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Mental Health: The Thin Line Between Coping and Catastrophe

There's a huge emphasis placed on how we cope with stress, anxiety and mental health challenges in our lives. Everyone has a different way of determining the difference between release and reinforcement.
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There's a huge emphasis placed on how we cope with stress, anxiety and mental health challenges in our lives. Everyone has a different way of determining the difference between release and reinforcement. I've tried a lot of options to cope with my diagnosis of bipolar disorder with anger control problems and psychotic features. Here are some of them.

Music as a Coping Mechanism

Music is a great way to express our emotions. Our favorite songs register in the deepest parts of our brains. Just about everyone has their go to song when they're happy, sad, want to chill or turn up. Picture this. It's the summer of 2000, Limp Bizkit's "Break Stuff" is blasting and a really angry 21-year-old has his fists balled up, screaming the lyrics. Sounds appropriate, right? That was me. I have to say, it's slightly more embarrassing to admit to my music tastes, than it is to talk publicly about having a mental health disorder. Still, it was my way of coping at the time.

There were times when I'd release all of my anger in the music. I'd scream, mosh or jump around and let everything out. That release was great, because I felt like I had found understanding and a safe way to get my anger out. There were also times when the music would reinforce my anger and build it to places where it was uncontrollable. In those moments I'd punch walls, fight people or act out in other extreme ways. Knowing that line between release and reinforcement is really important. People can experience this with sad songs, songs that elicit strong emotions or take your existing emotions to a new, unhealthy level.

Talking as a Coping Mechanism

One of the largest messages we promote in the mental health advocacy world is that we need to talk about all of our issues. Again the line between release and reinforcement comes into play.

There were times I would talk about every single detail of my depression. I'd cry, go over how useless I felt and how much I wish it would change. In those moments I'd vent to a friend or therapist and feel a lot better. Just getting the feelings out helped me see that my problems weren't that bad or big.

Other times I'd talk about my depression and not see an end in sight or an action that could change my current state. As I constantly talked about how low I was, I felt a reinforcement of my self-hatred and depression. Discussing my suicidal thoughts sometimes only made me think about them more. I didn't see a way out of the pain and felt like talking about all of the low points made it worse. We need to do more than just talk about it. Talking is just one step of the journey.

Exercise as a Coping Mechanism

Exercise gets a lot of attention as an effective coping mechanism and again everyone needs to know his or her line between release and reinforcement.

When I have a lot of anxiety, it feels great to go for a long run, bike ride or do some yoga. The endorphins from the activity help me feel better and relieve the pent up emotions. I feel calmer and relaxed at the end of a workout, which is beneficial to my mental health.

There are also times exercise can reinforce a person's problem. We've all seen that person at the gym who has an extreme eating disorder and is obsessed with getting thinner, so he or she makes time to exercise incessantly. When I went through a divorce I decided to run a marathon. The farthest I had ever run in a race before this was a 5k. I trained for eight weeks. Got barefoot shoes. I finished in the top 5 percent of the marathon. I looked at my bloody, blistered feet at the finish line and realized I took my emotional pain and just reinforced it on my body.

There are and endless amount of ways for all of us to cope. I've only scratched the surface of some. What ways do you cope? Have you walked the thin line between release and reinforcement? Feel free to share!


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Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.

If you're struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.