Coping strategies have traditionally been considered responses to emotions, focused on learned behaviors aimed at survival during threatening or dangerous situations, often driven by fear or anger. However, coping is a more complex process that also involves cognitive mechanisms, such as denial, repression, intellectualization, and problem-solving, designed to manage distressing emotions. This limited view underestimates the intricacy of emotions and coping processes.
Coping as Mediators of Emotions
A growing body of evidence suggests that coping processes play a mediating role in emotions. Coping strategies are associated with changes in a wide range of ongoing emotions, indicating that they influence emotional experiences. Rather than being mere responses to emotions, coping mechanisms actively shape and mediate the emotional responses to stress and challenging situations.
Emotions are linked to cognitive appraisal, which involves evaluating the significance of an event on one’s well-being. As a result, multiple coping options may be selected based on this appraisal. Each stressful event may have various implications for well-being, leading to the use of more than one coping strategy in response.
Coping processes are influenced by cognitive appraisals of events, leading to changes in the quality and intensity of emotions. Coping acts as a mediator, influencing how emotions are experienced and expressed. The way individuals cope with stress affects their emotional well-being and responses.
Effective & Ineffective Coping Strategies
Planful problem-solving,” involving making a plan of action and following through, emerged as the most effective coping mechanism for both younger and older participants. This strategy was associated with reduced negative emotions, indicating its beneficial impact on emotional well-being.
Surprisingly, among older participants, “positive reappraisal,” which involves changing or growing as a person in a new way, led to increased distress rather than improved emotional states. This discrepancy may be attributed to the difficulty in sustaining the reduction in stress achieved through positive reappraisal when unexpected environmental cues revive stress.
Confrontive coping, characterized by attempting to change the person responsible for a situation, and distancing, which involves trying to carry on as if nothing has happened, were found to have the least positive effects on the stressful event. Moreover, these strategies resulted in higher levels of distress after the event, highlighting their ineffectiveness in managing emotions and well-being.
It is essential to recognize that the effectiveness of coping strategies is highly context-dependent. Different coping mechanisms may yield varying results depending on the specific stressor and individual differences. Understanding these nuances can help individuals choose appropriate coping strategies for specific situations, contributing to better emotional outcomes.
Coping is a multifaceted process that involves responses to emotions as well as cognitive mechanisms. Rather than being passive reactions to emotions, coping strategies mediate and influence emotional experiences. The effectiveness of coping tactics can differ based on cognitive appraisals and specific stressors. Identifying effective coping mechanisms, such as planful problem-solving, and recognizing less helpful strategies, like confrontive coping and distancing, can aid individuals in managing emotions and promoting well-being in challenging situations.
Folkman S, Lazarus RS. Coping as a mediator of emotion. J Pers Soc Psychol. 1988;54(3):466-475