All of us have different ways of coping. We cope when we are dealing with stress. When we are in high-pressure situations. When we are frustrated, angry, or emotional. When we are worried or scared. We all cope in one way or another. 

Are you coping in ways that help you or hurt you?

Research shows that some methods of coping lead to more stress or to behaviors like binge drinking, binge eating, aggression, disconnecting with loved ones, or destruction of property. Other methods of coping help us deal with stress and difficult situations in positive ways.

Emotion-Oriented Coping

Emotion-oriented coping activities attempt to limit the emotional impact of a situation or help you deal with the emotions that arise during the stressful situation. 

Emotion-oriented responses include:

  • Blaming yourself for getting into the situation
  • Being upset with yourself for being too emotional about it
  • Feeling anxious about not being able to cope
  • Becoming very upset
  • Wishing that you could change the situation
  • Wishing you could change how you feel about it
  • Becoming preoccupied with yourself and your shortcomings

Emotion-oriented strategies actually aim to reduce stress by minimizing or deflecting the emotional impact of an event or situation, but in many cases, this reaction actually increases stress. 

Avoidance-Oriented Coping

Avoidance-oriented activities are aimed at denying, minimizing, or avoiding the stressful situation. This is done either by distracting yourself with other things, tasks, or people as a way to alleviate stress.

Avoidance-oriented responses include:

  • Treating yourself to a favorite treat or snack
  • Getting away from it all for a little while
  • Visiting a friend
  • Buying yourself something
  • Spending time with someone special
  • Talking on the phone with a friend
  • Going out for a meal
  • Binge watching television or movies

Instead of reducing stress, avoidance strategies often only delay and increase stress, because although you are distracted, your subconscious mind is still working on the problem. You are still aware of the stressful situation, and you know that you are not resolving anything. Putting off dealing with a problem can make it worse. 

People who engage in avoidance-based or emotion-based activities as a way to deal with stress are more likely to engage in behaviors like binge drinking, binge eating, physical aggression, cheating, stealing, destruction of property, and other “externalizing” behaviors. 

The healthiest strategies for coping are those that are task oriented. The goal of task-oriented strategies is to proactively resolve a stressful situation rather than just manage the emotions it triggers or deny that it’s happening. 

Task-Oriented Coping

Task-oriented activities aim to solve the problem, change the way that you think about a problem, or attempt to alter the situation.

Task-oriented responses include:

  • Focusing on the problem to see how you can solve it
  • Thinking about how you’ve solved similar problems
  • Working to understand the situation
  • Taking corrective action
  • Outlining a plan of action and following it
  • Thinking about the event and learning from mistakes
  • Thinking before reacting
  • Reframing the way that you think about a situation

While it’s understandable and even OK to sometimes engage in emotion- or avoidance-oriented activities, it won’t change anything in the long run. At some point, the only way to deal with an issue is to deal with it. People who use a variety of appropriate coping strategies are more likely to successfully deal with stressful situations in a healthy way.

And for situations that you can’t “deal” with, reframing the way that you think about them can be very helpful. Look at the situation from different angles. Try to see if anything good can come of it.