just fuel your exhaustion.

In fact, according to one study, (The Risks of Sleeping “Too Much”. Survey of a National Representative Sample of 24671 Adults (INPES Health Barometer); Léger, et al) there’s a link between oversleeping and a high BMI, which of course, increases risks of diabetes, and heart disease. All of which will exacerbate the stress you are already experiencing.

7. Nail Biting

Some people can have what are usually called, nervous habits like pulling or their hair, shaking their foot or biting their nails. Not only does nail biting do nothing to permanently alleviate stress, it also does nothing to enhance your appearance. Nail biting can also lead to your nails splitting and infections if you bite them down too far.

8. Angry Outbursts

There’s a term in psychology called displacement. According to Merriam-Webster’s dictionary, displacement is, “the redirection of an emotion or impulse from its original object (such as an idea or person) to another.”

Some people when they’re feeling the effects of stress, internalize it and engage in habits such as some of the ones listed in this post. Other people, displace their stress related feelings of anger and pressure and lash out to those closest to them. However, displacement can not only result in more feelings of stress as you may feel guilty for taking your stress out on others but depending on the degree of displacement can also lead to isolation if others feel that enough is enough.

9. Not Eating

As you may know, stress releases hormones such as cortisol in the body. Those hormones wreak havoc in your system. Cortisol has been known to depress the appetite. Lack of proper nutrition fuels stress and helps it grow. Some foods that can help decrease stress are:

  • Green leafy veggies

  • Tea

  • Fatty fish such as salmon

  • Nuts

  • Fruits

10. I Want To Be Alone

As humans, by nature we are social creatures. Sometimes when overly stressed, there may be a tendency to hide away from the world (see number 6), but don’t do it! These are the times that your support system is meant for. Lean into it, don’t be afraid to accept help and when you’re less stressed, pass it on.

11. Move It Or Lose It

Just as we are (in general), not meant to be alone, we are also not meant to sit day after day after day. The human body is meant to move. The phrase move it or lose it doesn’t come from nowhere. Exercise helps starve off aches and pains and also lessens stress.

12. Drugs!

The feelings that drugs provide are temporary and in the end, do nothing to eliminate the sources of stress.

13. Surviving On Coffee

Coffee is not one of the major food groups. ‘Nuf said.

So, there you have it, 13 coping skills that will ultimately increase your stress rather than decreasing it. Rather than using these methods to cope, try to find healthy alternatives. You can do it because it’s all about Making Time.

Let’s talk. What unhealthy methods do you use to cope with your stress and what healthy methods will you adopt instead? Let me know in the comments section.


Cassandra Martin-Himmons is a facilitator, stress management coach and author of “Yes I’m Grateful,” a gratitude journal. She believes in empowering her clients to help them manage their stress and increase self-care. In her spare time, she enjoys papercrafting, volunteering and travel. Connect with her on Instagram or LinkedIn

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