Negative Coping to Stress, Trauma, and PTSD

negative coping to stress, trauma, PTSD

If you are stressed out, experience symptoms of trauma or have PTSD, then you may try to deal with your problems through avoidance and other negative ways of coping that are detrimental and self-defeating behaviors that make your mental and physical health worse.   This is called negative coping. To cope is to make a specific alteration physically, emotionally, or mentally so that you can manage or adapt to something that is causing you distress.

Negative coping does not allow you to learn healthy ways of coping with stress, trauma, and PTSD.

Negative Coping results in Negative Patterns and Negative Outcomes

What are some examples of negative coping to stress, trauma, and PTSD?

Substance Use, Abuse, Dependence
Taking drugs or alcohol to try and feel better by avoiding unpleasant thoughts and painful emotions often results in substance abuse and sometimes substance addictions. You may use drugs or alcohol in an attempt to escape your problems temporarily , help you sleep, numb out painful emotions, or make other symptoms go away. This may seem like a good idea at the time, but it is faulty escapism. And it will backfire.

Substance abuse can cause serious problems. Alcohol or using other drugs can put your relationships, your job, and your health at risk. You are more likely to be angry, depressed or even violent during substance abuse. When under the influence of alcohol or drugs, people often make bad decisions and even worse actions.

Substances change your brain chemistry and the hardwiring of your brain.  For example, Alcohol is a Central Nervous System depressant.

Addiction potential increases with substance abuse:

There is the physical addiction and psychological addiction. The physical addiction is the craving and withdrawals physiologically. The psychological addiction is the repeated and learned paired behaviors of taking the drug/alcohol and the temporary reward mechanism of avoidance / escape from the stress, escape from emotional pain, and escape from the accompanying thoughts / beliefs. The psychological addiction pattern is negative coping, plain and simple. It is the most difficult to treat.

The physical addiction / withdrawal process is known to be easier to break relative to the psychological addiction.  The psychological pattern of the addiction use/abuse is known to be very very difficult to break because of the temporary reward mechanisms operating.

Avoiding others, Panic Attacks, and Agoraphobia
Certain social situations may trigger stress, anger, panic attacks, or remind you of traumatic memories (e.g. flash backs). Because of these reactions, you may try to avoid doing things with other people. You may even avoid your friends and family.

Avoiding others can make you feel isolated. Isolation is when you tend to be alone a lot, rather than spending time around other people. Social support is critical to healthy coping.

When you distance yourself from others, your problems will build up. You may have more negative thoughts and feelings like sadness and fear. You may feel like you’re facing life all alone.

The need of social connection and belonging is hardwired in our brains. Our brains have mirror neurons that fire in response to the firing of another person’s neurons when we connect. These parts of our brain atrophy (shrink) when we are in isolation or lack interpersonal connection in our lives.

So, take part in social activities even if you don’t feel like it. It will increase the chances you have to feel good and have fun. Truly beneficial results occur when we connect with others: Feelings of acceptance, belonging, and safety occurs. There are increases in feel-good neurotransmitters, and decreases in destructive chemicals, such as cortisol.

Staying always on guard or hyper-vigilance
After going through a trauma, it may seem reasonable to try to stay extra alert. You may be on the lookout for danger at all times. This is called hyper-vigilance. However, this way of coping doesn’t work. You end up feeling stressed, fearful, and fatigued. The Brain is in an hyper alert state~ Fight-Flight-of Freeze.  Good news, the brain can be re-hardwired to calm down into Stay and Play mode.

Avoiding reminders of the trauma (i.e. Trauma Triggers)
Trying to avoid bad memories or trying to shut out feelings seems understandable and reasonable. However, they don’t work because trauma controls your life if you try to escape from it. If you avoid thinking about the trauma or if you avoid seeking help, you may keep distress temporary suppressed, but at a high cost. It will continue to resurface. Avoidance behavior also prevents you from making progress in how you can positively cope with trauma and its consequences.

Anger, Irritability, and violent behavior
You may feel a lot of anger at times. Your anger may cause you to lose your temper and do reckless things. You may distance yourself from people who want to help. This is understandable. It’s natural to feel angry and irritable after going through something traumatic. But anger and violent behavior can cause problems in your life and make it more difficult for you to recover and heal. Anger sets off a full NeuroPsychoBiological casade of poisonous transmitters and seriously affects the immune system and every organ in the body, including the brain.

Dangerous Risky Behavior 
You also may cope by doing things that are risky or dangerous. For example, you may drive too fast or be quick to start a fight when someone upsets you. You may end up hurting yourself or someone else. Certain ways of dealing with stress can be dangerous. If you start smoking or smoke more, you put your health in danger. Emotional eating to relieve stress also can be dangerous if you gain too much weight.

Working as an Avoidance Behavior
If you are working to avoid memories or to help yourself forget about the trauma. This is negative coping  behavior because:
• You may not seek help for your symptoms of trauma or PTSD.
• You’re not spending time with your family and friends. Being with them and getting their support may help you recover and deal better with PTSD.
• You may work so much that you get little sleep and don’t eat right. This can hurt your health, so you’re more likely to get sick.

What are more positive ways to cope to Stress, Trauma, and PTSD?
Learning how to positively cope with stress, trauma or PTSD is part of your recovery. You can read about positive ways to cope with traumatic stress in my blog Positive Coping to Traumatic Stress. You will also find information there about lifestyle changes that can help you cope with stress, traumas and PTSD.

If you have any questions, concerns, comments, please reach out to me. I am here for you for consultation. On my website Contact page, you will find a Code for FREE 15-minute consultation.

I specialize in the assessment and treatment of Trauma: Single Event Trauma, Repeat Event Trauma, Acute Stress Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Battered Domestic Syndrome, and Complicated Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (C-PTSD) and  trauma from Narcissistic Personality Disorder Victimization.

I also specialize in depression, anxiety, agoraphobia, phobias. Plus + I am a Brain-Mind Nerd : ) Please see my website for my credentials, training, 20+ years experience, and list of certifications.

In Hope,
Shawna M. Freshwater, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist, NeuroPsychologist, and Holistic Healer.

Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Shawna Freshwater, PhD

Hi, I am Dr. Shawna Freshwater, a PhD licensed Clinical Psychologist, Neuropsychologist, and Holistic Practitioner. ** I provide Psychotherapy, Coaching, Healing, Diagnostic testing & Mental Health Check-ups. ** I meet the needs of my patients and clients that are confidential and convenient to their schedule. ** I offer Remote / Online secure interactive video conferencing to USA residents and International clients. ** I also provide Concierge services at your home, office, or private location of your choice if you reside in South Florida Major Cities. ***Please see my website for more information about my credentials and areas of expertise. Thank you. Dr. Freshwater


  1. lee on August 28, 2019 at 9:19 pm

    thanks for sharing. You’ve got excellent ideas in here and I will surely love to incorporate them to my life

  2. Just someone on May 9, 2021 at 10:51 pm

    I’m a teen and I’ve already had a lot happen to me. I’m reading your article looking back wondering if I can still change the way I cope, because the way I did was numb all the feeling related to the topic and which eventually made me aggressive and It’s like I made a whole other me because I know I’m not mean, I’m not rude, I’m not aggressive, buts it’s just a little girl who’s heart had been hit a few too many times.

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