Wednesday, July 6, 2011

On Coping Mechanisms

You know what usually happens on days like yesterday -- where I have pressure upped in one arena (professional) and a small series of (what now seem like negative, but maybe that'll change with distance) unexpected changes in another (personal)? I go on a bike, or a run, or a long walk. When I say a long walk, of course, I mean LONG. Unhealthy long. Exercise is my primary coping mechanism. A couple weeks ago, I was running six miles a day, every day, and swimming about two miles at the pool. Again, every day. I felt stronger at the end of the day. A good friend asked why I was doing so much, told me not to do anything he wouldn't do. He's blessed with a high metabolism and with being able to lose himself to television. I'm envious of both these qualities. I wasn't training for an event, I just needed to cope with something I couldn't name.

Unfortunately (or fortunately, perhaps), these changes and pressure increases all happened AFTER I'd worked out for the day, after I'd showered, after I was already tired, after several emotional drainings, after dark. A friend, who could read this, but probably won't, suggested back in March that I find another way of dealing with problems. He couldn't offer specifics, because over-exercise is my problem, but he did ask if it would help if I had someone monitoring what I was doing, someone who would say, "Hey, instead of going for a run, why don't you sit here and watch this show with me."

I appreciated his concern, or the appearance of it. But, I told him it wouldn't help, because that's probably the truth. I'd probably delay the negative behavior, I said, rather than argue about it.

This is my method of self-destructing, in part because it's been my method of self-destruction for a while. Easy enough explanation, right? And a cop-out explanation to some extent. "Escapism," I called it this weekend. My friend in Austin, MN said to call it escapism--to think of it that way--was to trivialize what is a real body-image issue. This is true, in part, probably (though I haven't figured out how entirely). But also,  I like the endorphin high. And I like to feel powerful for the few minutes that I'm doing this exercise or that. And for a host of other reasons, which I'd rather not go into, at least not right now.

But the thing is, I know in the end, it doesn't really help. It delays me thinking about whatever it is I need to think about. It causes a cycle of self-doubt and to some degree, self-loathing. I could bake instead (except gluten-free baking is so expensive!), or call a friend, or drown myself in a pint of ice cream (oh, more self-loathing), or any other number of supposedly "better" coping mechanisms. But I don't know that these things work for me. I'm not convinced most of these things work for anyone.

I want to know though: what are your coping mechanisms? I think I need to try a new one on for size.


  1. I'm not sure my coping mechanisms would help much, as they are probably also not (all) healthy. I definitely eat emotionally, so that's less than desirable. But my favorite physical activity (since I am like you and like the strength/control kick I get from that) is yoga. I achieve the sensation of physical exertion in a way that literally, somehow, stretches out my emotional core as well. I also don't ever feel as though I've beaten up my body, the way I can if I've pushed myself too hard running. Instead, I feel the calm awareness of how awesome my body and all that it's capable of is. But, perhaps for you, any physical activity could become distorted?

    Finally, the one purely healthy coping mechanism is, I think, talking to someone you trust about it. Even just in writing a lengthy email, I feel weight lifted. Also usually in the act of crying that accompanies said writing.

    And I'm always up for coffee... :)

    ~ Marissa

  2. Thanks Marissa. :)

    I'm a cyclic yoga-er. What have you found to be useful for continuing to go back to yoga?

  3. I'm with Marissa on the yoga front. Not relaxing yoga...but push-your-body, feel-it-in-your-core exercise yoga. Relaxation yoga just leaves me thinking about what I could/should be doing instead. Work-out yoga gives my brain a real break because it forces me to focus on the movements at hand. And it leaves me feeling good afterward.

    I also like to bake or cook (which you know) to relax, or go for a walk with a camera. Taking pictures is calming and helps me re-appreciate what's around me and focus on something creative (which always feels good).

    I'm always around to talk (or just listen). Floor-sitting, Sonoma-walking, whatever. :) You know where to find me!

  4. Stumbled upon this through your chard link. Will be dropping by again, if you don't mind.

    I write. Same site since high school. I've come to realize few friends are really capable of being there for you, or seeing venting as just that - the venting of negative feelings, not me as a person being negative. The few who are there and get it, are too wonderful to vent to often.

    I go for bike rides, but I try to go somewhere that isn't too familiar, so I have to concentrate on where I'm going instead of pushing myself too much.

    And of course, I angry-clean. The type of cleaning that involves a tooth brush, way too much cleaning product and very sore elbows the next day. I guess I wipe the slate clean in a way?

    - Sanna

  5. Good question about returning to yoga. In fact, I'm cyclic in the same way. A few things that have helped me. First, I can access yoga more easily than most other exercises. I keep multiple DVDs at home, and rotate new workouts through my Netflix queue, so I never get bored. Even though I much prefer in-person yoga classes (pushes me more) having a DVD I can do at 8pm when there is no class/when I have time makes it easier.

    Every time I'm away from yoga for awhile and I go back to it, I think to myself 'my god, yoga is so awesome. Why don't I do this every day, again?' So I guess I try to repeat that to myself on days I don't feel like doing it. :)

    Also, I agree with Brenna about the power of sweat yoga to really cleanse you emotionally. But don't skip the end-of-practice relaxation period. Especially after an ass-kicking workout, those ten minutes, flat on your back, eyes closed, deep breathing -- unbelievably restorative. I cry during them often. That's a good thing.