You will often hear things like “The gym is my therapy” or “Yoga is my therapy” and these are incredibly useful things but what they are not is therapy. In this blog I will help you understand the difference between therapy and coping mechanisms and how they work with your mental health.

Understanding your mental health

So let’s start by understanding a little bit more about your mental health. Many people think mental health is just issues, problems or illness but it is in fact a spectrum that you are always on. There is a healthy end, where you want to be, and there is an unhealthy/in crisis end, where nobody wants to be. We fluctuate along this spectrum, day by day, week by week, month by month and will continue to do so. There is no escaping it; which is why it’s so worthwhile investing in it.

Your mental health spectrum – healthy to in crisis and everything inbetween

So wherever you sit on the mental health spectrum today, know that it is not permanent. Your position on the spectrum is fluid and there are different forces at play that can move you towards either end.

What impacts my mental health?

Life is not plain sailing for anyone. There are always circumstantial things going on that will test you and try and push you towards the unhealthy end of the mental health spectrum. Work stresses, relationship issues, financial pressures, health concerns, to name but a few. These things are often an unavoidable part of life and we must be equipped to deal with them. Failure to do so will see you slide down to the unhealthy end of the spectrum. First you’ll cope, then you’ll struggle and before you know it, you’re in crisis.

How do we stop these everyday circumstances pushing us down to the unhealthy end?

Coping Mechanisms

Our coping mechanisms are there to push back against a negative slide and try and keep us at the healthy end of the spectrum. You have to find what works for you. There are healthy coping mechanisms and there are unhealthy coping mechanisms.

Examples of healthy coping mechanisms – exercise, yoga, meditation, walks in nature, cold water therapy, journalling, fun & social time, problem solving, reading, hobbies, learning something new/personal development etc

Even healthy coping mechanisms can become unhealthy though if done to excess. It’s important to find where that tipping point is for you, whereby the coping mechanism switches from being healthy to unhealthy. If you begin to obsess over something, instead of helping you and pushing you towards the healthy end it can switch and become a hinderance.

Examples of unhealthy coping mechanisms – excessive alcohol usage, illegal drug use, overworking/toxic productivity, comfort eating, self-harm, isolating yourself etc

Now unhealthy coping mechanisms might well bring some temporary relief but, subsequently, they can create additional life issues that will strengthen the force pushing you towards the unhealthy end. This is when you can get trapped in a vicious cycle. Tackle problem with unhealthy coping mechanism for temporary relief; create further problems; use unhealthy coping mechanism more; create further problems … and so on.

Your state of mind is an ongoing tug-of-war between life issues and coping mechanisms

So this tug-of-war between unavoidable life issues and coping mechanisms is an ongoing battle. Neglect your coping mechanisms and those life struggles could well will win out. This will cause you to slide towards the unhealthy end. Apply the healthy ones with consistency though, even when things are going good, and you will move towards the healthy end and hopefully stay there.

For a more scientific dive in to coping, why not have a read of The Science of Coping: 10+ Strategies & Skills

Underlying Issues

As well as day-to-day life struggles, there can also be another force that will try and force us down to the unhealthy end of the mental health spectrum.

Unlike the everyday life issues, this force can be a lot more difficult to link to any set of particular circumstances. It can feel like quite an unexplainable force. Makes you gradually feel worse, anxious, depressed etc but you just can’t put your finger on why you might be feeling this way?

Some examples of underlying issues might be long term self-esteem/confidence problems, unresolved past trauma, mental illnesses, unhealthy/irrational thought patterns, critical/negative internal monologue, chronic overthinking etc

It can take some deep work to try and tackle these kind of issues. Coping mechanisms will be able to assist in managing and nullifying the symptoms of these underlying issues but what they can not do is tackle them for the longer term to help get rid of them. That is where therapy comes in.

Therapy

With coping mechanisms there to purely manage symptoms, it is therapy that can actually help to remove these underlying issues completely.

If we use the tug-of-war analogy again from earlier, as we know, coping mechanisms are on one side and underlying issues/daily life struggles are on the other. Now therapy doesn’t join the coping mechanisms side as you might expect. It actually goes over to the underlying issues/life struggles side and weakens them. It effectively gives them a little tickle under the arms so that they aren’t as strong. They therefore start to struggle to pull you towards the unhealthy end.

Ongoing therapy can continue to chip away at these negative forces. The aim being to reach a point whereby those underlying issues no longer exist, having been properly dealt with. That mysterious force pushing you down is no more.

Therapy can weaken the forces that are causing you to struggle

Therapy doesn’t just help with underlying issues, it can also help weaken those unavoidable life struggles. It can’t stop them from happening but it can help challenge your existing perspectives and help create new ones that limit the impact these struggles might have on you mentally. As is often quoted, the problem isn’t the problem, it’s how we react to the problem that matters most. Therapy can assist you in creating a healthier more helpful mentality for coping with life’s struggles.

Understanding the difference

Now hopefully you understand the difference between coping mechanisms and therapy. You’ll get that the gym isn’t therapy. It will never truly eradicate those underlying issues. It will make you feel better; make you look better but it is purely managing symptoms of your underlying issues. Therapy on the other hand tackles them. It weakens them. It gets rid of them.

Coping mechanisms give you short-term relief whereas therapy helps create long-term, sustainable change. Relying on coping mechanisms completely for the long-term can be quite exhausting and is often the reason people slip with them. Now I’ll never kid anybody that therapy is an easy thing to undertake but it is worthwhile. Weakening or eradicating those forces that are acting to pull you down to the unhealthy end of the mental health spectrum has to be the ultimate goal.

Therapy with LINKS Wellness

With your new found understanding of the difference between therapy and coping mechanisms you might think the time is right to consider therapy for yourself. Have a read about the therapy options that Links Wellness has for you. 1 hour sessions available from £42 and our membership option, giving you 1 x 40min therapy session per month, for just £20/month.

To discuss your personal requirements why not book a FREE consultation call via our contact page or alternatively email us at info@links-wellness.com or call 0161 948 5030

Phil

Phil

Founder of Links Wellness CBT Practitioner/Mindset Specialist