When you’re dealing with undue stress, there’s no one right way to cope with the challenge. Different situations call for different reactions, primarily depending on whether or not the problem at hand is within your control. How can you tell when you’re being overly emotional, or when the only thing you can do is focus on your own feelings?
It helps to break down your arsenal of coping strategies from two different approaches: problem-focused and emotion-focused coping. Understanding what these approaches mean will allow you to determine which one is right for your specific situation.
What’s the difference between problem- and emotion-focused coping?
According to VeryWell Mind, problem-based coping skills focus on changing the situation, while emotional-based coping skills are centered on changing how you feel. One strategy is not better than other; different challenges call for different responses. For instance, if you’re dealing with a poor performance review at work, it might make more sense to focus on the problem over your emotions. This means making a problem-focused action plan for improvement with your boss, rather than simply focusing on your own emotional reaction to the situation.
On the other hand, if you’re dealing with grief or loss, emotion-focused coping skills should take the foreground. It can be tempting to focus on problem-focused techniques that might actually be a sort of denial, since there’s little you can control about the tragedy at hand. Taking care of your emotions is the priority here.
Most situations call for a little bit of both types of coping skills. For instance, in the poor performance review response, you might also throw in the emotion-focused strategies of journaling or exercising in order to cope with your disappointment.
Examples of healthy coping strategies
As we’ve mentioned, there isn’t always one best way to cope. Here are some examples of coping strategies that can apply to a wide range of challenges:
- Establishing and maintaining boundaries.
- Meditation or mindfulness.
- Physical activities.
- Ending an unhealthy relationship.
- Taking time for yourself before you overreact or lash out at someone.
- Distracting yourself with a hobby or friends.
- Making to-do lists and setting goals.
- Meeting with your boss, partner, or whoever can help you problem-solve.
- Asking for support from a friend or professional.
Understanding the difference between problem- and emotion-focused coping skills is a useful framework for tackling the source of your stress. Often, you’ll pull from both skillsets. Be honest with yourself about how much a situation is actually in your control, so that you accurately solve the problem while also taking care of your emotions.
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