STORY BY SARAH MONDELLO
Many have done it — used some technique to help get over the darker times. Whether it is to relieve stress, anxiety, grief over the loss of a loved one or even just to relax, we all have found ways to cope with the events around us. However, some take it to more extremes than others.
Coping mechanisms can easily lead to addictions, and some of these include, but are not limited to: reliance on drugs, alcohol, sex, gambling, compulsive eating and exercise, excessive technology use and work. Though these may not be the best choices when it comes to coping with the unpleasant experiences in our lives, they are among the most socially accepted norms.
There are even more out there that are lesser known and, though they may be strange, contain more health benefits than one might think.
For example, beer baths are helpful in muscle relaxation due to the sedative qualities of the herb “hops” found in the drink.
And jumping rope is also physically beneficial. Exercise is known to relieve stress, and with the added emotional benefit of pleasant childhood memories associated with the activity, it can be just the five-minute boost you need.
So, why would some people choose to engage in particularly odd behaviors such as these, and others, like chronic piercing and tattoos, in response to emotionally stressful or traumatic events and experiences? Simply put, why do humans cope in certain ways?
The particular coping response some adopt is directly related to how we experience an event.
Due to a stressor such as a deadline or an unexpected accident, a person’s view of the world is forced to change. At this point, the person consciously chooses either to process or avoid the situation (including both thinking and talking about it.)
Coping mechanisms don’t happen on their own, but rather are the direct result of how a person mentally reacts to the event, according to Assistant Professor of Psychology Steven Lancaster.
“The most common response is resilience. Seventy percent or more of people show resilience within a month later, and most people don’t develop disorders,” Lancaster said.
Dr. Mardi J. Horowitz, a psychiatrist, called the stress response syndrome a failure to adapt, with other symptoms including avoidance and intrusive thoughts. People cease to engage in enjoyable activities out of fear. Instead, they go into withdrawal. Preexisting personality factors, neuroticism (emotional stability) and general coping ability in life are all predictors of these responses.
“All of it is at an individual level,” Lancaster said. “Which makes studying this area very difficult, and a huge range of coping mechanisms, not one way to respond.”
People recover by doing what they least often want to do: consciously analyzing the occurrence and talking it over with others.
“We encourage people to stay involved in your social network, even though it’s difficult, to keep up a normal routine and to maintain a good diet,” Lancaster said. “And we encourage people not to use and abuse substances.”
According to Lancaster, some of the typical coping mechanisms include guilt, withdrawal from social situations, physical symptoms such as upset stomach and the use and abuse of substances.
“Probably more idiosyncratic is that among women who have been sexually assaulted, some seem to become hypersexual after childhood abuse. This involves increased risk-taking behavior and hypersexuality as a way to take back control, because it’s all about control. People feel like an event was totally out of their control, and they want to know how they can change that,” Lancaster said.
Other strange coping techniques include showering, crying to release emotion, jaw massages, a relaxing herbal bath, opening the windows, turning out the lights, ironing, shouting, writing haikus and poetry, acupuncture, brushing the skin and forcing the mind to consider the worst-case-scenario.
“When you find that your experience is overwhelming, that’s when you want help,” Lancaster said. “Talk to a professional outside of campus. We will ask: ‘How is it affecting your life?’ And when we start seeing that impairment of functioning, that’s when we say it’s probably time to get help.”