What are your healthy coping mechanisms

Healthy and unhealthy coping strategies for distress

Healthy and unhealthy coping strategies for distress

When the psychological stress becomes too great and healthy coping strategies are not enough

12/24/2020 People with extreme psychological stress (distress) have exceeded the limits of their own resources and need other support measures to cope with it, according to an im Journal of Affective Disorders Reports published study.

Mental health research from the University of the Sunshine Coast's Thompson Institute is based on a survey of more than 500 university students in the United States.

Healthy and unhealthy coping strategies

She found that 'healthy' coping strategies - like mindfulness and distraction - work, but sometimes aren't enough.

Lead author and professor of suicide prevention Helen Stallman said the results contradict the popular belief that people who feel exposed to extreme psychological stress are not resilient or lack healthy coping mechanisms.

What the psychological findings have shown belies the myth that mental health services and workers should encourage extremely desperate people to build resilience or learn healthy coping strategies such as relaxing or distracting activities, she said.

Support should not focus on 'fixing' the affected person, it should focus on other avenues that will help alleviate their overwhelming distress.

Use of distress coping strategies: results of the study

  • At extremely low levels of distress, self-reassurance and social support were the most common coping strategies used.
  • With moderate distress, the likelihood of seeking professional support increased, as did the increasing use of all unhealthy coping strategies.
  • In cases of extremely high psychological distress, all unhealthy coping strategies were widely used, including suicidality; however, healthy coping strategies were also widely used.


Distress can be defined as an uncomfortable emotion (e.g. sadness, disappointment, worry, anger, frustration). Overwhelming distress occurs when a person's mental stress exceeds the ability of their healthy coping strategies to alleviate that distress (Stallman, 2017b).

Overwhelming distress is caused by one or a combination of stressors that result from unmet modifiable bio-psychosocial needs.

Overwhelming psychological stress

While people in mental distress may be thought to be unstable, they are probably the most resilient of people but have too much to deal with, she said.

The researchers found that the majority of extremely desperate people were already using healthy coping methods such as mindfulness techniques before turning to unhealthy methods to feel better, such as emotional eating, aggression, alcohol, drugs and self-harm, social withdrawal, and suicidality.

© PSYLEX.de - Source: Journal of Affective Disorders Reports (2020). DOI: 10.1016 / j.jadr.2020.100054

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