Coping Strategies That People Use to Avoid Pain


When we experience struggles, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, or grieving the loss of a loved one, our natural instinct is to find a way to cope in order to feel better. For some of us, the coping strategies that we choose seem to be effective in the short term because they make us feel better or make us feel nothing at all. When people only rely on maladaptive coping strategies and use them in excess, the effects can be detrimental in the long-term. Some of these coping strategies include:

Shopping: For some people feeling emotional distress can seem too overwhelming to handle. Shopping may help with relieving some of the pain because buying new things can increase feelings of happiness and wellbeing. Shopping can involve in store or online shopping.

Gambling: When people gamble they take huge risks because they don’t know what the outcome will be in terms of making or losing money. Sometimes people perceive the risk taking as entertaining and a great distraction from their concerns and hardships.

Eating: Foods that are high in sugar, fat, and salt stimulate the pleasure centers of the brain, which may cause people in distress to overeat in an attempt to feel better.

Drinking: Alcohol can also seem to help people cope with stress or emotional pain because the effect of drinking is linked to the brain’s reward pathways.

Overworking: Working hard at the office and continuing to work when you come home can seem like a great distraction from your worries.

Prescription Medication: Most people take prescription medications only when they are prescribed by a doctor. Sometimes however, people use them in order to temporarily feel better. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications can help to elevate mood and reduce feelings of tension.

If any of you are engaging excessively in one of these or similar coping strategies, I encourage you to reflect on the following questions:

  1. What are my goals for the future in terms of my career? Is this coping strategy getting in the way of this goal?
  2. How do I want to behave when I am with people, whether it be friends, children, or family? Is this coping strategy getting in the way of this value?
  3. What does it mean to be a healthy human being in terms of mental and physical qualities? Is this coping strategy getting in the way of me being a healthy human being?
  4. If somebody who I really cared about would excessively engage in the same coping strategy as I am currently, what advice would I give her/him?
  5. What type of things would I still like to accomplish in my life? (eg: marriage, kids, promotion at work, go on a big family holiday, etc). Is this coping strategy interfering with this goal?

If any of you noticed that your coping strategy might be interfering with your values and goals, I encourage you to reflect on how you could move further away from this coping strategy and closer toward the life that you desire. Talking to a therapist for guidance may be very helpful. I also encourage you to read the following workbook: The Mindfulness Workbook for Addiction: A Guide to Coping with the Grief, Stress, and Anger That Trigger Addictive Behaviors. Book by Julie S. Kraft and Rebecca E. Williams.

It’s never too late for change and growth,

Nina Hopmeier

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