Coping Strategy: Definition & Overview

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  • 0:00 Definitions
  • 1:03 Emotion-Focused Coping
  • 2:01 Problem-Focused Coping
  • 2:57 Pros and Cons of…
  • 3:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Diane Davis
Study the techniques that people use to handle stress. These techniques or behaviors are called coping strategies. Explore different types of coping strategies in this lesson and test your understanding with a quiz.


Everyone faces stress at some time in life. There are physiological changes that occur when you face perceived threats in certain situations. These situations are known as stressors. When your stress response is triggered, a series of changes occurs within your body. These changes can include: an increased pulse, the release of adrenaline, redirection of blood toward major organs, and the release of cortisol and other hormones.

This response was helpful to our ancestors, especially in fighting off attackers or running away from threats. Today, the stress response can actually hurt you if it becomes chronic stress, which is when the stress response isn't stopped by the body's relaxation response.

This is where a coping strategy comes in. A coping strategy is a conscious effort to solve a personal or interpersonal problem that will help in overcoming, minimizing, or tolerating stress or conflict. We need ways to calm our minds and bodies after a stressor has taken its toll. The two main categories of coping strategies are emotion-focused coping and solution-focused coping.

Emotion-Focused Coping

Emotion-focused coping changes a person's emotional response to the stressor. Emotion-focused coping techniques are focused on reducing the negative emotional responses we might experience because of stressors. Some examples of emotion-focused coping strategies are:

  • Letting off steam by venting to friends or family
  • Keeping yourself busy to keep your mind off the stressor
  • Seeking encouragement, moral support, sympathy, and understanding from others
  • Turning to rigorous activities like sports to distract attention from the stressor

People are more likely to adopt emotion-focused coping when they don't think their actions can affect the stressor itself, so they alter their response to the stressor. This is like when a friend says something that hurts your feelings. What he or she said may make you feel badly about yourself, and you may spend a lot of time and mental energy thinking about it. Talking to other people about the situation or engaging in other activities may help you deal with the emotional stress of that encounter.

Problem-Focused Coping

Problem-focused coping is about trying to deal with the stressor itself so as to avoid the stress response it is causing. Problem-focused coping involves finding practical ways to deal with stressful situations. Some examples of problem-focused coping strategies are:

  • Put other activities on hold in order to concentrate on and cope with stressor
  • Actively try to remove or work around the stressor
  • Wait to act until the appropriate time
  • Seek concrete advice, assistance, or information

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