What are the top 5 coping mechanisms for life? I’ll tell you in a second. But, if you haven’t experienced stress in life yet, I want to know where you live (like the city, not in your house). Stress is all around us, we can’t escape it. But, we can certainly train ourselves to cope with stress in a way that is healthy and productive.
What is Coping?
Is it composed of thoughts you have and actions you take to deal with a situation that causes you discomfort (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). Coping styles are learned, yet they can be changed with personal determination and mental willpower. However, there are different coping mechanisms that will work differently for all of us. The key to successfully cope with stress is to reduce or eliminate the stressful entity altogether.
Let’s take a quick look at the 2 main categories that many different coping mechanisms fall under and how they are applied in a stressful situation.
Example: You have a coffee date with Josh Groban and you can’t find your stinking car keys.
Problem-Focused Coping: By focusing directly on the problem itself and actively finding solutions to appease the problem.
How you’d react: Maybe scream into a pillow, curse the clouds, and sweat a little. But, right away, you retrace your steps and turn your home upside down. You ask everyone around you if they’ve seen your keys. You start requesting an Uber driver. You start walking to meet the Uber driver halfway on his route. You do everything humanly possible to get to this coffee date and then you realize your keys were in your pockets the whole time.
Emotion-Focused Coping: By focusing on your emotions caused by the stressful situation.
How you’d react: Complete and total meltdown of epic proportions. You think your life is over. You might go do something mind-numbing like water the lawn into oblivion to forget about it all. You may get angry and blame someone else living on another planet. Or, do something worse such as binge on Flaming Hot Cheetos, red wine, and crawl into bed for days to avoid dealing with such a travesty.
Do you see the stark difference in coping strategies?
On a serious note, emotion-focused coping is not at all detrimental if you engage in the right kind. Praying, listening to music, writing in a journal, and meditating are extremely positive emotion-focused coping techniques. The key to remember here is that emotion-focused coping works best when the stressful situation is completely out of your control (e.g., tragic world events, a true chronic illness that cannot be changed with behavior or medication, or death).
Research has shown that those who engage in more problem-focused coping have better health outcomes such as improved diabetes management with lower instances of depression and anxiety and better glycemic control (Duangdao & Roesch, 2008). Men with prostate cancer who engaged in more problem-focused coping were healthier both psychologically and physically compared to men who used avoidant coping and were able to return to pre-cancer activities quicker (Roesch et al., 2005). People who are more conscientiousness, a personality trait described as being organized, vigilant, and efficient, engage in more problem-focused coping end up experiencing more happy feelings (Roesch, Wee, & Vaughn, 2006) and an overall better sense of well-being (e.g., happiness, life satisfaction) (Taylor, 2006). Conversely, those engaging in emotion-focused coping experience more stress thus exacerbating any current health issues. Just think about how your physician may ask how stressed you are and then they generally will tell you to control your stress lest you want disease X to get worse.
Here are the top 5 positive problem-focused coping mechanisms to live the best life possible:
1 – Proactive Coping (Skyner & Cleese, 1994): This happens when you know you have something coming up that is stressful for you, be it a presentation, a date, a meeting, or a flight (ok, I cannot with flying everyone). You plan for this by finishing your project early, mentally envisioning how the meeting with go, or take all the Dramamine. You have to know you can’t always predict how things will unfold, but give yourself credit for preparing for it as best as you could.
2 – Seeking Social Support (Brannon & Feist, 2009): Time to call your posse up, tell them you need coffee, your treat, and that you need someone to talk to. Surround yourself with the person who can listen and give sound, loving, unbiased advice. There’s always at least one person who’s willing to listen and love you. If you honestly can’t find this person, then your physician would be your next source of social support. Note: Do not go to a bar and talk to strangers- this is not the kind of social support I am talking about.
3 – Humor (Skyner & Cleese, 1994): Sometimes, you can make a joke about a really horrible situation (e.g., I guess the aliens abducted my keys and Josh Groban, but hey, I still have my toes) and suddenly it doesn’t seem so bad anymore. If you can’t, this is where YouTube comes in handy, especially anything with Fred Armisen. Laughing releases all those feel-good hormones in your brain and helps your body to relax.
4 – Exercise: Taking a walk or doing a quick sprint around town can do wonders for your well-being. Nature and fresh air can clear your mind. Physically being somewhere other than where the stressful event is happening can bring you a new perspective to solving the issue at hand.
5 – Taking care of a pet: Anyone who has a pet knows that snuggling with your fluffy best friend cures everything. Go on a walk with your fur baby, take him to a pet shop and get him his favorite treat. Taking the focus off of yourself, the stressful situation, yet doing something productive for another living thing can be so therapeutic. If your pet isn’t furry and attachable to a leash, but rather slithers like a snake, puffs like a hamster or ca-caws like a bird, grab some coffee and tell them about your problems. It’s quite amazing what can happen when you aren’t talking to yourself, but to a living thing who unconditionally loves you. You will often find the answer you are seeking in these one-sided conversations. And yes, snakes have feelings and pretty sure they love you, too.
Indeed, there are situations more stressful than missing coffee with Josh Groban. These issues include and are not limited to: war, living with abuse, severe chronic health problems, financial struggles, so on and so forth. No matter what stressful situation you are facing, if none of these coping methods are applicable or fail to help you in any way, please seek professional help from your physician immediately and know you are not alone. However, some of these tactics may be used to lessen the emotional and psychological burden weighing on your shoulders so that you may live a happier and more peaceful life in the long run.
Brannon, Linda; Feist, Jess (2009). “Personal Coping Strategies”. Health Psychology: An Introduction to Behavior and Health: An Introduction to Behavior and Health (7th ed.). Wadsworth Cengage Learning. pp. 121–3. ISBN 978-0-495-60132-6.
Carver, C. S., Scheier, M. F., & Weintraub, J. K. (1989). Assessing coping strategies: A theoretically based approach. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 56, 267–283.
Cohen, F., & Lazarus, R. S. (1973). Active coping processes, coping dispositions, and recovery from surgery. Psychosomatic Medicine, 35, 375–389.
Duangdao, K., & Roesch, S.C. (2008). Coping with diabetes in adulthood: a meta-analysis. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 31(4), 291-300.
Folkman, S., & Lazarus, R. S. (1988). Manual for the ways of coping questionnaire. Palo Alto (CA): Consulting Psychologist Press.
Lazarus, R.S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, Appraisal, and Coping. pg. 141.
Roesch, S. C., Adams, L., Hines, A., Palmores, A., Vyas, P., Tran, C., Pekin, S., & Vaughn, A. A. (2005). Coping with prostate cancer: A meta-analytic review. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 28, 281–293.
Roesch SC, Wee C, Vaughn AA. Relations between the Big Five personality traits and dispositional coping in Korean Americans: Acculturation as a moderating factor. International Journal of Psychology,41,85–96.
Skynner, Robin; Cleese, John (1994). Life and How to Survive It. London. p. 55.
Taylor, S.E. (2006). Health Psychology, international edition. McGraw-Hill Education, pg. 193
Photo Credit: @thailandluxe