November 4th, 2022

Using Your Body as a Coping Mechanism

I’ve talked about this before, but it bears repeating, your mental health and your physical health are connected. Turns out that because your brain is located inside your head, your mental well-being is directly related to your physical well-being. This can be a bit troublesome, as it makes it hard to know if physical/mental ailments are causes or symptoms of some other part of your body, but it also can be super helpful when you learn how to use your body as a healthy coping mechanism to soothe your mind. 

The nice thing about your body is it is with you wherever you go. Literally, can’t go anywhere without it. So using your body for coping is amazing because it is always with you. If you use music to cope, or talk to friends, or even go to therapy, all of those things are constrained to certain times and places. You always have your body, so using physical techniques to cope is an option everywhere, which is important when you’re in a space that limits the use of other coping skills. Your body also takes on a lot of your stress, and we know you physically hold onto years of trauma not only in your mind, but also in your body. Learning to use your body to cope in a healthy way also helps your body process some of the negative physical impact out, rather than storing it. 

So, how do we actually do that? Lots of ways! My favorite and most recommended is breathing techniques, because you can do them anywhere! I opened this post talking about how your body is always with you, but not all of these coping skills are activities you can or should do everywhere. Breathing techniques you can do anywhere. In the car, during an exam, at a family dinner, in bed next to your sleeping partner, doesn’t matter, can do them anywhere. They are incredibly effective and some can be very quick. My fave is what I call square breathing. Four seconds in, eight seconds out, do that four times. 4 in, 8 out, 4 times. Beautiful. Easy to remember, less than a minute total, and backed by solid research that shows utility for people across many different demographics. But there are a ton of breathing techniques! Google it, YouTube it, find one that works for you. Tie it in with some guided meditation and really relax. 

Second, no one is surprised if they know me, exercise! Let your body move! Exercise is great, I work with a ton of athletes who struggle when they are injured because for most of their lives they have been using exercise as stress relief without even knowing it. Exercise works so well for so many people, the key (just like with breathing techniques) is finding one that works for you. When I say exercise I don’t mean you need a gym membership, I mean elevated heart  rate for 20 minutes. Go for a walk, bike, watch 80s jazzercise, or go ham with some crossfit, literally whatever works for you. Regular exercise works to prevent stress build up, but exercise in the moment is also a great way for your body and brain to connect and process that stressor in real time. Having a bad argument? Go for a walk. And, cherry on top, research routinely shows that being out in nature is super stimulating and relieves stress for many of us, so bonus stress relief! I had a client once who did pushups in session when they would get stressed out. Awesome. Do pushups in a board meeting, do them in class, whatever, let’s normalize stress relief gang. 

Next up, but related to exercise and breathing, is yoga. Man, I love yoga. It has such amazing scientific backing for being good for people. Low impact exercise, increasing mind-body connection, breath work, increased flexibility, heart function, focus, just all around amazing. The hang-ups I hear are all based on people not being good at yoga. Bruh, it doesn’t matter! You don’t need to be able to do a headstand to get these benefits, just like you don’t need to be a beefcake to benefit from exercising. You don’t need to touch your toes or look good in leggings, do some yoga in your living room by yourself watching a YouTube video if you’re self-conscious, just give your body the space it wants to move! Yoga for the win.

Last but not least, some self-pleasure. The OG self-soothing, a little tender, loving self-care. Ha, I don’t know why society gets weird about it, sex is so good for your brain! And your body! Orgasms are good for your heart, good for your skin, good for the amount of oxygen in your blood, and they literally flood your brain in natural feel-good chemicals. Now, obvs this coping skill requires more discretion and shouldn’t be done everywhere, check out the post on sex for a crash course on consent, but jacking/jilling it has a ton of physical and mental health benefits. Pour yourself a warm bath, put on some Barry White and let the stress melt away with some lube and a good sex toy. And yeah, sex with a partner is great if that’s available, it provides some benefits that masturbation alone does not, but it can also come with its own set of concerns, so as with all stress relief, if it causes new stress then we can’t count it as stress relief. 

This is a very basic overview, any and/or all of these coping skills could get its own deep dive. Literally all of these have books written about them, so if it seems either too basic or too overwhelming then pick one and dig deeper. Find what works for you, and try to build it into your regular schedule. Oh, and as always, remember to hydrate.