What are coping skills?

What is your first reaction in the face of sudden stress? Do you make a plan to overcome it? Talk it out with your friends? Avoid confronting the situation? Or try to hide the fear by resorting to comfort food or other substances?

There are so many different ways of adapting to a stressful situation. Coping is the conscious and unconscious effort we put in to solve problems and reduce stress. It is the mind’s built-in troubleshoot program that aims to restore its optimum functioning state.

In psychology, coping skills or coping strategies are a set of adaptive tools that we proactively administer to avoid burnout. These tools can be our thoughts, emotions, and actions and are defendant on our personality patterns.

For example, a sociable and friendly person is more likely to use solution-focused and communication-based coping skills to get rid of his troubles. On the contrary, a timid person has chances of using defensive and self-oriented coping strategies for psychological adjustments.

Lazarus and Folkman (1984), one of the pioneers of the coping theory, defined coping as:

constantly changing cognitive and behavioral efforts to manage specific external and internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person.

Folkman and Lazarus split the coping strategies into four groups, namely:

  Problem-focused Coping

emotion-focused coping

support-seeking Coping

meaning-making coping

 Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies as well:

Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive) Coping

Problem-focused (adaptive behavioral) Coping

Emotion-focused Coping

Occupation-focused coping

Based on their definitions, we can say that:

Coping involves spending mental energy in a way that can reduce stress.

Whether conscious or subconscious, the ultimate goal of all coping mechanisms is to solve a problem and return homeostasis.

Coping strategies can be positive or negative, depending on whether they increase or reduce mental wellbeing.

Coping is dependent on personality patterns and perceptual experiences.

The strategies one chooses for adapting to a situation are highly individualized. Coping is never the same for two people.

Negative Coping Mechanisms

  1. Avoiding the problem:
    1. This is called anxious avoidance and is a very common coping strategy that relates to a person who continually avoids a situation because they are afraid. Unfortunately, the fear will be maintained and even strengthened if a person does not confront their fear, despite the immediate sense of relief at the avoidance.
  1. Smoking, Alcoholism, abuse:
    1. This is a negative coping mechanism for obvious health reasons. Although it provides comfort and fake calm in a stressful situation, the health risks and financial implications are immense.
  1. 3. Compulsive spending:
    1. If you are continually buying things to help relieve stress, then you are only making things worse in the long run. People start to hide their purchases from their partners, they turn to credit cards to fulfill their spending, and it can create a substantial financial burden for the family.
  1. 4. Drinking too much caffeine and other energy drinks:
    1. As with other addictions, you get an immediate hit when you drink a cup of coffee that will help you to cope with stress, but drinking too much can cause long-term problems. The energy in times when a person is feeling down and not interested in daily activities can be a helpful motivator. There might be interests and hobbies that could keep your mind off of disturbing things, so keeping energy up can come handy in using, rather abusing this mechanism.
  1. 5. Escaping or mental Flight:
    1. If you are faced with an anxiety-producing situation, you will immediately escape from it, and the body will feel instantly relieved. So when you encounter that situation again, the mind will recall the good feeling that escaping gave, and instead of remaining in the condition, one would want to leave. However, by not continuing in that specific panic-producing situation for long enough, one will never realize that the anxiety will naturally subside on its own.

7. Sleeping too much:

  1. Sleeping is a good way of avoiding your troubles, as when someone is asleep, they don’t have to think about their situation. The brain wants to escape the situation at hand, and one way it does that is sleep or take a nap. The brain transmits signals to the body that indicate that right now, the better thing to do is rest rather than deal with the problem. Tiredness takes over.
  1. Lack of Sleep:
    1. The problem is weighing heavily on the mind, and one cannot get a break from it. The mind races and all the resolutions, along with everything that can go wrong is rushing out at the same time. 
    2. Sometimes it might be the opposite. It might just be that there is discomfort and restlessness that one is unable to identify. This unrest in the body and the brain can cause a lack of sleep.

8. You become promiscuous.

  1. Having many meaningless sexual encounters is one way of blotting out what is going on in your life. 
  2. Something to control because there are no resolutions
  3. Someone is telling you that you are doing just fine. Someone is telling you exactly what you want to hear.
  4. Change is always pleasant and appealing, at least for a while.
  5. 10. Emotional Eating.
    1. Sometimes you can find yourself eating when you are in an emotional or stressful state. 
  1. Defensiveness:
    1. Everything feels like an attack on your person and the way you live your life. You feel on guard all the time. You feel like you have to protect yourself and watch every move you make to make sure you are not doing anything questionable or wrong. This way, you feel that you can make all the right choices and eliminate the option of anyone questioning you in any decision making.
  1. Negative Self Talk:
    1. Blaming yourself for things that are going wrong.
    2. Thinking that you are not good enough.
    3. Believing that you are not equipped to handle the situation. 
    4. Joining in with others or letting others put you down.
  1. Blaming everyone else:
    1. It was her fault.
    2. I was dealt bad cards
    3. If he or she had not done this. My in-laws didn’t give me a chance to. My husband doesn’t let me. All these excuses and not solution-oriented.
  2. Starting to look for fights:
    1. You start to look for fights. When nothing is working right in your life and you are feeling frustrated. You are just angry and upset. 
    2. You have bouts of anger, you’re  sharper than you would be with others because of all the mixed emotions running through your head. It’s easier to lose control and snap at others. Being loud and obnoxious makes it easier than thinking about the big stuff.
  1. Feeling Outraged: 
    1.  Not being able to control our reactions when we are upset.
  1. Most times we justify it by saying, well it’s the other person’s fault. 
  2. We have immense guilt afterward, especially if we’ve done this to our kids or parents, or another loved one but it is hard to backtrack, so it just adds to the cycle of the unhealthy-ness. 
  1. Shutting Down:
    1. We don’t talk. We don’t discuss it. We don’t tell people what’s up. If we don’t talk about it, we can pretend as though the problem doesn’t exist.

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