What do healthy people do?
December 23, 2021 2:57 PM   Subscribe

How is everyone, um, ""coping""? In an adult emotionally mature healthy way? (Do people even cope healthily anymore?)

So I've been in therapy for years and the boiled down message I've received is that one must develop healthy coping mechanisms. Obviously there is a spectacular array of unhealthy coping mechanisms out there: eating too much, drinking too much, eating too little, having too much sex with strangers, daydreaming, drugs, TV, copious amounts of exercise, getting into dysfunctional relationships, screaming at one's children/spouse/parents, becoming catatonically depressed.... etc... etc...

My question is: what do healthy people do? I think I have a general idea of what that looks like, but it seems so unrealistic to me. Do healthy people really meditate, exercise three times a week, eat their vegetables, and journal their feelings for 20 minutes and no longer each night? I'm sorry, but that does not seem.... sufficient given the level of challenges most people face.

(On a broader level, this question is about my frustration with psychiatry and how terribly it seems to deal with large-scale social problems that are more complex and deep rooted than having a bit of stress from time to time.)

On a personal level though, every time I think about stopping a bad habit, I think about the load that habit is carrying for me, and I'm afraid the healthier coping mechanisms will not be able to carry that same load. Like, I'm not functioning well or optimally, but it seems scarier to stare down a reality where, in dropping my usual 'bad' coping mechanisms, I stop coping at all.

Anyway, talk me down, Metafilter. Advice, personal experiences, etc, all welcome.
posted by coffeeand to Health & Fitness (32 answers total) 67 users marked this as a favorite
 
I forgive myself and take it about five minutes at a time. I take Vitamin D, which helped my emotional volatility. YMMV. Wishing you all the possible good things today: remember that this will pass.
posted by ivanthenotsoterrible at 3:12 PM on December 23, 2021 [9 favorites]


I talk my friends' ears out about all the crap and they make me laugh. I take up hobbies (I can concentrate really well on my hobbies when I'm angry).
I sing loudly and dance, alone with the music.
Aa for the load they can carry -- it's quite large! I do these things intensely.

Well, except for the talks...I don't want to overburden friends. So I also write angrily in my journal.
posted by ipsative at 3:16 PM on December 23, 2021 [2 favorites]


I think this is part of why people have hobbies. At least, my hobbies (which are mostly, if not all, creatively based) help me cope with life and give me a little space to focus on something that makes me happy. I have recently noticed that when i am stressed and not actively thinking about the stress I tend to veg out in front of the tv or computer screen and eat snacks. If I am trying to be mindful about the stress, instead of doing those things I will spend an evening watercoloring or knitting or something creative. I often will do a little computer vegging out and eating snacks and then go do my creative hobby to kind of reset myself before bed. It's not perfect, but it does help!
posted by ruhroh at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2021 [23 favorites]


don't know what is supposed to be unhealthy about daydreaming & book-reading & tv-watching, which with occasional breaks for exercise can fill all your waking hours before paid employment can even get a foothold. but then I don't get along with psychiatry either.

there are things that are unhealthy because they physically harm your physical body or make other people unhappy, and there are things that are called "unhealthy" because they take your mind away from a land of stress and woe to somewhere interior and pleasant. and I think the case for unhealthfulness there is assumed, and assumed to be strong, but has not even been made. let alone made well.
posted by queenofbithynia at 3:18 PM on December 23, 2021 [23 favorites]


I watch "too much" TV and play "too much" computer games and eat "too much" cookies but like. So what? I manage to meet my responsibilities and it's not like I'm going to hell because I know the entire back catalog of SVU episodes by heart.

Are your bad habits preventing you from doing things you'd rather be doing?

Who decided those habits are "bad" anyway?

If I feel like shit I eat a whole thing of steam-in-bag frozen peas, walk my dogs, and do a load of laundry or clean a toilet. That's my magic bullet for neutralizing my biggest vices.
posted by phunniemee at 3:19 PM on December 23, 2021 [30 favorites]


I don't think all those mechanisms are unhealthy. A lot of it is just managing so that you don't go to extremes. TV is a healthy way to cope with being lonely, for example, if you're watching comforting shows with actors you recognize.

I think you're pairing a lot of consumer-y educated-upper-middle-class value judgments about what's "healthy" (meaning desirable or aspirational for women -- like meditating and yoga) with things that are "healthy" psychologically (so basically anything that doesn't make your life worse and helps you avoid the really destructive stuff).

So, going out for drinks with friends can be a great coping mechanism. Getting so drunk that you do shit that makes you feel worse ultimately or loses you friends/your job: not a great coping mechanism.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 3:19 PM on December 23, 2021 [27 favorites]


The sitcom Everybody Loves Raymond is about as accurate a picture as I could convey.
posted by SemiSalt at 3:23 PM on December 23, 2021


Best answer: "Healthy" is a complicated and overloaded word, is part of it. I recognize in what you're describing something I'd probably describe more as "perceived as virtuous": exercise, meditation, things that we see people doing in images of successful and stable and well-lived lives etc. etc. And those things can be good, but they don't work for everyone and people can certainly do perceived-virtuous things in unhealthy ways too.

My feeling is, coping is pretty much by definition doing X to help you mitigate or compensate for or lessen the harm you receive from Y, and if a coping mechanism manages to provide that help without creating greater new harms in the process, that's an okay thing. It doesn't have to be flattering or impressive or something you'd see in a wellness ad; it just has to work and help you out and not fuck you up more than it helps. And, as you say, fucking yourself up by dropping your coping mechanisms for the sake of not having unflattering coping mechanisms is not a great plan.

I try to periodically tune my own coping mechanisms (and I have a lot) to keep them sort of balanced and in rotation and stop them when I can from being a thing I'm doing out of habit rather than because it's actually helping at all. For me as long as I'm not blowing past "this will distract/comfort me" all the way into "whoops, forgot to come up for figurative air" I feel okay about it, even if most of what I actually accomplished on a given day was remember to shower and take my meds and answer the most important email in my inbox. Nobody wins a prize for coping; don't feel like you have to do it better than you're able just because of the Instagram picture some folks manage to paint of their lives.
posted by cortex at 3:34 PM on December 23, 2021 [40 favorites]


My question is: what do healthy people do?

I think it varies but I think the short answer is "manage to behave in ways which are in line with their values and goals, doing things they mostly don't regret afterwards" I'm firmly of the opinion that if you're not hurting other people, most other things that you do that are not undermining your own life (i.e. that list you made) are ok. If this is TV and tater tots, great. If this is journaling and jump rope, great. If this is going out five nights a week and staying out until you come home and go straight to bed, great. A lot of this is thinking about the goals you have for you and whatever mutual/joint goals you have with the people closest to you in your life who you are interdependent with. So like for life goals: are you supporting yourself (or is your interdependent group supporting itself), are you able to do the things you want to do generally on a day to day basis, if not do you have plans that are moving you in that direction? That kind of thing.

So like for me. I am medium-healthy I think? I have a therapist, I manage I lot of anxiety, I am decently medicated. I have friends, I have some family I am close to, I have a partner who I have a long-distance relationship with. And yeah I do meditate and go out for a walk nearly every day, but for me this is more like medicine (so I can sleep) than, like "Oh check me out with my healthy habits!"

My coping strategies are all over the place but a lot of them have to do with routine. Coffee in the morning, reading books at night, keeping my place this clean or that orderly. I spend a lot of time on the internet. I spend a great deal of time alone. I enjoy social media. I like watching football on tv. I probably don't do my laundry enough. I probably could spend more of my time working. For me a lot of it is just checking in with myself "Hey you want to be this kind of person. Are the things you are doing day to day (still) in line with that?" If not, adjust. If so, gold star, keep on keeping on.

I really agree with cortex: pay attention a little, see what's working and what isn't, try to make small adjustments. Learn when to take advice and when to totally ignore it.
posted by jessamyn at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2021 [31 favorites]


Self talk. I am not sure if I am "healthy" but when I am not doing well I try to be nice to myself. Take a morning off. Nap. Do that dumb phone game to deal with a bit of anxiety.

And when I am feeling overwhelmed or anxious- I think about the unbroken chain on women that are my ancestors. They dealt with losing children, marrying men they didn't want to marry and had no way out any treatment they want to dole out, had work from sunup to sundown, and had health issues they were mysterious and untreatable.

When I think of where I am and what tools I have at my fingertips -- I know "I've got this". It might not be easy or fun, but it's not hopeless.
posted by ReluctantViking at 3:41 PM on December 23, 2021 [7 favorites]


When I have the brain space to make a good choice, I sneak that good choice in. Creating small habits, little by little, over time works for me. I think of it as if I were the captain of a ship or interstellar craft: course-correcting is the job.

But when my internal "waaahhhhhhhh!" is too strong, I make the choice that feels possible. Sometimes that's Succession & ice cream before 7am for two days in a row.

But you've got to find what works for you then allow yourself to have it.
posted by cocoagirl at 3:51 PM on December 23, 2021 [7 favorites]


I, like everyone else, have had a year of many challenges.

I have often shrugged off those things that sound like the 'desirable and aspirational upper class women things' Rock 'em Sock 'em mentions above. I imagine that I couldn't actually enjoy them and that others are doing them because they aspire.

So I don't think of myself as a 'yoga person' (I don't have fancy gear and I don't do anything that would make an amazing instagram pose) and yet, having found the right yoga, I find doing it regularly makes a big difference to my mind and body. In the last month, I tried acupuncture and enjoy it - whether it is the acupuncture itself or just the overall process that helps, I don't know. I am still resisting journalling, no matter how good people say it is for them!!

So I guess I don't always know until I try whether this stuff is just aspirational-woo or helpful for me.

But you don't have to drop the bad ones in order to try something new and it doesn't have to be EVERYTHING all at once. You can keep binge watching tv and add a piece of fruit to your diet. I think small things can make a big difference, but as you point out, even though they are small or seem simple, it can actually seem like a lot of work to get started. Do the one that feels possible right now.
posted by AnnaRat at 3:55 PM on December 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


I think of coping mechanisms as things that bring you back to equilibrium. What's needed to do that varies. Sometimes it's something technically "good," sometimes something technically "bad." You know, you take the medicine you need.

I have long ranty conversations with my friends. I cook big satisfying dinners (with vegetables!) and we spend a long time at the table eating a little too much and drinking a little too much and talking about everything. I take my dog on lots of walks--the more coping required, the more walking we do. Sex, well, when you're scared, like existentially scared, it is the best thing for feeling not alone, especially with someone who loves you. I journal a lot because it really helps me to stop ruminating. I let the dog sleep in my bed; he's a good snuggler and sometimes just feeling him mashed up against my back helps me get back to sleep. If I can be the filling in a love sandwich between my dog and my partner, even better. I do a little cleaning (not too much). Lately we do a 30-minute yoga class right before I start cooking, and that's been amazingly good. We get up from shivasana and pour ourselves a glass of wine. Not sure if that's how you're supposed to do it but it works.
posted by HotToddy at 4:03 PM on December 23, 2021 [8 favorites]


One thing that stands out in your examples is that most of them are just too much of a thing that is fine in smaller quantities. "Healthy" people - by which I mean people who are managing their life stress in a fairly balanced way, get most of their necessary tasks done, and have some kind of margin of resilience left over for emergencies and other temporary spikes in stress load - do watch TV and have sex and eat fairly decent meals (and have treats sometimes) and exercise some and occasionally have disagreements with their closest people.

Could they spend some of that time being even MORE "virtuous" on paper? Sure, but at some point the reward return on that becomes really slim; I think you can make an argument even that participating in pop culture by watching 3 "too many" hours of TV or a movie per week pays off more in connectedness and other squishy unmeasurable human needs than spending those 3 hours making things a little bit more cleaner or earning a few more dollars. An hour of unstructured goofing around with your kids instead of doing extra credit homework is good for everyone's human brains and bodies.

It IS healthy for humans to rest, unwind, interact in not-measurably-productive ways, fuck, nourish themselves, daydream, move their bodies. Play is necessary to healthy human development and mental health, and not just for kids. A lot of what defines "healthy" at this point and time actually means "healthy to maximize profit". It isn't optimized for the actual health of our organs or bones or blood, it isn't optimized for robust human community or ideal child-rearing or ecological stewardship of the land that produces our food and water. It mostly means being able to work as much as possible.

We're not actually built to tolerate the world we live in, so if you even think about it too hard the term "healthy" becomes pretty meaningless. I don't think most people are coping at anywhere close to maximum potential cope, because we live in a world that depends on us being short of resources at all times.
posted by Lyn Never at 4:06 PM on December 23, 2021 [23 favorites]


I don't know how well I am coping, but my healthy coping mechanisms including maintaining and deepening relationships with people I like who treat me well, sharing problems rather than keeping them to myself, getting enough sleep, fresh air, listening to music that I like, watching good and interesting documentaries (BBC4 as typical standard) and quiz shows (eg Only Connect, Pointless, The Chase, etc) on tv, venting to trusted colleagues about work challenges, reading the internet.

I do not always use all of these, and also use less healthy coping methods like ice cream, takeaways and mindless tv watching or Facebook/twitter scrolling. I daydream a lot but see that as neither healthy nor less healthy. I drink occasionally, including binge drinking when I get the opportunity, but I don't use alcohol as a coping mechanism.

I also do not do other things that would be sensible, like exercising.
posted by plonkee at 4:14 PM on December 23, 2021


I feel like the healthy behaviors you list are more of a baseline, you do them because doing them consistently makes you more resilient against feeling like crap, and they can help in the moment when you’re only a little off balance (going for a walk to decompress from too many meetings). Coping mechanisms have to actually help you feel better to be useful; the goal is to pick ones that don’t make your problems worse.
posted by momus_window at 5:31 PM on December 23, 2021


Best answer: Stay in contact with those you love. Bring good things to the conversation, reminisce, listen, absolutely help others when you can, be a good neighbor. Be good to yourself, as good to you, as you would be to a guest. Celebrate small things, meaning appreciate your moments, use the good china for you. Be thoughtful of what you bring to your inner domain. Passive hatred is no substitute for positive acts. Do, you. Remember to do the things which keep your baseline metabolism up, get rid of sleep distractions, love your bed, your nest, keep it comfortable. What you do, what you say, day by day is your life. Keep it mindful and opportunistic when it comes to tiny positive sights and nuances throughout the day. Notice the light, the color of the day, rejoice. This life is an oddity, likely in all the universe. Billions of years, of solar revolutions, of our evolution, of the unfolding life of this world, missed the mark, if we become incapable of finding the subtle to outrageous, miracle of it. That is the coping mechanism of life. Putting all things aside to know our selves and be in our moments, share our insights and affections with others, in spite of the monolithic, multi-armed, multifaceted, mess ongoing. Delving into the small, the personal, makes it easier to enjoy ourselves as a primary resource, and diminishes the importance of aquisition and consumption. Keeping up with...you name it, is tiring, and demoralizing. Anyway, deal with less, eliminate as many things you have to cope with, as possible. Allow your mind to rest.
posted by Oyéah at 5:50 PM on December 23, 2021 [21 favorites]


I started exercising regularly about 15 years ago (gym 3-4 times a week and walking dogs every day) and I can't even explain the load that it carries for me. I don't know where I would be or where my life would be without it, and this is something I regularly reflect on. I think it changed all facets of my life, made me a better person, allowed me to get through post-grad, through breakups, through dysfunction, really bad anxiety, allows me to cope with my work. It is the number one thing that has changed my life and it is the one thing that has been (and hopefully will be) constant no matter what is happening.
posted by thereader at 7:51 PM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Do healthy people really meditate, exercise three times a week, eat their vegetables, and journal their feelings for 20 minutes and no longer each night?

No, they don’t…not everything all the time…
But they might try one of these habits one at a time to see how it feels and whether that benefit is worth the effort.
Think of it as something you might do for another person…
“What can I do for Calgirl that will help to smooth out her mornings?”
“I could be nice to her and pick out her clothes the night before. Let’s try that for a week and see if it works.”
Or
“What would happen if she eats breakfast before 7 am every morning- let’s try that and see how that feels.”
It should all be low stakes stuff- just be kind to yourself a little bit every day and be curious to learn new things.
posted by calgirl at 7:55 PM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Response by poster: Thank you so much for the replies. I wrote this right after reading a self-help article and of course it recommended 'developing healthier coping mechanisms.' And I was like, WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN. I HATE MEDITATING. TIME TO POST AN ASK TO METAFILTER.

But these answers have been so thoughtful, even beautiful, and I really appreciate it. I am just in kind of a slump where nothing seems pleasurable, so a lot of my hobbies and 'healthy' stuff I would normally do has fallen by the wayside.
posted by coffeeand at 8:01 PM on December 23, 2021 [18 favorites]


About a month ago I could have asked this question too!
Now I have learned that there are no healthy people. Everyone is like me, broken to a greater or lesser extent. And we all heal, and then get wounded again.
I had been thinking of myself as standing on the outside of the healthy world, looking in, different in some fundamental way.
But that was not accurate. We are all lonely and struggling, sometimes, even those of us who don't seem to be. Some more than others.
In my case, the reason I am in "healthy" land right now, and not struggling in the sea of anxiety and depression is a combination of therapy and starting to take an SSRI.
I used to do all the things you're supposed to do, meditation every day, exercise etc and they did help me, but they were not enough.
I don't say this as a suggestion that your experience will be the same.
People are different. Don't worry about what others do. You are the expert on your own needs right now.
posted by Zumbador at 8:17 PM on December 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


My coping mechanisms-

I give advice on the internet. Here, and in a bunch of groups on Facebook and Reddit where people ask for advice. I enjoy explaining things and I find it satisfying to type out pat little answers and get likes and upvotes.

I drink a little, generally 0.5-1 drink per day, maybe 2 drinks on a bad day. I enjoy a small weak cocktail once my work is done for the day - half a shot of rum in a coke, or splitting a beer or cider with my partner.

I talk on the phone to my bestie for about an hour a day, usually while driving or doing chores.

I rant to my bestie (mutual - she’s a ranter too) or my partner (who’s a non reactive type). I try to find the humour in the ranting.

If I’m feeling really emotional I do chores energetically, stress-eat a McCain deep’n’delicious cake, have a shower, read a violent novel, or watch a tv show (I don’t usually watch tv)

I doom-scroll on Twitter or zone out on Instagram stories or tiktok

When I was single I went on a lot of first dates when I was feeling restless. I also had a platonic cuddle buddy so I wouldn’t be skin- hungry. I was dating for connection and attention and novel conversation. It actually wasn’t sex I needed- sex with a near-stranger would have made me feel worse (no judgement on others, but I know myself). I had extremely strict rules that made it impossible to “accidentally” have sex on first dates: usually only had 1 drink, never more than 2 drinks, don’t kiss on a first date, and I never got into a vehicle with someone - so I couldn’t get to their house).

I work- I’m a writer and finishing something gives me a very satisfying neurotransmitter hug.

I try to be transparent with my feelings and issues. If there’s a problem I will start a conversation to try to troubleshoot and solve it. And occasionally I tell someone off- bluntly but usually respectfully and constructively.

I do something nice for someone else. If I feel shitty I usually message someone and start a nice conversation or post something helpful / validating on someone’s social media or send a text to see how they are, or send them a small jokey present or something like that.

Coping sucks, it’s hard. I have very strict personal rules about no
posted by nouvelle-personne at 8:55 PM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Ooops posted too soon.

I have very strict personal rules about no recreational drugs; I’m a cheapskate so it’s hard for me to blow more than $100 in one transaction so I don’t overspend too badly; and I’m lucky that I don’t enjoy the feeling of being drunk... so I’m spared bad fallout from most of my coping mechanisms.

In general with my coping mechanisms, the worst thing that happens is I tell someone off and burn a bridge - which frankly is almost always fine.

I definitely do NOT eat healthy, do yoga, exercise, journal, or meditate! But I have my shit together fairly well despite not doing those.
posted by nouvelle-personne at 9:03 PM on December 23, 2021 [1 favorite]


what do healthy people do?

Beats me.

I mean, I'm reasonably healthy. I'm nearly 60 and the only thing stopping me from doing what I want to right now is chronic lower back pain, and that's easing since I got back on the weight loss train. Hauling 29kg less than I did five months ago is already proving to be a real help and I expect I'll be pretty much sorted once I've burnt off the remaining 42kg that stands between me and fighting weight.

But the main thing, it seems to me, is what Zumbador just said. Cope any way you can. If it helps you more than it hurts you or anybody else, then by definition it's good for you regardless of what Mrs Grundy thinks of it.

of course it recommended 'developing healthier coping mechanisms.' And I was like, WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN.

That one is answerable. At least, I can explain what it means to me.

First part is breaking it down. The fact that "healthier coping mechanisms" is right there, howling and screeching and radiating a blinding flashbulb of judgement in all directions, is a big distraction from the fact that "developing" is there as well and that that's actually the challenging part.

Don't worry about what "healthier coping mechanisms" is supposed to mean. You already know what those are for you. If you didn't already know that, it wouldn't be so teeth-grindingly infuriating to be advised yet again to "develop" them.

So the real question is how to go about "developing" these things.

The first thing to understand is that 99% of what people do, day by day and minute by minute, is perform habitual behaviours. We do that because our habits define our paths of least resistance. That's their job. If we didn't have habits, and instead needed to concentrate on and cogitate about every last thing we did, we'd wind up exhausted and non-functional inside half an hour.

Next is to take apart the process by which habits get formed. That's really all that needs to be understood, because obviously once they are formed they just get added to our behavioural library and self-maintain via frequent use.

And that right there is the key to them: self-maintenance via frequent use. Pretty much anything we actually do a lot of - anything at all - will automatically habituate. This is just one of the neat things about being alive.

I think the single misconception it's taken me the longest to shake is the idea that doing difficult or challenging things, especially things that fly in the face of an existing set of habits, requires willpower. Because the thing about willpower is that exercising it is fucking exhausting. That's just true by inspection of any willpower experience: they're all just this relentless internal fight between what I "want" to do and what I'm "forcing myself" to do instead.

The thing to realize is that the things on the "want to do" side in this fight are pretty much always on that side because they are habitual. Of course I'd "want" to do those things! Those are the easy things! But they're only easy because they're habitual.

If I can engineer a way to make a "forcing myself" thing habitual as well, then it will also become an easy thing. It will just slot right into my "want to do" library along with all the other habitual stuff that's already in there.

People talk about "good habits" and "bad habits" and the need to "break" the bad ones. This is all bullshit. People can't "break" habits and we don't need to. All we need to do is create new ones. Habits we don't use will just fade away on their own.

So the first thing to do, it seemed to me, was to make habit creation itself habitual. And because habituation is all about the doing, not about the theorizing, that meant designing some habits and then doing the process of getting them into place.

I started slow and easy, picking a low-stakes habit and paying attention to the process as I trained myself into it. The first exercise was building the habit of always putting away N+2 things from the drying rack in the kitchen whenever I was about to put N things into it. I liked this because it was small and well-defined and I thought it would need very little willpower to make it work.

And it did: the internal battles were easy for the "forcing myself" internal faction to win. The "but I don't want to put that stuff away" pushback just caved in on reminding myself that it's not about the drying rack right now, it's about the process of deliberately building this new habit.

After about a week, the "I don't wanna" or "maybe just this one time I don't hafta" or "this is stupid" pushbacks were getting both noticeably weaker and funny.

After about a month, most of the time I was just putting stuff away without thinking about it at least four times in five.

After about three months, deliberately trying not to put N+2 things away when N things were about to go on had actually started to cause me internal discomfort. Habit unlocked!

That was a few years ago now. I've kept at it, concentrating mainly on the internal habits I discovered in the process of training up for the first few external exercises, and I've got quite a long way with this kind of process since. I'm now to the point where I'm able to apply it to an issue with literally life-and-death stakes: the indefinitely sustainable use of controlled fasting to burn decades worth of accumulated adipose tissue off a body whose satiety signals have never worked properly.

It's been very freeing, but it's never going to be quick. Habits take months to bed in and I don't think there's a way around that.

But in any case I'm looking forward to being lean enough that getting on my pushbike is unambiguously fun again rather than a tedious gritted-teeth "do this because it's good for you" slog.
posted by flabdablet at 10:13 PM on December 23, 2021 [5 favorites]


I consider it healthy if you're not being actively self-destructive in your coping skills. I concur with you that journaling and meditation ain't cutting the fucking mustard these days. I don't think ANYTHING cuts the fucking mustard these days, things are so bad and only getting worse by the second. But just try not to do stuff that actively dynamites your life or gets you addicted to a substance.
posted by jenfullmoon at 10:27 PM on December 23, 2021 [3 favorites]


Stop and ask yourself, "What would would a healthy person do right now?" whenever you need to cope with something.

Bad mood? "What would a healthy person do right now? Well _I_ want to binge on chocolate caramels, but a healthy person would probably take a brisk walk.... How about I let myself have five chocolate caramels but only if I put them into a snack bag in my pocket and take them for a walk? I can eat them only after I leave the house."

Feel like screaming at someone? "What would a healthy person do right now? Well they sure wouldn't stay trapped in a pattern of screaming at their spouse. And I really DO want to keep this relationship from falling apart. *deep breath How do I deal with this without screaming and without doing something that will damage this relationship...?"

Hate exercising? "What would a healthy person do right now? Go for a two mile run every day. But I can't do that! Then what would a healthy person do right now if they couldn't manage a two mile run? I could make myself walk as far as the corner... and I could spend some time walking on the treadmill with a video on. It doubt I could manage more than twenty minutes on the treadmill tho... But it's better than nothing."

Feeling lonely? "What would a healthy person do right now? Well they sure as hell wouldn't spend the day on fb stalking their ex - and I don't do that, so I must be doing pretty well. How would they get some human connection? What communities do I know that would maybe give me some human connection... Um, let's try MetaTalk and if there is nothing there today, how about I write an e-mail to my sister...."

You are already doing what a healthy person would do! They would look for healthy ways to cope with things, and do them as much as they could, making allowances for how hard it is, and giving themself credit for trying and they keep trying and looking for healthy ways to cope with whatever challenges they have.
posted by Jane the Brown at 10:56 PM on December 23, 2021 [4 favorites]


Therapist, but IANYT obviously. I consider coping skills on a spectrum, and the whole hypothetical "healthy person" is really "person who is wealthy enough in positive regard/love, money, and education" to not actually need many coping skills. Healthy is relative--if I'm going to be disgustingly pedantic, drinking water is a healthy coping skill, unless you drink too much and die.

My concept of healthy coping skill is a skill (or a combination of skills) that can be used in such a way as to leave you in a place where you don't need more coping skills to get out of. Things that tilt so much toward encouraging addiction without factoring in behavioral addiction generally fall into "unhealthy." Things that you can't engage with without losing control and causing harm, ditto.

Anything else though, it's whatever gets you through. Sure it would be great if I were stress eating broccoli, but I'm eating cookies. I'm okay with that. It's not meth. It's not base jumping. I can acknowledge better choices AND I can acknowledge that I'm not choosing that right now. I also acknowledge that there are worse choices, and I'm also not choosing that either.

I really like cookies and may have a hard time controlling myself if they were, say Oreos. But these are homemade chocolate chip cookies, so it is technically harmful, but I am leaving a very significant stopgap for myself in the form of "harm reduction":

1) I don't feel the same loss of control with my homemade cookies that I do with Oreos. I have an easier time stopping.
2) If I do eat all the cookies, guess what? I have to do the work of making more. I can't buy a jumbo box of these specific cookies at CostCo.
3) I tend to have a weaker metabolic response to my homemade stuff than I do the Oreos, which means less psychic harm later this week when I weigh myself and see the damage done.
4) I do keep broccoli in the house, just in case I change my mind. But I'm okay with myself if it's a cookie kind of day. And I recognize that December for many people is a cookie kind of day.
5) I use the clarity and ease brought by the cookies to consider what's tying me in knots, even if I don't think I can solve it.
6) Sometimes if I'm feeling brave, I interlace them and say, for every cookie I eat, I also have to eat one broccoli floret. I don't limit the thing I want, and I force myself to gain exposure to a preferred mechanism.
posted by executive_dysfuncti0n at 5:57 AM on December 24, 2021 [4 favorites]


First of all, there are no healthy people, there's just a bunch of clever apes getting by the best they can while terrified by the knowledge by the imminent death of themselves and everything else. Get comfy with that idea and you'll be fine. 😜

My own recipe is meditation and Buddhist philosophy. Not religion, I don't condone religion, but Buddhism has excellent philosophy/guidelines and close ties with meditation and your not required to believe anything. Don't limit yourself to one those, Taoism and Stoicism are very similar but they lack instructions where Buddhism comes with good instructions.

The super quick overview is: Human's suffer, most of their suffering is self-inflicted, the solution is to let go. Let go of the idea that things last, life is constant change, the you who went to sleep is not the same you who wakes up. Similar, yes, the same, no. Let go of the idea that you have control, of anything. Meditation quickly shows that you don't control what's happening in your own head. And yet, you've gotten along like that just fine for as long as you've been alive so obviously it's not a show stopper. Knowing that you don't control things lets you relax a bit. You can still nudge things in a direction and sometimes it will work out, and sometimes it won't, and it's okay either way. You might enjoy one more than the other but you learn not to tear yourself up when it doesn't turn out according to your plan. Let go of you. More specifically the idea that you're a thing that lives in your head and is separate from all the other things outside your head. It feels like like but really we're all part of one giant stew. We're all part of an event that started with the universe and will end with the universe. There's no us and them, there's just us, even if most of us don't see that.

Shit, did I say super-quick overview? Yeah, I don't think that's possible. The meditation/philosophy solution isn't a quick fix, there is no quick fix. There's only learning to see reality and embrace it as it is. It takes considerable time to train your brain out of old habits. It wants to make up stories and then believe them. Let me repeat that because it's important. Your brains wants to invent/fabric/make up a fictional story and then believe it. It wants to believe the bullshit story that it just made up. Meditation is very largely about learning to notice when your brain is making shit up so you can have a laugh at it and then get on with your day. This is as opposed to the more typical behavior of believing the story and then expanding on it and making ourselves miserable.

Best of luck.
posted by Awfki at 6:56 AM on December 24, 2021 [6 favorites]


Your follow-up makes it sound like you have anhedonia, which is notoriously difficult to treat. I've been living with it for years, and honestly I do best when I lean into anything that feels even a little bit good. Too much food, too much sex, too much TV? Hell yeah! Getting pleasure in the few ways I can makes it easier for me to experience other sorts of pleasure too. In your shoes, I would be focusing on increasing that before anything else.

Adrienne maree brown has a book called Pleasure Activism which might be of some use to you.
posted by metasarah at 7:56 AM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]


So, personally, for me health has looked a lot like not reading self-help and stopping reading when people suggest meditating or yoga or going for a walk or whatever. Too much of this kind of writing is about using the concept of health in the service of making you a good neoliberal subject. Maybe that's why it makes you angry — maybe you see that. If so, opting out of the idea itself it legitimate.

It's been two shitty years and there is no end in sight because people keep being selfish. If your response to that is to stop the treadmill of self-perfection and get drunk and watch TV and cry ... well you should maybe not do it forever, but a few months of it might be just what you need. Fuck, maybe that's why Queen Elizabeth won't be seen till February. Maybe she too was like — I hate this now.

Knowing what kind of person you want to be and trending that way is good. I still work out because I like how it makes me feel and what it makes possible. But sometimes when it's too much, I take a break and that's ok too.

Anyways, this rant is in German, but I would recommend auto-translating: it's the healthiest thing I've read in months.
posted by dame at 9:35 AM on December 24, 2021 [7 favorites]


I am just in kind of a slump where nothing seems pleasurable, so a lot of my hobbies and 'healthy' stuff I would normally do has fallen by the wayside.

Oh man I know that spot well. What I do in that specific case is do the things I know I like, or have liked in the past, to work on "faking it til I make it" for a while and if it goes on for too long (more than a week or two?) then I try new things. But yeah it's fine to hate meditating! Or exercise! Or eating vegetables! Life is a lot right now. But it's also perceptive of you to understand that there's a lot you're going through, that many (most) people are going through and to try some things. The one thing that helps me if I am in a funk is basically giving myself a pep that that if I don't change something, then nothing changes. This can encourage me to not just wait for the days to get longer or the weather to get warmer (both of which help).
posted by jessamyn at 3:10 PM on December 24, 2021


I could have asked this question like a hundred times in my life, both now and in the Before Times. Lots of good answers upthread. I don't have any magic bullets for you, but two things that have helped me dramatically (not perfectly, not always, it is still hit and miss...lately much more miss). You also don't need to be good at it all the time.

Some folks have mentioned hobbies. I would add an important caveat to this, based on your parenthetical comment about how mental health treatment not really solving actual systemic problems in society: I would highly recommend finding a hobby that is consciously divorced from, or even antithetical to, capitalism. Lots of hobbies require 'more capitalism' than others; I have some hobbies that require more capitalism, but have a few that don't. They tick different boxes.

Channel that inner luddite if you have one; growing things is great (but picking the right things to grow can be tricky). I grow mushrooms at home; it requires a bit of brain space, concentration and skill to do, but in terms of cost, it is minimal (if you want it to). The byproducts actually enrich my family's veg garden as well. It's more than a closed loop, in that it add's 'value' (uhg) to our garden for an extremely minimal cash outlay. If you want more details, memail me and I can provide you a good breakdown of minimalist gear situations that would allow you to engage in this hobby; it's fun for some. Growing mushrooms and having the byproducts grow vegetables that we're then able to give away is an important little corner of my life. I never want to make a dime off of it.

On the more 'active' side of things, learning how to forage food and hunt mushrooms. This honest to god can be done in cities as well as more rural areas (I actually found a bunch of edible mushrooms in a park nearby my house this fall). Foraging provide me with a really good excuse to do a load of other things that are 'good' for this organism; getting outside for long stretches of time, and both working hard mentally and physically at the same time. Urban foraging looks different but is no less satisfying, but I will often hop on the bikes with my kid and just cruise the hood. Your city may vary, but we regularly find plums of every ilk, blackberries, hops, fennel (seed and bulb!), dandelions, apples, purslane, elderflower (and later elder berries), figs out your ass, black walnuts, pears, persimmons, grapes, and a load of different herbs and seeds. I've found weird patches of chamomile pop up in vacant lots and dried it all for tea in the winter. Promise yourself you'll never buy a blackberry again, and go outside to get them. The blackberry is truly the anarchist's fruit. You should never pay for a blackberry, except by the snags on your hoodie.
posted by furnace.heart at 3:56 PM on December 24, 2021 [3 favorites]


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