Dangerous Coping

Dangerous Coping

In episode 7, Dangerous Coping, Elaina and Tracy discussed the dangers of common maladaptive coping strategies often used to deal with stressful and unpleasant situations and provide their top five adaptive coping strategies.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” - Robert Fulghum.

Are you feeling stressed? Have you noticed you do things that are bad for you when facing difficult or challenging situations? Well, you’re not alone. In episode 7, Dangerous Coping, Elaina and Tracy discussed the dangers of common maladaptive coping strategies often used to deal with stressful and unpleasant situations and provide their top five adaptive coping strategies.

We are discussing how people often used to deal with stressful and unpleasant situations. We are challenged with finding ways to through everything that comes our way. Some of us develop adaptive coping strategies, which means you find a helpful, positive approach to cope. Others rely on maladaptive coping, and these strategies are often counterproductive, harmful, and puts not only our mental health at risk but also our physical health.

Maladaptive coping is classified into three categories, Overcompensation, Surrender, and Avoidance. Some of the behaviors include but are not limited to, aggression and hostility, recognition-seeking, manipulation, passive-aggressiveness, compliance and dependency, social withdrawal, binge drinking, drug use, unsafe safe or excessive sexual interactions.

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Elaina: My daughter introduced me to this term boomer, and I was like, well, I’m not a boomer.

Tracy:    What is that?

Elaina: So boomer is a term for like a baby boomer. So if you hear a young person say, boomer, they’re basically calling you old. I was just thinking about it like, no, you don’t want to be that boomer in a club trying to hit on. See that’s something Peaches would do. Peaches would probably still want to be in the club.

Tracy: No Peaches, nerves is bad now and all that music and loud talking give me my cocktail or some Netflix and I’m straight.

Elaina: Peaches be like come here young buck. Let me show you something.

Elaina: I’m on this kick of self-reflection. And really when we’re to focus in on our mental health, I think about the ways that I’ve chosen to cope through situations and typically it’s situations that have either made me feel uncomfortable or that are new or scary. And I can remember at least a three year period where I’ve felt this emptiness, there was like this hole. And instead of me spending the time to figure out where that was coming from and what that means, like I know now that looking back I was going through this transition of figuring out how to love myself and make myself feel loved. Well, during that period I looked outside for validation that I was a good person and that I was a desirable person. I looked outside for that love. Um, and I tell people, I look at it now as if you can’t love yourself, then you don’t know somebody else can love you. Like, how do you know somebody else loves you if you don’t even know what it means to love yourself. But during that period, I’m not going to say any names? Well, I guess we should name them, but I just won’t use their real names. But we’ll say, John and Joe.

Tracy:    Sounds so realistic.

Elaina: John and Joe, during that time I had a John and a Joe. Um, I would read when I was feeling down, I would reach out to one of them to make me feel better. I realize now that that was maladaptive coping and that was me numbing whatever it was that I was feeling so that I wouldn’t feel it. And when you think about it, it was just the process of I’m feeling down. I don’t want to feel this way. I want to find something to feel better. And so I would either call John and Joe. Now they have some good qualities between the two of them, very minor. But there are some, and for the most part, both situations were highly toxic and unhealthy [inaudible] but that’s how I cope through that period was relying on them. Now I know better now and I wish to, I hope they are out there living their best lives and hopefully, they’re not being in you know, toxic to anyone else.

Elaina: But it was toxic from the standpoint of we weren’t a good combination. Like my relationship with John was not a healthy one. My relationship with Joe was not a healthy one. They were just not healthy situations. And I just think about all the things that we do when we’re in situations that truly are coping strategies. It’s just a difference of is it an adaptive coping strategy where we are appropriately adjusting to the situation in a healthy way or is it maladaptive coping where we are choosing an unhealthy way. So whether it’s something simple as passive-aggressive, do you know passive communication? So when you think about conflicts at work and you’re in a meeting and you have someone who is aggressive and so you may minimize your thoughts, your feelings to avoid that conflict. Or some people take it to a different level of self-harm.

Elaina: I remember the first time that I heard about cutting and I’m thinking myself, why would someone do that? But now that’s them coping through the situation. They just, it’s about control. It’s about feeling something. You know, if you think about reckless driving and gambling and risky, unsafe sex and overindulging in alcohol or whether you’re, you know, drew, you know, binge drinking and drugs like there’s just so many fees that we participate in.

Tracy: To try to soothe ourselves.

Elaina:   Yes.

Tracy: You brought up some really good points and it just took me back to, and I could just having this conversation, I’m realizing now as I’ve gotten older, how I’d been trying to cope in more healthy ways. I was similar to you, I think in my younger days where some of my coping mechanisms were probably being more risk-taking. Using people to cope through certain things. People that you knew weren’t healthy for you or weren’t good for you putting up with a lot more things that then you knew you should be putting up with, with people. Being in those unhealthy relationships. Absolutely. I would say that numbing was one of my maladaptive coping mechanisms. I was a smoker. Elaina. I promise you when I got up in the morning I had my coffee and I had my cigarettes but no one knew. But it was like once I got home from work, once I got up in the morning for me to deal with the day or deal with the situation, I knew I needed to have my cigarettes. Drinking. I really don’t want to talk about the drinking cause I still [inaudible].

Elaina:   It’s still a work in progress.

Tracy: It’s still a work in progress, cause I still enjoy my cocktail. But it was a lot different than I think. Then it was more binge drinking, you know, where I was drinking till I literally couldn’t stand up anymore. But now it’s to the point, yeah, I’ll come home, I’m having a cocktail my rough day. So it’s not as bad as it used to be, but still there. And then it was the whole escape where I wanted to isolate myself. I think that was probably my number one go-to maladaptive coping strategy. I wanted to isolate myself from everyone. I would go through periods where I wouldn’t answer the phone. I didn’t want to go out and go anywhere. I just want it to be by myself and maybe just binge TV or something to kind of take my words, take myself away from whatever was going on. It’s only been recently where I have turned to those more healthy things where try meditation, that seems to be working. I love working out. That’s my go-to. If I don’t get on my treadmill and jog, I can feel it. It’s one of those things that I kind of incorporated into my day to kind of make me feel better, but I think it’s something that you mentioned earlier. A lot of people just aren’t aware of it. You just go through, you continue on coping in an unhealthy way and it isn’t until you take that time and reflect on it that you realize that, Hey, maybe that wasn’t the best thing for me to do.

Elaina: My wakeup call was I would do whatever it was that I was doing and then feel guilty about it. If I felt guilty or bad about it, I need to stop doing this and it was hard. Changing those behavioral patterns can be very difficult. Right? It’s all about that cognitive restructuring and reframing your negative thoughts and positive ones and that takes time and it takes practice, but I think the ultimate change for me was when I would be tempted to reach out to one of them and I would have to fight through that urge.

Elaina: I would turn my phone off, put my phone away, and then I would go off and do something like color. You heard me talk a million times already about coloring, but that really helped me through those urges when I wanted to reach out to one of them like, nope, I’m not doing that. I don’t want to know if they see, I don’t want to know anything.

Elaina: I love my cocktails mainly my wine and, but there was a period that I wouldn’t just have a glass of wine and evening I was having a half a bottle to bottle, whether it was the weekend or a workday, it was not a day that I didn’t drink and it got to the point where I was dehydrated.

Tracy: I don’t think it’s to the point where you all of a sudden become aware of, Hey, I have all these unhealthy coping strategies and I’m going to just replace them with these healthy ones and that’s it. None of us are perfect and I think it’s kind of always be a work in progress, but I think the awareness is the first step. We talked a couple of podcast episodes ago of just about finding a therapist. That’s been one of the things that I’ve implemented because now that I’m aware of what some of my coping mechanisms are, I need that extra support sometimes to kind of talk through with someone else. I’ve been using these strategies for a long, long, long time, so it’s kind of second nature for me to kind of fall back on those things. But having that support, having that therapist that I can talk to when I know I’m dealing with this right now and I really don’t want to go back to this Tracy and these strategies. Let’s talk through some things that I’m feeling right now. Just having that support from that person help relieve the stress, help talk through some alternate strategies I can use has really been helpful for me. I think it’s gonna always be just that work in progress.

Elaina: There’s nothing wrong with that because we’re human and it takes time. The first key is acknowledging what you’re doing and recognizing it. And when you do that, there are resources out there to help you figure out how to replace those bad habits with healthier ones. And it’s not about being perfect, it’s just about being healthy. It was hard to acknowledge that I was feeling insecure and that, you know, it’s that easy to actually look at yourself in the mirror and say, I don’t like this about myself and I’m feeling this way about myself and I’m seeking validation from other people to make me feel like I’m worthy. You get to this point where I will say for me it was the moment when I realized that it was okay for me to feel the way that I did and like you mentioned when I went to therapy, was able to talk through those things and not have that fear of of judgment and being able to say, I feel like I am a horrible person because of this, this, this and this.

Elaina: And then for the therapist to be like, but you also tell me this, how is that make you a horrible person? So learn how to accept the things that I didn’t like about myself, but then also navigate through how to fight those urges to do things that I knew were bad for me.

Tracy: Yeah, we talked about to replacing the negative self-talk. I think that was part of mine as well where when I started going down that road of dealing with those negative or those maladaptive coping mechanisms, I started having that self-talk, you know, and started saying things to myself that I knew weren’t really helpful and going to therapy and talking through that with someone and having that person bring more awareness around, Hey Tracy, do you realize what you’re doing or do you realize you’re saying this when in actuality you’re actually doing this? Having just someone bring that bigger awareness has just been helpful for me. One thing along with the therapy, changing that negative self-talk for me has been helpful.

Elaina: I think it’s also important that you build a healthy support system for yourself. Individuals that bring in positivity, support you that want uplift you, that aren’t going to enable you. Everything is a process and we didn’t get these this way overnight and we’re definitely not going to heal ourselves overnight and you have to start with yourself and if you just take that moment, look at yourself in the mirror and just say, here are the things that I love about me. Here are the things that I don’t like about me and it’s not even just about physical things.

Elaina: Tracy, I know that you’ve talked before about part of your self-care plan is meditation. So I don’t meditate and I’ve never really meditated and it’s always something that I’ve been interested in. So what does that look like for you? Like how do you do, where do you do it? How long do you do? Like what happens when you meditate?

Tracy: I start off with 80 steps. I started off really, really small where it was probably a minute a day because I think I have problems since [inaudible]. It’s like after so much time I’m thinking about the dishes, groceries, what I need to do, whatever my checklist is. So starting off small, I downloaded it. There was an app it called the Aware app and what I really liked about this app was that it walked you through a 30-day plan of meditation. It started off day one. You’re going to do it either 30 seconds or a minute, but for that 30 seconds or a minute, you’re going to find your comfortable place. For me, it’s my office. It’s a place no one in the house comes to.

Tracy: I have all of my Zen decorations. I have my meditation pillow, candles, and everything, but I just thought off, I closed my eyes and I just find my breath. And it’s all about taking notice of how your body takes in your breath and how it releases your breath and just focusing on that. And then from there, you’re just noticing all the different sounds around you and just noticing that from there you’re noticing how your body feels from head to toe. So you thought with your head and you just become aware of your head and how your head deals. But it’s all about removing myself from the future, thinking about things that I need to do, removing myself from the past, thinking about things I’ve done and just truly learning how to be present with myself, with my body, with my breath, and starting off in baby steps that minute.

Tracy: And by the end of that program, I think I was up to maybe 15 minutes by the end of that Elaina. It was just so refreshing for me and I think it’s because I’m a person that’s in my head 90% of the time. Just having that 15 minutes of not being there and not thinking about the future of the past and being present really helped me so, and I know everyone else, their meditation practice maybe totally different, it’s all about finding out what works for you to meet. The most important thing is just being present, being there in the moment and not being distracted by outside thoughts.

Elaina: Alright. Thank you for sharing that. I’ll definitely have to check out that app.

Elaina: You’re the reason why I have a coloring book now thought about buying a coloring book, but I found an adult coloring book and I haven’t given it a try yet, but I’m going off your word and I’m going to try it and see if it works for me.

Elaina: Coloring has kept me from making a lot of bad decisions.

Tracy: Might use that tonight, man. I don’t know.

Elaina: I think it just comes back to we all find ourselves coping in situations, whether it’s a new environment, whether it’s an uncomfortable situation, we always find a way to cope. It’s just a matter of isn’t an adaptive coping meaning is it healthy, is it productive? Are you adjusting appropriately to the situation or are we choosing a maladaptive coping where it’s unhealthy? We’re not adjusting inappropriately and we’re often putting ourselves in a worse situation than where we started and if we get into the process of recognizing what we’re doing, then we can take control and redirect that energy into something that’s healthier and more productive.

Tracy: Absolutely.

Elaina: All right everybody, well, we are going to leave it, therefore, today and we hope that you enjoyed this episode. If you did, make sure that you are liking, commenting, subscribing on your favorite podcast platforms, as well as telling all your friends and family to subscribe. All right. Take care, everybody.

Tracy: Bye guys.

Tracy Hampton

Learning and Development Consultant