How to Stop Your Self-Destructive Behavior while Managing Your Anxiety

When you are anxious or overly stressed what do you do? Do you take extra care of yourself? Or do you turn to unhealthy or even self-sabotaging behaviors?
For years I turned to destructive behaviors. I was in survival mode and anything that took away how uncomfortable I felt quickly was perfect. I picked fights with people to give my anxious thoughts a concrete reason to be there (instead of just residing in my mind). I began to cut myself around 15 years old because the physical pain was a good distraction (WHAT?!?! That sounds so hard to believe and illogical writing it down but that’s the thought process I had). Around 18 (yay college…..) I started drinking myself silly because being the life of the party was a good mask for how I was feeling inside.
Maybe your coping mechanisms aren’t this extreme. Maybe you have your shit together more than I did, and I celebrate that for you! But I want you to honestly ask yourself: is how I am managing my anxiety healthy and working for me OR is it self-destructive in any way?
The problem with anxiety, at least for me, is that it follows me no matter how much progress I make with my mental health. I have searched high and low at all the articles that say how to make it magically disappear only to feel disappointed when I “fail” to make it end. Some people will only experience anxiety for a period of time, others will manage it for the rest of their lives. I have accepted that it will follow me and I need a toolkit and a plan to keep that shit in check. My self-destructive habits are still something I combat to this day.
But here is what works for me: I have a list of things to do when that icky feeling hits me and I remind myself of why the “go-to” habits will hurt me more. I also keep a running list of what my triggers tend to be so I can be on the lookout for anxious thoughts and get one step ahead of it. I keep constant reminders around my home that anxiety hasn’t ever killed me and the feeling will pass.
Let me go more in-depth on my specific lists:
My triggers:
  • Not sleeping enough
  • Staying out too late at night
  • Drinking too much
  • Worrying about money
  • Negative family interactions
  • Being sick
  • Having a bad self-image day/not liking how my body is because I compared it to someone else’s
  • Feeling like a failure/out of control
  • Not feeling wanted by others
  • Feeling like other people should take care of me
  • Feeling like I am taking care of everything and other people should be helping me more
  • Feeling left out (FOMO)
Coping strategies that suck and end up making me feel worse:
  • Binge drinking (or even drinking at all. Drinking makes my mind medication less effective and makes me lose control of my moods and reactions to things. Many night have ended in tears, screaming, or my next coping strategy that sucks all because “it felt good” at first.)
  • Cutting (this is self-explanatory as to why this is bad. The risk of fatally hurting myself, the risk of infection, the scarring, the serious pain this causes those around you. If you practice self-harm go seek help immediately. You need professional support to help you not do this. My therapist and psychiatrist have been instrumental in helping me fight this.)
  • Binge eating (food tastes good and makes us feel good in the moment. But this always makes me feel worse about myself and even about my appearance later.)
  • Yelling and starting fights with other people (the people I love don’t deserve this side of me. I can’t receive the support I desire if they are fearful of being attacked.)
Healthy coping strategies that do work:
  • Yoga (at home or in a group class)
  • Meditating (using a guided meditation when my mind is out of control works best for me)
  • Weight lifting (good at getting anger out and making me feeling stronger than my mind)
  • Meal prepping (the kitchen is my happy place and making meals ahead of time appeases the type A part of my brain)
  • Reading
  • Drinking tea
  • Dancing around to loud music in my apartment
  • Cuddling with my cat child (she’s pretty in tune to my mood swings and anxiety and gives me extra love before I even know I need it)
  • Painting my nails (with 7 free nail polish because I’m a bit of a chemical-free/eco-friendly freak)
  • Coloring in an adult coloring book
  • Cleaning (it helps me see something getting done and feel like I did something productive)
  • Watching a movie (especially horror movies. I’m one of the few people I know that can fall asleep to a gore filled movie no problem).
Now it’s your turn!
Start by looking at what your triggers are. What situations, people, environments, etc. tend to make your mind go haywire?
What are your go-to, unhealthy coping strategies that suck? Also list what the end consequences that make you realize this coping strategy is hurting you in the end instead of helping you. You’ll need this reminder when your habitual self will try to resort to these “easy go-to’s” when you’re anxious.
Make a list you can refer to of HEALTHY coping strategies you can reference when you’re anxious. I have all of these lists on my phone so that no matter where I am I can look at them. You don’t need another thing to think about or another decision to make when your mind is all over the place. Keep some of these items (for ex.: tea, headphones, music, guided meditation apps, coloring book) in a bag with you when you’re out of the house for any period of time. Prepare ahead so that you can easily default to these good coping activities when your mind wants you to be destructive.
Try this method out for yourself and tell me how it works for you.
Hugs and healing,
Kristen Elyse

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