Last week, I was inspired by one of my client’s story. That’s why I have decided to write my next article on coping mechanisms. Coping mechanisms are the strategies we often use when dealing with stress or trauma, in order to help manage painful or difficult emotions. Coping mechanism is however, an important factor in our life. It helps us adjust to stressful event, and also to maintain our emotional well-being.
“Coping refers to cognitive and behavioral strategies that people use to deal with stressful situations or difficult demands, whether they are internal or external.”
What are Coping Mechanisms?
Important life events, either positive or negative, can cause psychological stress. Challenging occasions, such as divorce, miscarriage, the death of a loved one, or the loss of a job, can cause a lot of people to feel grief and distress. However, even events that are regarded as positive for example, getting married, having a child, and buying a home — can lead to a substantial amount of stress. To adjust to this kind of stressors, people may use some combination of behavior, thoughts, and emotions, depending on the situation.
People possibly will use coping mechanisms for stress management or to cope with anger, loneliness, anxiety, or depression.
Many people use a coping mechanism as a distraction, a support that we rely on as a way of avoiding stress. However for protracted stresses, those activities may become no longer our true choices, but rather, unconscious habits, which might prevent us from dealing directly with stress and therefore might sometimes be harmful to our well being.
Coping Mechanisms – vs – Defense Mechanisms
It is important to note that defense mechanisms and coping mechanisms are two different concepts, although they share some similarities.
- Defense mechanisms– generally people are unaware that they are using them, as those occur at an unconscious level. Defense mechanisms can change a person’s internal psychological state.
- Coping mechanisms– people use it to manage an external situation that is creating problems for an individual. People typically use coping mechanisms consciously and purposefully.
Coping Styles and Mechanisms
Coping styles can be emotion-focused, or problem- focused, also called instrumental. Emotion- focused mechanisms can assistance people manage any feelings of distress that result from the problem. Whereas, problem- focused approaches are usually related to methods of dealing with the problem in order to reduce stress.
Additionally, coping mechanisms can be categorized as avoidant or active. Avoidant coping mechanisms, are characterized by ignoring or otherwise avoiding the problem. However, active coping mechanisms typically involve an awareness of the stressor and conscious attempts to reduce stress.
Nonetheless, some coping mechanisms, even though they are helpful, and are working for some time, are not actually effective for a long-term period. These ineffective coping methods, are also called “maladaptive coping”. Maladaptive coping often can be counterproductive or have unintentional negative consequences. While adaptive coping methods are those regarded to be healthy and effective ways of managing stressful situations.
Different types of Coping Mechanisms
There are many different forms of adaptive coping mechanisms, which includes:
Problem – Solving – involves identifying an issue that is causing stress and then developing and putting into action some potential solutions in order to manage it effectively.
Relaxation – any relaxation activity can be beneficial for people, to help them cope with stress. It can include meditation, yoga, sitting in nature, or listening to soft music.
Support – Seeking external support, rather than self- isolating and internalizing the effects of stress can hugely reduce the negative effects of a challenging situation.
Physical activity – it can help people cope with stress and the aftereffects of traumatic events. Any kind of exercise can function as a natural and healthy form of stress relief.
Humor – it can help people maintain perspective and prevent the situation from becoming overwhelming.
Common maladaptive coping mechanisms are:
Unhealthy self – soothing- sometimes self- soothing behaviors, in moderation are healthy, however, it may turn into an unhealthy addiction, if it becomes a habit. Examples of unhealthy self- soothing are overeating, binge drinking, or excessive use of the internet or video games.
Numbing – some self-soothing behaviors may become numbing behaviors also. People are usually aware when they engage in numbing behavior. They may seek out an activity, which will help them drown out or override their distress. While, people may try to numb their stress by eating junk food, excessive alcohol use, or using drugs.
Escape – some people in order to cope with stress and anxiety may withdraw from friends and become socially isolated. They may engage themselves in a lonely activity such as watching television, reading, or spending time online.
Compulsions and risk-taking – the effect of stress can cause people to look for an adrenaline rush through compulsive or risk-taking behaviors such as gambling, unsafe sex, experimenting with drugs, theft, or reckless driving.
Self-harm – People may engage in self-harming behaviors to cope with extreme stress or trauma.
Coping Mechanisms and Mental Health
The use of healthy coping mechanisms can often support us improve our mental and emotional well-being. People are less likely to experience anxiety, depression, and other mental health components, who have the capacity to adjust to stressful or traumatic situations throughout effective coping mechanisms.
However, people who are leaning towards maladaptive coping mechanisms, or have a difficulty to experience effective coping strategies may ultimately notice a negative impact on mental and emotional well-being.
People who find it challenging to know, how to cope with anxiety, stress, or anger, may fall into the pattern of relying on a maladaptive coping mechanism. For Example, consuming alcohol can help people feel less stressed in the immediate moment, but if a person comes to rely on alcohol, or any other substance, in the face of challenging situations, they may eventually become dependent on the substance over time.
If you, experience stress and don’t know how to cope, a therapist can often help you develop and improve your coping skills. Therapists can provide support, but also information about coping skills. It is worth noticing that, therapy sessions are a safe, and also a non-judgmental environment for people to explore the coping methods.
Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1985). If it changes it must be a process: Study of emotion and coping during three stages of a college examination. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 48, 150-170.
Good Therapy. (2016). Coping mechanisms. GoodTherapy. Retrieved from https://www.goodtherapy.org/blog/psychpedia/coping-mechanisms
Centre for Studies on Human Stress. (n.d.). Coping strategies. CSHS. Retrieved from http://www.humanstress.ca/stress/trick-your-stress/steps-to-instant-stress-management.html