Healthy Coping: 24 Mechanisms & Skills For Positive Coping (2023)

Healthy Coping: 24 Mechanisms & Skills For Positive Coping (1)Are you someone who laughs at the most inopportune times?

Perhaps you are a nail-biter, or maybe you even become energized during challenging moments.

Whether you resort to unhealthy behavior or thrive in stressful situations when things become challenging, these are just a few of the countless coping mechanisms individuals may choose or unconsciously exhibit.

These cognitive and behavioral efforts help individuals manage, tolerate, or sometimes reduce stressors. Read on to fill your toolbox with the most effective positive and healthy coping strategies.

Before you read on, we thought you might like todownload our 3 Resilience Exercises for free. These engaging, science-based exercises will help you to effectively cope with difficult circumstances and give you the tools to improve the resilience of your clients, students, or employees.

This Article Contains:

  • What is the Meaning of ‘Coping’?
  • Coping Styles
  • Does Resilience Improve Coping Abilities?
  • Resilience Resources from PositivePsychology.com
  • A Take-Home Message
  • References

What is the Meaning of ‘Coping’?

Coping is the use of one or various types of mechanisms that are intended to reduce psychological stress (Gurvich et al., 2021).

These dynamic responses may be classified into effective/ ineffective or adaptive/ maladaptive strategies, which we discuss below in great detail.

Coping Styles

Healthy Coping: 24 Mechanisms & Skills For Positive Coping (2)Much of the literature involving coping identifies two main coping styles: emotion-focused and problem-focused coping styles (Cho, Li, & Goh, 2020; Forster et al., 2022; Kural & Kovacs, 2021).

(Video) 25 Amazing COPING SKILLS Everyone Needs

In contrast, Algorani and Gupta (2021) identify four major coping categories, expanding upon the original two styles with meaning-focused and social coping or support-seeking styles of coping. Meyerson et al. (2022) and Pang and Thomas (2020) refer to a fifth coping strategy known as avoidance-focused.

Let’s look at all five coping styles.

Emotion-Focused Coping Style

This coping style involves reducing the emotions associated with a stressor while avoiding addressing the problem (Van den Brande et al., 2020).

In other words, the aim is to regulate one’s emotional distress by merely altering the emotional response, which may not address the actual stressor. Some assert that emotion-focused coping can be dangerous as it is affiliated with mental health problems through behavioral problems (Yang, 2021).

On the other hand, it may be beneficial to reduce the impact of stressors, which could be more beneficial in the long run for things we do not have the power to change.

If you can’t change the problem, change your outlook.

Example:

You receive a notification that they did not select you for the position to which you applied. You decide to take to your journal to reflect on the experience and how you can better prepare for a similar position in the future.

Problem-Focused Coping Style

In contrast to emotion-focused coping, Van den Brande et al. (2020) describe problem-focused coping as the “attempt to control work stressors by defining and interpreting them, planning solutions, and choosing a course of action.” (p. 4).

This method of coping is said to be the most effective way to tackle life’s problems; however, problem-focused coping is only effective if the individual has control over the outcome (Zaman & Ali, 2019).

Example:

You have studied hard for a quiz using flashcards, but received a poor score. You make a plan to study for the next exam using a different method, such as joining a class study group.

Meaning-Focused Coping Style

This particular coping style employs cognitive strategies to process and make sense of the meaning of a situation (Algorani & Gupta, 2021).

(Video) 5 Mental Health Coping Skills

Like emotion-focused coping, this strategy is best used when one cannot control the situation (Leipold, Munz, & Michéle-Malkowsky, 2019). Religion, spiritual beliefs, beliefs about justice, values, and existential goals may influence someone’s tendency to exhibit a meaning-focused coping style.

Example:

A driver in a hurry realizes that the car he is driving has a flat tire. He may reflect on the meaning of this misfortune and attribute the flat tire to karma or perhaps that he was willed by a higher power to slow down.

Social Coping (Support-seeking)

When a person seeks emotional or instrumental support from the community, they are engaging in a social coping or support-seeking coping style (Algorani & Gupta, 2021).

While young children may look for their parents for support, adolescents begin soliciting the support of their peers or themselves (Leipold et al., 2019).

Example:

A young woman, amid a complicated divorce, seeks the advice of a close friend who had a similar experience and may offer compassion.

Avoidance-Focused Coping Style

An avoidance coping style can be described as avoiding the stressor by pursuing an alternate person or task (Meyerson et al., 2022).

Avoidance coping could also be demonstrated by seeking a distraction. Although this method involves withdrawing or dissociating from a stressful situation, Pang and Thomas (2020) assert that these strategies are related to an individual’s negative functioning.

Example:

An employee has been unable to meet his work deadlines, and his supervisor has requested a meeting with him. The employee has not replied to the meeting invitations and has found an alternative route so that he no longer has to walk past his boss’s office.

24 Unhealthy & Healthy Coping Mechanisms

Healthy Coping: 24 Mechanisms & Skills For Positive Coping (3)Coping can be classified into maladaptive and adaptive strategies (Ye et al., 2020).

Maladaptive coping strategies comprise behaviors that are avoidance-based and do not ultimately benefit the individual in the long run.

(Video) Coping Skills for Caregivers

Conversely, adaptive coping strategies are aligned with the stressor and aim to reduce emotional stress. Emotion, problem, meaning, social, and avoidance styles of coping can each be maladaptive & ineffective or adaptive & effective, depending on the outcome.

Unhealthy Coping

Unhealthy coping is a mechanism used to prevent stress; however, the results are deleterious to the individual.

The following coping mechanisms have been deemed ineffective and may exacerbate mental health problems. They may also be referred to as ineffective or maladaptive strategies.

Emotion-Focused Coping

  • Busyness can be defined as actively working and not in leisure time (Bellezza et al., 2017), avoiding dealing with emotions. Constant busyness may hinder your ability to cope with a stressor and be seen as an avoidance coping mechanism.
  • Failing to talk about emotions can be a dangerous coping strategy (Blake, 2021). Instead, individuals should replace the suppression with acceptance for more effective coping (Nolasco, Waldman, & Vargo, 2021).
  • Toxic positivity is the unhealthy tendency to only see the good side of something and the rejection or denial of stress (Satriopamungka, Yudani, & Wirawan, 2020; Sokal, Trudel, & Babb, 2020). A positive outlook is usually beneficial; however, it can be dangerous if it prevents you from validating your emotions.

Problem-Focused Coping

  • Over-analyzing the problem and being unable to make a decision can interfere with a stressor and effective coping. Overthinking, or ruminative thoughts, are generally abstract, overgeneralized, and intrusive thoughts (Flaherty et al., 2022) that do not help a situation.

Meaning-Focused Coping

  • Overthinking, as with over-analyzing, can cause catastrophic thinking. Studies suggest that rumination may predict symptoms such as depression, anxiety disorders, substance abuse, eating disorders, and posttraumatic stress disorders following trauma (Flaherty et al., 2022). Instead, take a reflective approach.

Social Coping

  • Isolation from friends and family can be a dangerous coping strategy. A little time to cool off or reflect is okay; however, isolation can be a risk factor for the development and regression of mental health symptoms (Bartel, Sherry, & Stewart, 2020).
  • Venting may cause an excessive focus on the issue at hand (Marr, Zainal, & Newman, 2022). Further, ranting to the wrong person may cause additional issues and amplify the problem.

Avoidance

  • Substance abuse, such as alcohol or drugs, may be used to avoid a stressful situation negatively (Nevill & Havercamp, 2019; Syed, 2020). The health consequences are destructive, and ultimately, the problem remains unsolved.
  • Smoking is equally used to escape the tense situation; however, it is also a harmful practice (Syed, 2020). Again, the problem remains unsolved as with each of the avoidance strategies.
  • Denial and behavioral disengagement prevent you from dealing with the stressor (Nevill & Havercamp, 2019), which may have the potential to exacerbate the situation. This may also be called “brushing it under the rug.”
  • Impulsive spending is spending money without prior consideration and could also be referred to by some as retail therapy. However, if often repeated, this sudden urge to make purchases could be harmful not only to your pocket but to your underlying stressor as well (Spiteri Cornish, 2020).
  • Overeating is the practice of eating a large amount of food and more than the number of calories used in one day. To some, this can bring relief and comfort during a challenging time (Kim et al., 2022. However, there are poor health consequences.
    Contrary to overeating but just as disadvantageous, some individuals may under-eat, which is also used to regulate or reduce negative emotions associated with stress (González-Olmo et al., 2022).
  • Self-harm is self-injurious behavior that is sometimes used for emotional regulation. Individuals who exercise self-harm report experiencing a release from negative emotions (Smith et al., 2019); however, this method is not effective in problem-solving, nor is it beneficial to one’s physical and mental health.

Healthy Coping

Contrary to unhealthy coping, healthy coping mechanisms may effectively mitigate the nature and impact of these psychological responses (Gurvich et al., 2021).

These methods, which may also be referred to as effective or adaptive strategies for coping, benefit the individual and do not result in damaging consequences.

They include, but are nowhere limited to, the following:

Emotion-Focused Coping

  • Cognitive reframing is the positive emotional and/or cognitive appraisal of a stressful situation (Wittlinger et al., 2022). This technique is especially valuable in developing resilience and adapting to adversities.
  • Meditation and breathing techniques calm the mind, relax the body, and can change the amygdala (Yuliana, 2021). Often, taking a step back to take a breath and calm your physiological process help make a good decision.
  • Journaling can be a therapeutic and reflective practice for individuals facing a challenge. Nückles et al. (2020) assert that practitioners should use writing as a way to develop ideas and examine one’s current understanding of the situation as opposed to direct problem-solving.
  • Positive thinking and forgiveness (Kubala, 2022) are effective strategies that directly align with positive psychology. Forgiveness is an adaptive behavior in which an individual reframes a transgression, thus promoting healthy behaviors and contributing to psychological wellbeing (de la Fuente-Anuncibay et al., 2021).
  • Laughter is often said to be the best medicine. It can be an outlet for negative emotions and stimulate the physiological system that decreases levels of stress hormones (Mbiriri, 2020). Further, humor eases tensions and improves moods.

Problem-Focused Coping

  • Determining an alternative solution is an effective method of handling dilemmas. This process involves the collection of complete information, planning, and coming up with effective decisions to deal with the challenge (Zaman & Ali, 2019). This method may also be made possible by journaling.

Meaning-Focused Coping

  • Finding the “good” in a bad situation, similar to positive thinking, can combat negative mental health impacts (Lai et al., 2020). This mindset would be especially beneficial when paired with mindfulness techniques. This method is particularly effective for those with strong religious beliefs.

Social Coping

  • Eliciting the help of a counselor or therapist may be a helpful strategy to get an unbiased perspective. With advances in technology, counseling and therapy are even more readily available through instant messaging and video chats, which provide for anonymity and convenience (Li & Leung, 2020).
  • Talking with a trusted friend or colleague may be enough to ease your stress and build stronger connections. Confiding in someone not only allows you to express your emotions, which increases wellbeing, but it increases interpersonal intimacy (Slepian & Moulton-Tetlock, 2019).

Avoidance-Focused Coping

  • Controlled distraction, or self-distraction, is an activity that is used to take your mind off a situation (Adasi et al., 2020). These activities may include watching TV, listening to music, shopping, or just picturing yourself in a place you feel comfortable. For example, you may try picturing yourself in your happy place while nervously waiting to deliver a presentation. Of course, it is recommended that any distraction be in moderation.
  • Exercise – not only will exercise provide you with an opportunity to walk away from a problem and refocus, but the health benefits of exercise are countless. There is a link between regular physical activity, lower psychological distress, and overall positive neurobiological response (Popov, Sokić, & Stupar, 2021).
    As with other coping strategies, it is important that exercise does not become excessive or compulsive. It is possible to have too much of a good thing – even exercise!

Does Resilience Improve Coping Abilities?

Healthy Coping: 24 Mechanisms & Skills For Positive Coping (4)In short, absolutely yes, resiliency improves one’s ability to cope!

Resiliency is a character trait that allows an individual to cope with or overcome perceived stress and adversities (Connor & Davidson, 2003; Luthar & Zigler, 1991; Ye et al., 2020).

Said another way, it is the ability to adapt and persevere through adverse experiences (Nevill & Havercamp, 2019).

Further, attributional and explanatory styles may affect a person’s choice of coping style. For instance, an optimistic explanatory style results in many positive life outcomes (Jose et al., 2018).

Therefore, someone who encompasses this style or an optimistic attributional style may turn to effective coping styles.

For more on the fascinating terms, please refer to our article What are Attributional and Explanatory styles in Psychology?

Resilience Resources from PositivePsychology.com

PositivePsychology.com has an excellent selection of resources to improve resilience, and foremost is the Realizing Resilience Masterclass©. This is a 6-module training template for practitioners and includes all the materials you need to deliver science-based resilience training.

(Video) Healthy Coping Mechanisms for Stress | 10 Tips to Help!

If you are looking for more of a scientific approach to coping, including information concerning the Coping Wheel, you will want to explore our article entitled .

Do you think you may be exhibiting maladaptive coping mechanisms? Review this article to determine if your coping is harmful and how to cease the pattern: Maladaptive Coping.

Our article Humor in Psychology: Coping and Laughing Your Woes Away may interest you if you agree that laughter is the best medicine.

If you are searching for helpful worksheets to use with your clients, Coping Skills Worksheets for Adults and Youthwill be an excellent resource.

A Take-Home Message

In this piece, we explored various coping styles, described different kinds of coping mechanisms and skills, and provided a multitude of coping ideas.

Stress is everywhere and unavoidable. Ultimately, we hope these strategies will benefit both you and your clients and lead to better stress management, as improved stress management will lead to happier, healthier lifestyles.

Perhaps, you may even be able to turn stressors around into positive self-growth.

What is your experience with coping? Do you have a preferred coping style? Can you share additional coping strategies? Let us know in the comments!

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our 3 Resilience Exercises for free.

References

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  • Sokal, L., Trudel, L. E., & Babb, J. (2020). It’s okay to be okay too. Why calling out teachers’ “toxic positivity” may backfire. Education Canada, 60(3).
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(Video) Coping Skills for Anxiety or Depression 13/30 How to Process Emotions

FAQs

What are the healthiest coping mechanisms? ›

Take brief rest periods during the day to relax. Take vacations away from home and work. Engage in pleasurable or fun activities every day. Practice relaxation exercises such as yoga, prayer, meditation or progressive muscle relaxation.

Are there positive coping mechanisms? ›

Positive coping mechanisms include seeking help from supportive people, such as a counselor or friend. Other positive ways to cope include meditation, journaling, and exercising. A negative coping mechanism includes stress in which a person attacks others and makes them uncomfortable.

What are the 5 types of coping? ›

There are many different conceptualizations of coping strategies, but the five general types of coping strategies are problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping, social support, religious coping, and meaning making.

What are positive coping statements? ›

Coping Statements for Feeling Overwhelmed

It's not the worst thing that could happen. Step by step until it's over. I don't need to eliminate stress, just keep it under control. Once I label my stress from 1 to 10 I can watch it go down.

What is positive emotional coping? ›

The individual may regulate emotional responses to the problem via positive emotional coping (e.g., using humor or positive reinterpretation) or negative emotional coping (e.g., venting emotions, rumination).

What is coping checklist? ›

The Ways of Coping Checklist (WCCL) is a measure of coping based on Lazarus and Folkman's (1984) stress and coping theory. The WCCL contains 66 items that describe thoughts and acts that people use to deal with the internal and/or external demands of specific stressful encounters.

What are basic coping skills? ›

Examples of healthy coping skills include: Establishing and maintaining boundaries. Practicing relaxation strategies such as deep breathing, meditation, and mindfulness. Getting regular physical activity.

What are general coping skills? ›

The methods a person uses to deal with stressful situations. These may help a person face a situation, take action, and be flexible and persistent in solving problems.

Why is positive coping important? ›

Coping skills increase resilience because they help people learn how to properly handle negative emotions, panic attacks, and other difficult situations. When you effectively deal with a negative emotion or situation, you also move on and let go of the negative feelings that are associated with that experience.

Why is it important to develop positive coping strategies? ›

Coping skills help you tolerate, minimize, and deal with stressful situations in life. Managing your stress well can help you feel better physically and psychologically and it can impact your ability to perform your best.

What is my coping mechanism? ›

A coping mechanism is a psychological strategy or adaptation that a person relies on to manage stress. Sometimes, coping mechanisms are intentional choices, while other times a person may be unaware that they're using them.

What are 5 positive coping skills that you are willing to try? ›

Taking a walk, frequent vacations, reading a book, going shopping, volunteering, or watching a tv show are all good ideas of positive coping skills that you could adopt.

What are the 7 main defense mechanisms? ›

7 Main Defense Mechanisms

This list is sometimes shortened to provide only seven main defense mechanisms, which are denial, displacement, projection, rationalization, reaction formation, repression, and sublimation.

What are the 3 defense mechanisms that are always maladaptive? ›

Some defense mechanisms (e.g., projection, splitting, acting out) are almost invariably maladaptive.

What are the 4 types of coping mechanism? ›

Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies: appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive), problem-focused (adaptive behavioral), emotion-focused, and occupation-focused coping. Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping.

What are the 3 types of coping? ›

Researchers have proposed three distinct types of coping styles: problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping and avoidance coping [27, 29, 30].

What are 4 coping skills? ›

Expand your stress management toolkit by mastering these four strategies for coping with stress: avoid, alter, accept and adapt. When we feel the effects of stress weighing us down, it's like lugging a backpack that's becoming heavier by the minute. Too much stress can make our journey through life difficult.

What are examples of active coping? ›

Examples include solving problems, reframing the meaning of the problems, or seeking information. Active coping is thought to be an adaptive way of dealing with stressful events and to be a vital component of resilience in the face of stress, health problems, and other adversity.

What is an example of coping? ›

Some healthy coping examples include: Talking about your problems with loved ones. Eating well and exercising regularly. Reaching out to a mental health professional for extra support.

What are 5 coping skills? ›

Problem-Based Coping Skills

Establishing healthy boundaries. Creating a to-do list. Walking away from a stressful situation. Asking for support from friends, family, or a professional.

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