Woman withdrawing from social interaction because she is stressed.

When there is stress in your life, how do you cope with or manage stress? Some of us may turn to stress eating, binge drinking or smoking as a coping mechanism for stress.

While these actions help us to feel better and help us to deal with our negative emotions temporarily, they may be doing us more harm than good.

Healthy Vs Unhealthy Coping Skills

After a tough day at work, we may seek solace in comfort foods by polishing off a large bag of sour cream and onion potato chips or indulging in a tub of ice cream when we get home.

We feel better for a while, but soon after that, the sodium and fat content kicks in and we feel tired and lethargic.

On the other hand, we might choose to go for a jog to clear our heads and get a dose of the happy hormone, endorphin. After our workout, we feel happier and more energetic — the “bad day” wasn't so bad after all.

That's right, coping patterns can be healthy or not-so-healthy. Not-so-healthy coping patterns make us feel worse in the long run.

For example, we might feel lethargic after eating a whole bag of chips, or we may feel alone after we begin to withdraw ourselves and shun social outings.

We want to do more of the healthy ways to cope with stress and avoid unhealthy ones. Let's start by being more aware of some common coping patterns.

Stress Eating Isn't Stress Beating

When stressed, do you eat more than usual or have strong cravings for high-fat, high-sugar, and high-salt food? Do you turn to food — and mainly food — for comfort when you feel down?

If you answered “yes” to both questions, you could be a stress eater: you use food to deal with stress and difficult emotions like sadness or anger.

Awareness of emotional hunger might help you break out of stress-eating mode: the next time you crave sugary, fatty food or can't stop emotional eating, ask yourself if you're physically hungry, and if not, why you're eating.

Paying attention to what you are eating and why helps you break out of stress eating. Consider using a food diary to track your eating habits.

Withdrawal From Social Interaction

You might cope with stress by withdrawing from social interaction and isolating yourself. For example, you turn down friends when they ask you out or shut out your loved ones when they talk to you.

Alternatively, you might cope by seeking support from friends and family: calling them to chit-chat, meeting them for kopi, or simply exchanging inside jokes on your group chat.

That's good! Reaching out to your loved ones can help you de-stress, so do more of that.

While it's a good idea to take time out for yourself sometimes, complete social withdrawal or social isolation can be detrimental for our mental health.

Exercise Is a Healthy Way to Cope With Stress!

When we're stressed, exercise might be the first to go. We are just too tired to move because our motivation or energy levels are too low.

That's a pity because regular physical activity can reduce stress and help us feel better. Those of us who choose exercise are on the right track!

The next time you feel anxious and stressed out, take a walk in the park or jog around the HDB estate to clear your head.

Drinking and Smoking as Coping Mechanisms

Another coping pattern could be “drowning your sorrows” in drink or smoke — this is, again, unhelpful.

We might feel better or forget our stress for a short while but smoking or binge-drinking will not help in the long run. They're not the solution to our problems.

What else can we do to cope with stress? Deep breathing, mindfulness and power naps are healthy stress-busters when we're feeling too kan cheong and worried to function. Make these healthy coping mechanisms as part of your stress management system.

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