8 Things You Learn in Therapy About Coping Methods

a young man in therapy to learn about coping skills.

We will all encounter stressful situations at some point in our lives, whether it be related to work, school, or our personal relationships – any therapist will tell you that. That being said, we all cope with stress differently, and the ways in which we learn to deal with these stressful situations can be the key to whether or not we remain stressed or can move beyond whatever our circumstances are and find peace. As such, it’s important for us to learn good coping methods to carry with us in our day to day lives.

What is Coping?

First and foremost, let us look at what exactly “coping” is. In essence, coping describes how we consciously deal with stress. In other words, it refers to the strategies we employ to deal with whatever is causing us stress or discomfort: do we face the problem head on? Do we brush it away and hope it disappears? And so on. Our coping methods can determine a lot of things about how we manage ourselves under duress, with some of us being more prone to seeking external relief sources such as drugs and alcohol. Unfortunately, while these substances may provide short-term relief they do nothing to solve the actual causes of the stress, nor do they help us develop our own resilience, hence why we might become dependent on them for escape. Additionally, drugs and alcohol are incredibly risky to our health and wellbeing, making them maladaptive coping mechanisms.

However, we must also keep in mind that how we cope may vary depending on the types of stress we are experiencing. For example, it’s not uncommon for those who suffer from extreme anxiety triggered by specific circumstances or PTSD to avoid the things that may cause them severe stress. In such cases, these behaviors may be advised so long as they aren’t interfering the with individual’s overall quality of life or happiness.

8 Popular Coping Methods and What They Mean

1. Distancing

Distancing is a popular coping mechanism which involves the individual removing themselves from the situation and thereby trying to minimize its significance. After this, the individual can choose to either avoid the situation completely or use the reduced feelings of stress allowed by the distancing to better assess the situation and come up with a solution.

2. Confrontation

The opposite of distancing, confrontive coping involves, as the name implies, the individual aggressively confronting and making efforts to change the stress-inducing situation. However, some methods of confrontation can become excessive and the individual might find themselves behaving riskily or in a manner that is antagonistic as a result.

3. Seeking Support

For some individuals who encounter stressful situations, seeking support from friends and loved ones may be their go-to method of coping. The support of others can make otherwise seemingly insurmountable tasks become less daunting and thus can allow us to feel more capable when it comes to facing our stress and dealing with it.

4. Self-Controlling

On the other hand, some individuals may find it easier to cope with stress by assuming control over their own feelings and responses. Feelings of control can sometimes act as a psychological substitute for a lack of external stability, as is often observed in situations that induce stress. Although these feelings seldom actually address the situation itself, they may make us feel more equipped to do so through establishing a sense of internal resilience. Unfortunately, taken in a wrong direction, an excessive need to feel in control of a stressful situation may lead to self-blame. This is because in their efforts to seek control, the individual might declare themselves solely responsible for their negative experiences.

5. Accepting Responsibility

There is a difference between accepting responsibility in a stressful situation and blaming oneself. The latter implies that we are taking responsibility for things that are even outside of our control. However, accepting responsibility in order to cope with stress actually entails understanding and accepting our roles insofar as we are involved with contributing to the stress and seeking to improve. In doing this, we are not taking responsibility for the actions of others, only our own, which we have control over. Individuals who use this coping mechanism do so in order to lessen the stress of a given situation by being mindful of the influence of their own actions and words.

6. Problem Solving

This coping method involves analyzing the stressful situation and planning to find a way to resolve it. Through this individuals can treat stress as something that can be solved rather than something that is unable to fixed or that will remain a permanent stressor.

7. Positive Reappraisal

It’s not uncommon to find this coping method advocated in many religious teachings although it is not solely practiced by individuals who are religiously affiliated. Here, those who practice this kind of coping take the experience of dealing with stress and turn it into an opportunity for growth.

8. Escape/Avoidance

This coping method is pretty self-explanatory. Those who practice escape or avoidance as a means of coping with a stressful situation are avoiding dealing with the problem. This coping mechanism can be problematic because it means that the individual is essentially avoiding addressing the problem which is causing them stress. This means that the primary stressor remains and can continue to cause them discomfort because nothing has been done to actually remedy this.

Healthy vs. Unhealthy Coping Methods

Discussing the ways in which we cope, Dr. Jennifer Golbeck, director of the Human-Computer interaction lab at the University of Maryland explains that “Some of these strategies, like Escape-Avoidance, are maladaptive since they don’t help to deal with the stress longer term. Others, like Planful Problem Solving, are useful for heading off future stressors and therefore are more proactive coping styles.” In other words, when developing a method of coping with stressful situations it’s better to act proactively than avoidantly. After all, avoiding a problem will only make it worse in the long run.

When facing circumstances which cause us stress, we must take a moment to assess our situations and what can be done about them. It is through this that we can hope to resolve the underlying problems that induce the feelings of stress rather than allowing them to continue undeterred.