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11 Unhealthy Methods of Coping with Chronic Stress

Your world is full of stressors and while a short burst of stress here and it is normal and a part of life, chronic stress is another matter. Exposure to long-term stress can alter your genes, increase inflammation in the body, and cause a wide variety of serious health issues that affect the body and mind.  Coping with chronic stress is a constant struggle for many people.

11 Unhealthy Methods of Coping with Chronic Stress

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In 2011, the American Psychological Association reported that most Americans have at least moderate stress. The number feeling that their stress had increased over the last five years was 44% (Stressed in America).

Learning how to cope with stress in healthy ways is vital to reducing and managing stress. We talked about this in a different post: 7 Healthy Methods of Coping with Chronic Stress.

There are, however, a variety of unhealthy methods of coping with chronic stress people use. Sometimes we don’t even realize that we are doing so.


For this list, vices include drinking, smoking, and general substance abuse, none of which do anything actually to alleviate stress levels. Inappropriate use of prescription drugs could also be included in this category.

When you’re under stress it may seem like that extra cigarette is relaxing you and making you feel better, but it’s not. Just like alcohol and drugs, cigarettes provide temporary relief from your stress, and once it wears off, you just need another hit to get that state back.

It’s more than that, though. These habits have a serious impact on your long-term health and increase your risk of depression, anxiety, and a host of physical diseases. According to one study, (Chronic Stress, Drug Use, and Vulnerability to Addiction; Rajita Sinha) those who are under chronic stress are at greater risk of addiction.

Falling into this cycle will do nothing to alleviate stress and will only cause more problems that will need to be dealt with in the future.

 If you feel like you have an addiction problem, please seek professional help. You could also check out the book Recover: Freedom from Our Addictions by Russell Brand. This is a guide to addiction recovery from someone who has been through it.

 Denying There Is A Problem

Denial is not a stress management tool; in fact, it will cause more harm than good because ignoring your stress only makes it worse. Managing it is the only way to get it under control properly.

There’s a difference between taking a mental health time out and indulging in a funny movie or meeting friends for lunch and avoiding your stress. If you ignore the issues, then you won’t process them, nor will you understand why or what you are dealing with. The longer you ignore it, the greater the issue will get, whether it’s the emotional fear of relationship issues or a financial issue like a late credit card bill.

The best way to handle this type of situation is by putting a plan in place and acting on it to relieve your stress.

 The Everything Stress Management Book by Eve Adamson gives tips for setting up a plan to relieve your stress.

Stress Eating

Food often serves as a crutch, much like the vices we mentioned above. While it may provide you with relief initially, it can spiral out of control quickly. The reason for this is your mind (and your body) starts to associate eating with the negative emotions you experience (because that’s when you indulge) so you’re intensifying those emotions.

Do you reach for a snack every time you experience a bit of sadness, anger, or stress? This can fuel obesity, increase the risk of heart disease and stroke, and cause a variety of gastrointestinal issues.

This is one I struggled with for years. It wasn’t until starting the Whole30 program that I was able to get it under control. Sugar had been running my life for many years. It was my go-to reliever. But no more.

Getting control of your eating is important. Understanding why you are stress eating is the key to stopping the actions. Emotional Eating by Kayla Bates offers tips to end your emotional eating.

Feeding The Negativity

Let me ask you this. Are you the type of person that panics about losing your job after you make a small mistake? Do you meltdown over fights with your partner worried that you’ve triggered the end of your relationship?

Lots of people will immediately think of the worst-case scenario when they are experiencing an issue that is particularly upsetting. However, it will only intensify your stress levels if you tend to blow things out of proportion.

When you feel stressed out, it’s easier to look through a negative lens and feed negative self-talk. Remedy this by changing your tone with yourself, start adjusting your self-talk to a tone you would use with a close friend going through struggles instead.

Best-selling author Dan Harris wrote 10% Happier: How I Tamed the Voice in My Head, Reduced Stress Without Losing My Edge, and Found Self-Help That Actually Works after he had a panic attack on TV. He searched for the reason for this and ended up writing a book of his struggles. I just ordered my copy of this today.

Compulsive Spending

When you are chronically stressed, you feel that there’s a void inside you that needs filling and one of the ways people fill it is with retail therapy. There’s a stark difference between a small pick-me-up gift for yourself and spending money on things that you don’t need or have the money to afford. This tends to cause an increase in financial difficulties, which is another stressor that will only fuel your stress.

Counterfeit Comforts by Robia Scott addresses this ever-growing problem. Not only does it talk about shopping, but this book also mentions other addictions such as food, alcohol, and television. This is another book I ordered today.

Going Into Hibernation

While there may be something comforting in the thought of building a fort of pillows and blankets to hide behind, it’s certainly not the most effective way to handle stress. You may feel like you need to catch up on sleep, but oversleeping can just fuel your exhaustion. We previously wrote two posts about the relationship between anxiety and sleep and rules to reduce stress and improve sleep.

According to one study, (The Risks of Sleeping “Too Much”. Survey of a National Representative Sample of 24671 Adults [INPES Health Barometer]; Léger, et al.) there’s a link between oversleeping and a high body mass index. The more elevated BMI increases risks of diabetes and heart disease. All of which will exacerbate the stress you are already experiencing.

The Mayo Clinic has released a book about Stress-Free Living. Based on numerous studies, they present ways to reduce your stress.


That inner voice can be our worst critic. You need to learn to give yourself a break. All of us make mistakes at one time or another. The key is to change the criticisms into affirmations. Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff and It’s All Small Stuff by Richard Carlson helps to stop see things differently and change your habits.


Believe it or not, nail biting can be a coping mechanism. If you have suffered from this, you might want to check out Audrey Ciccarelli’s book Truth About Nail-Biting. It is a workbook that will help you figure out what is causing the nail-biting so you can quit.

Angry or violent outbursts

There can be many reasons for anger and emotional outbursts. This can also include yelling at co-workers, employees, kids, spouse, or friends. It can also lead to physical abuse. Sometimes anger can be caused by stress. It isn’t healthy, whatever the reason. It can hurt you and others. Seek professional help if necessary. You can also get Anger: Taming a Powerful Emotion by Gary Chapman. He will give you advice and help you overcome anger.

Social isolation

Similar to hibernation, some people like to stay at home and isolate themselves from others. I know for me, this is a big problem. It seems to be for many introverts (with or without added stress). There is a difference between decompressing after a hectic day and it rolling into days and days of staying home. You might refuse to go shopping, cancel plans with friends, or come up with excuses for missing appointments.

With online shopping sites, especially Amazon, it is so easy to shop from the convenience of your home and never leave the house. Although this in itself isn’t a bad thing, you shouldn’t use it as a crutch to isolate yourself.

If you have social anxiety, one tip would be to pick places where there aren’t as many people. For example, go to the beach during the fall or winter months. Some of the amenities may be closed, but you can enjoy a little bit of breathing room. This goes for theme parks as well. Pick off-season times to go. Not only will there be fewer people, it means the lines will be shorter as well.

The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook is in its sixth edition. It has been a go-to source since 1980 to walk you through the steps to reduce stress and relax more. I hadn’t heard of this book before my research. I’ve ordered a copy.


Sitting too much instead of engaging in physical movement

We all enjoy vegging in front of the TV on occasion. But it shouldn’t be the way to cope with stress. Sitting for long periods of time is not healthy and can cause serious health problems. Try to find time to exercise. Even walking can be beneficial.

Stress: 17 Stress Management Habits to Reduce Stress, Live Stress-Free & Worry Less! by Linda Westwood offers steps to help overcome stress.

Another book you might find interesting is Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers by Robert M. Sapolsky. The newest edition includes chapters on sleep and addiction. It also goes into detail about why stress can cause physical and mental ailments.

No matter what your struggles are with stress, there is help out there. Seek advice from a medical professional. There are plenty of therapists trained to help you learn methods of coping with chronic stress. You owe it to yourself to take action to make yourself healthy again.


Medical disclaimer:  The contents of this post are for informational purposes only. It is not intended to replace professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please seek advice from your healthcare provider if you have any questions about your medical condition.


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