Experiencing various pleasant and unpleasant emotions is part of the human condition. How we handle these feelings—especially those distressing or overwhelming—can significantly affect our overall mental health. That's why discovering how to utilize positive coping skills rather than negative coping skills can be an essential life lesson. Let's dig into the details of coping skills and how you can build healthy ones in response to life's stressors.
What Are Coping Skills, And Why Do We Need Them?
Stress is a part of life—but how we deal with it can significantly impact our overall health. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), unchecked or chronic stress has been associated with various mental and physical health conditions, from muscle pain, hypertension, heart disease, and chronic fatigue to diabetes, immune disorders, depression, and others. Stressors can also affect your moods and behaviors, potentially negatively impacting daily functioning or creating an unhealthy relationship with specific loved ones. Applied psychology has produced numerous healthy coping strategies and constructive ways to manage stressors, many of which can positively affect your psychological well-being in both the short and long term.
Adaptive Vs. Maladaptive Coping Skills
Broadly, coping skills can fall on either end of the spectrum between adaptive (healthy) and maladaptive (unhealthy), ranging from barely hanging on or avoiding the problem to confronting it head-on and working through the resulting emotions, for instance.
"People who rely more on active coping strategies, such as problem-solving and information seeking, tend to adapt better to life stressors," say the authors of a 2017 paper about adaptive coping. "For example, avoidance coping strategies, such as denial and wishful thinking, are generally associated with increased psychological distress."
Examples Of Maladaptive Coping Skills
Some may think certain coping strategies are healthy just because they work, but that isn't always the case. Maladaptive coping skills may temporarily relieve symptoms but often make you feel worse later while your problems remain unresolved. Examples of maladaptive coping skills to avoid include:
- Heavy drinking and drug use
- Engaging in impulsive and risky behaviors
- Avoiding the problem completely
- Hyper-fixating on the problem
Examples Of Adaptive Coping Skills
Mental health professionals commonly divide healthy or adaptive mechanisms for dealing with stressors into four successful coping styles. Here's a brief overview of these coping styles and a few examples of each type.
This healthy coping style directly addresses the source of stress. In some cases, problem-focused coping involves planning ahead and tackling a specific stressor directly. Problem-focused coping skills may include:
- Asking for help
- Setting healthy boundaries
- Choosing to spend time away from unhealthy situations
- Developing a plan to tackle the problem (which can be as simple as establishing a “to-do list”)
- Creating realistic goals
This healthy coping style targets the negative emotions associated with psychological stress or a specific stressor. Coping skills that focus on emotional health may include:
- Taking the time to practice relaxation exercises
- Positive thinking
- Deep breathing in moments of stress
- Changing thought patterns
- Practicing forgiveness
- Seeking therapy
This healthy coping style involves using cognitive techniques to understand the meaning behind what we experience during stressful situations. Meaning-focused coping skills may include seeking the benefits resulting from misfortune or anxiety, which could have:
- Stronger relationships
- A greater appreciation for life
This healthy coping style entails seeking social support from your friends, family, community, and others to reduce stress. Utilizing this style may involve simple behaviors like watching a funny movie with a loved one, or more significant activities like seeking professional mental health support. It may also involve seeking out the support of a religious organization (sometimes referred to as “religious coping”). Support-seeking coping skills may include:
- Asking for opinions and advice about the situation
- A willingness to accept support and encouragement from others
- Relating the current situation to positive past experiences
- A willingness to ask for help from a professional (like a therapist or licensed clinical social worker)
How Therapy Can Help You Develop Adaptive Coping Skills
While relaxation exercises and other coping activities (like engaging in physical activity) may help, in some cases they might not be enough. You might consider working with a therapist if you are struggling with stress management or have developed unhealthy coping skills. They can provide a safe space to express difficult emotions and may be able to help if you are constantly feeling sad or powerless in the face of stress. Therapists can also help you analyze your current coping skill level and develop more adaptive coping methods if necessary.
If you're interested in seeking the support of a therapist, you'll first need to decide whether you want to meet with someone in person or online. Research suggests that both formats can offer similar benefits in most cases, so it typically comes down to your preference and availability options. If you're interested in the relative convenience, availability, and affordability of meeting with someone virtually from the comfort of your home, you might consider an online therapy platform like BetterHelp. You can get matched with a licensed therapist according to your needs and preferences, as communicated through a brief questionnaire. You can then meet with them via phone, video call, and in-app messaging to address the challenges you may be facing.
How do you promote positive coping strategies?
Promoting positive coping strategies involves educating individuals on the benefits of practices like mindfulness techniques, regular physical activity, and emotional control. Family members, friends, and healthcare providers can be valuable resources in this process.
Do you have any positive coping methods for coping with stressors?
Yes, positive coping methods for stressors include exercise, deep breathing, and engaging in fun activities that bring joy. These methods can provide temporary relief from stressful things and are more effective than maladaptive coping mechanisms like excessive alcohol consumption.
Why is it so important to learn positive coping skills?
Learning positive coping skills is crucial for emotional and psychological well-being. The ability to effectively cope with stress and uncomfortable emotions can improve one’s overall quality of life.
How are positive coping strategies different from negative?
Positive coping strategies like emotion-focused coping aim to address the root cause of stress, while negative events often lead people to engage in destructive behaviors that provide only temporary relief. Positive methods focus on control and long-term solutions.
How can you apply the coping strategies in your daily life?
Applying coping strategies in daily life involves conscious effort and practice. Whether you feel anxious or face a stressful situation, using tools like deep breathing or going for a walk can make a difference.
What is the value of being conscious about one’s coping strategies?
Being conscious of your coping strategies empowers you to make healthier choices during tough times. Awareness enables you to switch from negative to positive coping methods, improving your overall well-being.
How do you change coping mechanisms?
Changing coping mechanisms often involves a process of self-reflection and may require professional guidance. Identifying triggers and reactions can provide valuable insights into what needs to be altered in your behavior.
What healthy coping strategy could be helpful for the individual?
Individual needs vary, but exercise is generally a universally beneficial coping strategy. Regular physical activity releases endorphins, which naturally elevate mood and reduce stress.
Why is it important to find ways to cope with stress?
Finding ways to cope with stress is essential for maintaining mental and physical health. Ineffective coping can lead to a struggle with chronic stress, impacting various aspects of life including relationships and work.
How would you improve your way of coping with changes in any relationship?
Improving coping with relationship changes involves open communication with the other party, along with self-care methods like exercise or engaging in fun activities. Being adaptable and understanding that control is limited can also help.
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