Coping mechanisms 

There are many different coping mechanisms that people use to manage emotional distress caused by a health condition. However, not all coping mechanisms are good, and some can have net negative impact over the long term. In this section we will be looking at two very common coping strategies: staying active and alcohol. We will look at why people turn to them, how they can help, and the long-term positives and negatives of each of them.


Staying active

Staying active is a common and effective coping strategy when dealing with the emotional impact of a health condition. By staying active we can improve our mood and find more meaning in our lives. Staying active can mean different things to different people, it may mean taking part in regular exercise, finding time to take up hobbies, or spending time with friends and family.

Getting back into the routine of doing the activities we love can be hard, particularly with a long-term health condition. On pages 4-7, our resource ‘Staying active and improving your mood with a skin condition’ has exercises and tips to help you consider how important different activities are to you, and to help you track how often you are doing them. This can help you get back to doing the activities you love.

In comparison to something like self-medicating with alcohol, staying active tends to have a net positive impact on our lives. For example, going swimming regularly may be an activity which you love doing, it also helps you keep fit and healthy, and it can be a social activity which may help reduce feelings of loneliness and low mood.


How exercise can affect your mood

Exercise is hugely important in keeping our body healthy; however, it can also have an effect on the mind, and on our general wellbeing. A lack of exercise can have negative impact on our mental health, and in some cases can lead to vicious cycle of tiredness, anxiety or depression and doing less.

On the other hand doing exercise can have a positive effect on our mental health, including our brain chemistry, which impacts how we feel and think. According to the Royal College of Psychiatrists, people who exercise are:

 

  • Less likely to be depressed, anxious or tense
  • More likely to feel good about yourself
  • More likely to concentrate and focus better
  • More likely to sleep better
  • More likely to cope with cravings and withdrawal symptoms if you try to give up a habit, such as smoking or alcohol
  • More likely to be able to keep mobile and independent as you get older
  • Possibly less likely to have problems with memory and dementia.

“Self-medication” – Alcohol

Living with a skin condition, particularly a long-term skin condition, can be stressful. To manage this stress we often turn to all kinds of coping strategies. One of the most common strategies is to “self-medicate” with alcohol, which is readily available, socially acceptable in many contexts, and can be bought relatively cheaply.

In the short-term alcohol causes the release of serotonin, which causes us to feel happy. However, in the long-term alcohol is a depressant, and will leave us with lower levels of serotonin, and a lower mood in general. In addition to this, a persistent high alcohol intake can have serious health consequences.

Using alcohol as a coping strategy can be a form of escapism. It allows us to briefly forget our problems, without seeking to solve, or even examine, our problems. This issue, combined with the health and social problems that high levels of alcohol consumption can cause, makes self-medication with alcohol a bad coping strategy.

It can be tricky to identify problem drinking, but it is a good idea to look at the NHS recommendations for alcohol intake, and the impact it can have on your health. It’s also worth noting that alcohol can have a negative impact on certain skin conditions and general skin health.

If you’d like to try an exercise to help you think about your drinking habits then take a look at pages 3-4 in our leaflet, ‘Overcoming problematic use of alcohol to cope with skin related distress’.

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