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Coping with Stress

Efforts to control, reduce, or tolerate the threats that lead to stress are known as coping.

We habitually use certain coping responses to deal with stress.

Most of the time, we’re not aware of these responses—just as we may not be aware of the minor stressors of life until they build up to intolerable levels (Snyder, 199; Folkman & Moscowitz, 2000.)

Dealing with Stress

Problem-Focused Coping

Attempts to modify the stressful problem or source of stress.

  • Problem-focused strategies lead to changes in behavior or to the development of a plan of action to deal with stress.

Emotion-Focused Coping

People attempt to manage their emotions in the face of stress, seeking to change the way they feel about or perceive a problem.

  • Includes strategies such as accepting sympathy from others and looking at the bright side of a situation.

Concentrative and Receptive Meditation

Coping-skills training can help people control their psychological responses in stressful situations.

Meditation relaxes the body and produces cognitive relaxation, a peaceful, mind-clearing state

  • Concentrative meditation focuses on the breath, an image, or a sound (mantra), in order to still the mind and allow a greater awareness and clarity about the body to emerge.
  • Receptive meditation focuses on the quiet center, allowing relaxation to work progressively through the mind making it ever more still and empty, to allow a feeling of directionless “just sitting.”

Effects of Culture on Coping

Many factors, including gender roles and culture, influence our tendency to favor one coping strategy over another.

  • Men are more likely to use problem-focused coping as the first strategy when they confront a stressor (Ptacek et al., 1992).
  • Women, who tend to have larger support networks and higher needs for affiliation than men, are more likely than men to seek social support (Billings & Moos, 1984; Schwarzer, 1998).
  • Women are also more likely to use emotion-focused coping (Carver et al., 1989; Pearlin & Schooler, 1978).

The general pattern of coping preferences is consistent with the socialization that boys and girls traditionally experience.

  • In most cultures, boys are pushed to be more assertive, independent, and self-sufficient, whereas girls are expected to be more emotionally expressive, supportive, and dependent (Eccles, 1991; Lytton & Romney, 1991).
  • Common male response is “fight or flight,” whereas women are more likely than men to “tend and befriend.”

Effects of Religion on Coping

Psychologists of religion have looked at how individuals use religion as a resource in coping with stress.

Attribution theory introduces three distinct styles of religious coping:

  1. Deferring: people who leave their problems to God for resolution.
  2. Collaborative: people who believe that a combination of divine influence and their own efforts are necessary to help them cope with stress.
  3. Non-religious: people who do not appeal to God.

Defense Mechanisms:

Unconscious Distortions of Reality

Defense mechanisms may help us feel better temporarily, but in actuality they distort our perceptions, which then inhibit long-term solutions to stress and effective coping.

Examples include:

  • Displacement
  • Sublimation
  • Projection
  • Reaction Formation
  • Regression
  • Rationalization
  • Repression
  • Denial
  • Intellectualization



Bernstein, D.A. & Nash, P.W. (2008). Essentials of psychology (4th ed.) Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company.
Feldman, R. (2013). Essentials of understanding psychology (11th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
Friedman, H.S. & Schustack, M.W. (2012), Personality: classic theories and modern research (5th ed). Boston: Pearson Allyn & Bacon.
McGraw-Hill.McGraw Hill Higher Education (2013), The McGraw Hill Companies, Inc.
Ryckman, R. M. (2013). Theories of personality (10th ed.). Mason, OH: Cengage Learning.


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