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5 Different Coping Strategies Explained

While literally hundreds of different coping strategies have been identified, we are going to focus on just five. Of course, the strategies we have selected are broader categories of which many coping strategies fall under

Problem-Focused Coping Mechanisms

Take control. Seek information. Evaluate and categorize the pros and cons. That is what the majority of problem-focused coping strategies involve. Typically, people try to file this strategy under the adaptive coping method umbrella. This is a short-sighted opinion, however, as a problem-focused approach is not always adaptive and can actually result in maladaptive behavior. Therefore, we would categorize this as its own mechanism. Typical problem-focused coping mechanisms include time management and stress management.

Emotion-Focused Coping Mechanisms

The strategies that fall under an emotion-focused coping mechanism include distraction, managing negative emotions, meditating, mindfulness, and finding a way to release pent-up emotions. The purpose of this approach is to manage the emotions that come with the stress you are dealing with.

Adaptive Coping Mechanisms

An adaptive coping mechanism is simply one where we attempt to modify our thinking in whatever way possible. It might be through humor, by changing goals, reflecting on values, or distancing yourself from the problem to gain perspective.

Support-Seeking Coping Mechanisms

This could also be referred to as social coping. Essentially, when faced with stress we seek social support from our friends and family in a bid to get control of a situation. This is a healthy response to strife and it's always wise to seek both support and advice from the people closest to you. No one knows you better than your tight-knit social circle so who better to guide you through stress than them?

Maladaptive Coping Mechanisms

Not every coping mechanism is a healthy one. It's possible that any type of coping mechanism can be unhealthy if it is used incorrectly or used in the wrong situation. It should come as no surprise that smoking, alcohol, and other substances are unhealthy coping techniques.

A maladaptive coping technique is simply one that reduces the symptoms of a stressor in the short-term while strengthening its negative impact on your life. This includes avoidance, dissociation, escape (through substances or otherwise), and rationalization. These are the strategies that interfere with your ability to deal with the stressor and will only serve to maintain disorder. To explain this further:


This is when you separate and then compartmentalize your emotions, thoughts, and memories. This is often as a result of PTSD. While compartmentalization can be an effective and healthy coping strategy, dissociation is not.


This is likely the most common of all maladaptive coping mechanisms and is simply when you do everything possible to avoid any situation that provokes anxiety.


This is closely related to the avoidance technique highlighted above. It's common in people who deal with phobias and anxiety. They want to flee from a situation as soon as they feel the signs of anxiety.


As a practice, this seeks to minimize how severe an incident is or to avoid an approach that may result in stress or trauma. It generally manifests by excusing the behaviors we engage in to rationalize the response.


This simply describes a situation where someone tries to learn more about a fearful event and tries to rehearse it so they can prevent it from occurring.

The majority of immediate coping mechanisms are reactive. We are faced with stress and react to it. Healthy coping mechanisms are proactive. However, by actively making a decision to be proactive in the coping strategies you employ you can make them second nature when faced with stress.

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