How can coping strategies help you cope with stress?

Chronic stress is a pressing problem for many men and women. But unfortunately, numerous studies show that improving the quality and comfort of life does not reduce the stressful impact on the psyche. 

Life in big cities, hard work, games at, family relations and other aspects require constantly adapting the mind to new conditions. Therefore, a person needs to cope with specific difficulties daily. At the same time, everyone’s resources of stress tolerance are different. Therefore, coping strategies in stress psychology are essential in reducing the negative impact on the psycho-emotional state. Today we will tell you why you need what and how to achieve a calm state even after severe stress. 

What are coping strategies?

It is a sequence or set of actions to reduce the stress impact. In domestic psychological practice, this adaptation mechanism is called coping or overcoming the adverse effects of stress. However, in a general sense, coping can be reached by protecting the psycho-emotional state during the solution of any problems in life, whether it is finding a job or communicating with people.

Adaptive coping strategies are natural defence mechanisms of the psyche; all people use this way of protection from stress. For example, simple methods of improving one’s mental state include humour, distraction, public expression of emotions, and avoidance of certain situations. The unconscious use of such strategies shows that coping is an extension of the reflex activity of the brain. There are also specially developed methods of adaptation to stress used in psychotherapeutic practice.

Various psychological defences are essential in everyday life because anyone faces daily difficulties. Minor stress can occur even in familiar surroundings. The inability to manage one’s emotional state can be a prerequisite for the consequences of chronic stress. Thus, it is believed that a violation of the mechanism of psychological adaptation is the cause of the formation of anxiety, neurosis, depression and other disorders.

Coping behaviour and resources in psychology

Any psychological adaptation is based on a person’s experiences, thoughts and actions at a specific moment in time. These can be conscious and unconscious reflexes activated in stressful situations. Involuntary strategies are conditioned by the individual’s experience of overcoming difficult situations and formed conditioned reflexes. An example is a selective memory, which makes it possible to forget unpleasant events. Arbitrary strategies are developed at a specific moment in response to a stimulus. For example, the individual is looking for a new way to solve a problem.

There is also such a term as coping behaviour, which defines the ability to adapt to adverse conditions. The absence of such a psychological trait can be a severe violation. Separately, psychology distinguishes maladaptive coping strategies, which reduce the impact of stress but do not help a person cope with difficulty. For example, some men and women prefer to avoid stressful situations and ignore the need to find a way to solve the problem. Avoidant behaviour is considered an unfavourable trait because this approach reduces the quality of life.

Individuals need specific resources to maintain coping behaviours. The leading resource is positive thinking, which allows one to focus on the positive aspects of daily life. Understanding that positive thinking is not related to problem avoidance is essential. On the contrary, this strategy successfully helps overcome difficulties and reduces stress on the nervous system.

Additional resources include creativity, adequate self-esteem, the capacity for empathy, and positive interpersonal interactions. The relationship with self-esteem plays a critical role in adaptation.

There are two main types of stress:

  • Emotional stressors are ways in which a person adapts to certain situations. As an example, aggression occurs in response to an attack. In this case, stress helps to protect oneself and loved ones.
  • Psychological stress is almost always associated with interpersonal interactions and daily difficulties. Usually, this adaptation mode activates cognitive activity, improving attention and self-control. If this function is impaired, there are adverse effects, including chronic anxiety, sleep disturbance, and decreased mood.


Specialists have investigated more than four hundred techniques of stress suppression. The approach to the classification of this phenomenon can be different. Some psychologists prefer to divide coping strategies focused on solving the problem and adaptive mechanisms related exclusively to the emotional state. Others separate direct coping strategies and types of avoiding behaviour. At the same time, there is a generally accepted classification, including well-studied techniques.

The main types of coping strategies:

  • Active search for ways to overcome a difficulty associated with analytical thinking. It is a productive coping strategy that allows the individual to calmly solve the problem encountered and not succumb to negative emotions. Arbitrary and involuntary methods of mental defence are used.
  • The confrontation method implies an aggressive and risky solution to the problem. Confidence in one’s strength serves as a defensive reaction.
  • The method of taking responsibility: the individual understands that only they can solve the problem.
  • Avoidance behaviour is a non-adaptive coping strategy that involves distancing oneself from a difficulty.
  • Self-control – suppression of the experiences that interfere with finding a way to solve the problem.
  • Positive reassessment. Discovery of positive aspects in the arisen situation and thus change the emotional perception of the difficulty.
  • Getting help from society. A coping strategy may include communication, which helps to talk things out and receive psychological support.

It is essential to determine the optimal defensive reaction in a particular situation. Therefore, many types of psychotherapy focus on identifying ways to cope with stressful influences and selecting more effective techniques.

Coping and mental disorders

Breakdown of the adaptation mechanism often leads to personality disorders characterized by social isolation, anxiety and a decrease in mood. As a rule, illnesses develop as early as childhood when a person encounters difficulties and traumatic factors. Gradually, learned helplessness that does not allow individuals to solve problems independently solidifies.

Pathologies in which productive coping strategies are not developed:

  • Depressive disorder is manifested by chronic low mood, weakness, insomnia, apathy, and other unpleasant symptoms. The first signs of the disease usually appear in adolescents.
  • Anxiety personality disorder. The patient develops a fear associated with any social activity—avoidant behaviour forms.
  • Panic disorder is spontaneous panic attacks, manifested by palpitations, overwhelming fear and stiffness. The illness is believed to be partially connected to a disruption of the adaptive mechanism.

Psychotherapy, with the selection of productive coping strategies, is an integral part of treating these mental disorders. Also, training in adaptation techniques may be necessary for a healthy person exposed to chronic stress.

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