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  • Writer's pictureCait Donovan

#straightfromcait: Coping Mechanisms and Burnout: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly

Coping mechanisms are something that you use every single day, probably without even realizing it. These coping mechanisms start to develop as soon as you are born, forming based on your relationship with your primary caregiver. Depending on how that relationship goes, you form one of four attachment styles, three of which can make you more prone to burnout later in life. In today’s #straightfromcait episode, host and burnout aficionado Cait Donovan explains what coping mechanisms are and how to tell whether your current coping mechanisms would be considered adaptive or maladaptive.

Pretty much all coping mechanisms can be either adaptive or maladaptive depending on the intention behind them. Sometimes, even if a coping mechanism is not technically healthy, it may still be useful for your survival in the moment. When a coping mechanism is maladaptive, it means that while it may help you temporarily, it also has the potential for consequences that could be worse than the initial problem you were trying to solve. Examples of maladaptive coping mechanisms include rumination, substance abuse, self harm, daydreaming, hypervigilance, and disengagement. Adaptive coping mechanisms are those that are considered both helpful and healthy in the long run, such as emotion regulation, speaking with a therapist or a friend, and intentional forced distraction.

While healing from trauma and burnout, you will engage many coping mechanisms. In the same way that your burning out was not your fault, your default coping mechanisms are also not your fault. They were determined long before you had any say in what they were. Instead of demonizing behaviors that were helpful for you in the past for being maladaptive, look at how you can update them to be more healthy going forward and leave behind the ones that are no longer serving you.


A coping mechanism is an action or a behavior that you engage in when you need to overcome a difficulty.” (1:37-1:44 | Cait)

The initial response of your primary caregiver to those needs that you are trying to convey is what guides how you will eventually long term create your particular style of coping.” (2:03-2:16 | Cait)

“Children who form secure attachments go through life with more self confidence, more resilience, and more ability to trust the people around them.” (2:39-2:49 | Cait)

Most coping mechanisms can be adaptive or maladaptive depending on the intentionality with which they are used.” (12:00-12:06 | Cait)


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