ⓘ Coping


ⓘ Coping

Coping means to invest ones own conscious effort, to solve personal and interpersonal problems, in order to try to master, minimize or tolerate stress and conflict.

The psychological coping mechanisms are commonly termed coping strategies or coping skills. The term coping generally refers to adaptive constructive coping strategies, that is, strategies which reduce stress. In contrast, other coping strategies may be coined as maladaptive, if they increase stress. Maladaptive coping is therefore also described, based on its outcome, as non-coping. Furthermore, the term coping generally refers to reactive coping, i.e. the coping response which follows the stressor. This differs from proactive coping, in which a coping response aims to neutralize a future stressor. Subconscious or unconscious strategies e.g. defense mechanisms are generally excluded from the area of coping.

The effectiveness of the coping effort depends on the type of stress, the individual, and the circumstances. Coping responses are partly controlled by personality habitual traits, but also partly by the social environment, particularly the nature of the stressful environment.


1. Types of coping strategies

Hundreds of coping strategies have been identified. Classification of these strategies into a broader architecture has not been agreed upon. Researchers try to group coping responses rationally, empirically by factor analysis, or through a blend of both techniques. In the early days, Folkman and Lazarus split the coping strategies into four groups, namely problem-focused, emotion-focused, support-seeking, and meaning-making coping. Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies: appraisal-focused adaptive cognitive, problem-focused adaptive behavioral, emotion-focused, and occupation-focused coping. Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping. Some scholars have questioned the psychometric validity of forced categorisation as those strategies are not independent to each other. Besides, in reality, people can adopt multiple coping strategies simultaneously.

Typically, people use a mixture of several types of coping strategies, which may change over time. All these strategies can prove useful, but some claim that those using problem-focused coping strategies will adjust better to life. Problem-focused coping mechanisms may allow an individual greater perceived control over their problem, whereas emotion-focused coping may sometimes lead to a reduction in perceived control maladaptive coping.

Lazarus "notes the connection between his idea of defensive reappraisals or cognitive coping and Freuds concept of ego-defenses", coping strategies thus overlapping with a persons defense mechanisms.


1.1. Types of coping strategies Appraisal-focused coping strategies

Appraisal-focused adaptive cognitive strategies occur when the person modifies the way they think, for example: employing denial, or distancing oneself from the problem. People may alter the way they think about a problem by altering their goals and values, such as by seeing the humor in a situation: "some have suggested that humor may play a greater role as a stress moderator among women than men".


1.2. Types of coping strategies Adaptive Behavioural coping strategies

People using problem-focused strategies try to deal with the cause of their problem. They do this by finding out information on the problem and learning new skills to manage the problem. Problem-focused coping is aimed at changing or eliminating the source of the stress. The three problem-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are: taking control, information seeking, and evaluating the pros and cons. However, problem-focused coping may not be necessarily adaptive, but backfire, especially in the uncontrollable case that one cannot make the problem go away.


1.3. Types of coping strategies Emotion-focused coping strategies

Emotion-focused strategies involve:

  • meditating
  • distracting oneself
  • managing hostile feelings
  • using systematic relaxation procedures.
  • releasing pent-up emotions

Emotion-focused coping "is oriented toward managing the emotions that accompany the perception of stress". The five emotion-focused coping strategies identified by Folkman and Lazarus are:

  • accepting responsibility or blame
  • escape-avoidance
  • exercising self-control
  • and positive reappraisal.
  • disclaiming

Emotion-focused coping is a mechanism to alleviate distress by minimizing, reducing, or preventing, the emotional components of a stressor. This mechanism can be applied through a variety of ways, such as:

  • seeking social support
  • reappraising the stressor in a positive light
  • using avoidance
  • exercising self-control
  • and distancing.
  • accepting responsibility

The focus of this coping mechanism is to change the meaning of the stressor or transfer attention away from it. For example, reappraising tries to find a more positive meaning of the cause of the stress in order to reduce the emotional component of the stressor. Avoidance of the emotional distress will distract from the negative feelings associated with the stressor. Emotion-focused coping is well suited for stressors that seem uncontrollable ex. a terminal illness diagnosis, or the loss of a loved one. Some mechanisms of emotion focused coping, such as distancing or avoidance, can have alleviating outcomes for a short period of time, however they can be detrimental when used over an extended period. Positive emotion-focused mechanisms, such as seeking social support, and positive re-appraisal, are associated with beneficial outcomes. Emotional approach coping is one form of emotion-focused coping in which emotional expression and processing is used to adaptively manage a response to a stressor.


1.4. Types of coping strategies Reactive & Proactive coping

Most coping is reactive in that the coping response follows stressors. Anticipating and reacting to a future stressor is known as proactive coping or future-oriented coping. Anticipation is when one reduces the stress of some difficult challenge by anticipating what it will be like and preparing for how one is going to cope with it.


1.5. Types of coping strategies Social coping

Social coping recognises that individuals are bedded within a social environment, which can be stressful, but also is the source of coping resources, such as seeking social support from others.


1.6. Types of coping strategies Humor

Humor used as a positive coping method may have useful benefits to emotional and mental health well-being. By having a humorous outlook on life, stressful experiences can be and are often minimized. This coping method corresponds with positive emotional states and is known to be an indicator of mental health. Physiological processes are also influenced within the exercise of humor. For example, laughing may reduce muscle tension, increase the flow of oxygen to the blood, exercise the cardiovascular region, and produce endorphins in the body. Using humor in coping while processing through feelings can vary depending on life circumstance and individual humor styles. In regards to grief and loss in life occurrences, it has been found that genuine laughs/smiles when speaking about the loss predicted later adjustment and evoked more positive responses from other people. A person of the deceased family member may resort to making jokes of when the deceased person used to give unwanted" wet willies” term used for when a person sticks their finger inside their mouth then inserts the finger into another persons ear to any unwilling participant. A person might also find comedic relief with others around irrational possible outcomes for the deceased funeral service. It is also possible that humor would be used by people to feel a sense of control over a more powerless situation and used as way to temporarily escape a feeling of helplessness. Exercised humor can be a sign of positive adjustment as well as drawing support and interaction from others around the loss.


1.7. Types of coping strategies Negative techniques maladaptive coping or non-coping

Whereas adaptive coping strategies improve functioning, a maladaptive coping technique also termed non-coping will just reduce symptoms while maintaining or strengthening the stressor. Maladaptive techniques are only effective as a short-term rather than long-term coping process.

Examples of maladaptive behavior strategies include dissociation, sensitization, safety behaviors, anxious avoidance, rationalisation and escape including self-medication.

These coping strategies interfere with the persons ability to unlearn, or break apart, the paired association between the situation and the associated anxiety symptoms. These are maladaptive strategies as they serve to maintain the disorder.

Dissociation is the ability of the mind to separate and compartmentalize thoughts, memories, and emotions. This is often associated with post traumatic stress syndrome.

Sensitization is when a person seeks to learn about, rehearse, and/or anticipate fearful events in a protective effort to prevent these events from occurring in the first place.

Safety behaviors are demonstrated when individuals with anxiety disorders come to rely on something, or someone, as a means of coping with their excessive anxiety.

Rationalisation is the practice of attempting to use reasoning to minimise the severity of an incident, or avoid approaching it in ways that could cause psychological trauma or stress. It most commonly manifests in the form of making excuses for the behaviour of the person engaging in the rationalisation, or others involved in the situation the person is attempting to rationalise.

Anxious avoidance is when a person avoids anxiety provoking situations by all means. This is the most common method.

Escape is closely related to avoidance. This technique is often demonstrated by people who experience panic attacks or have phobias. These people want to flee the situation at the first sign of anxiety.


1.8. Types of coping strategies Further examples

Further examples of coping strategies include emotional or instrumental support, self-distraction, denial, substance use, self-blame, behavioral disengagement and the use of drugs or alcohol.

Many people think that meditation "not only calms our emotions, but.makes us feel more together", as too can "the kind of prayer in which youre trying to achieve an inner quietness and peace".

Low-effort syndrome or low-effort coping refers to the coping responses of minority groups in an attempt to fit into the dominant culture. For example, minority students at school may learn to put in only minimal effort as they believe they are being discriminated against by the dominant culture.


2. Historical psychoanalytic theories

Otto Fenichel

Otto Fenichel summarized early psychoanalytic studies of coping mechanisms in children as "a gradual substitution of actions for mere discharge reactions.ided coping. Emotion-focused coping in infancy is often accomplished through the assistance of an adult."


3. Gender differences

Gender differences in coping strategies are the ways in which men and women differ in managing psychological stress. There is evidence that males often develop stress due to their careers, whereas females often encounter stress due to issues in interpersonal relationships. Early studies indicated that "there were gender differences in the sources of stressors, but gender differences in coping were relatively small after controlling for the source of stressors"; and more recent work has similarly revealed "small differences between womens and mens coping strategies when studying individuals in similar situations."

In general, such differences as exist indicate that women tend to employ emotion-focused coping and the "tend-and-befriend" response to stress, whereas men tend to use problem-focused coping and the "fight-or-flight" response, perhaps because societal standards encourage men to be more individualistic, while women are often expected to be interpersonal. An alternative explanation for the aforementioned differences involves genetic factors. The degree to which genetic factors and social conditioning influence behavior, is the subject of ongoing debate.


4. Physiological basis

Hormones also play a part in stress management. Cortisol, a stress hormone, was found to be elevated in males during stressful situations. In females, however, cortisol levels were decreased in stressful situations, and instead, an increase in limbic activity was discovered. Many researchers believe that these results underlie the reasons why men administer a fight-or-flight reaction to stress; whereas, females have a tend-and-befriend reaction. The "fight-or-flight" response activates the sympathetic nervous system in the form of increased focus levels, adrenaline, and epinephrine. Conversely, the "tend-and-befriend" reaction refers to the tendency of women to protect their offspring and relatives. Although these two reactions support a genetic basis to differences in behavior, one should not assume that in general females cannot implement "fight-or-flight" behavior or that males cannot implement "tend-and-befriend" behavior.

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