Problem-Focused Coping: Definition, Strategies & Examples

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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll be focusing on one type of coping strategy for stress: problem-focused coping. By the end of the lesson, you'll understand what this coping strategy is, how to implement it, and examples of it in action.

What Is Problem-Focused Coping?

Greg is involved in a very stressful relationship with a steady boyfriend. He's always bothering Greg about going out with his friends and seems to need all of his attention. Greg's friend Kate tells him that he should just accept his boyfriend's flaws and find peace in himself. His other friend, Roko, thinks it's time for Greg to kick his boyfriend to the curb to stop the stress. Which friend is right?

Both friends suggest that Greg use coping strategies. Kate's method is called emotional coping. This involves managing emotions that come up from a stressful situation. Roko's approach is called problem-focused coping. In problem-focused coping, the source of the stress is located and removed, thus removing the feelings that come up.

Although we live in a culture that usually favors pushing through a stressor, researchers have shown this isn't the best way to go about managing stress in all cases. If the problem can be removed, problem-focused coping can be better than other forms of coping. However, not all problems can simply be removed, such as the death of a loved one or a diagnosis of illness.

Problem-Focused Coping Strategies

Problem-focused coping centers around the source of your stress, so the first step is to identify the problem. Although this might seem simple, how many times have you come home from work and felt stressed? Can you pinpoint exactly what the problem was? It could have been the incessant meetings, temperamental clients, or your long commute. Figuring out what problem you want to tackle isn't always straightforward.

Once you know what problem you need to address, there are several ways to employ problem-focused coping.

1. Time Management

Many times, we find ourselves crunched for time, with too much to do. If having too much to do in too little time is a problem for you, improve your time management skills. That's one strategy of problem-focused coping to use. In time management, your time is organized and allotted to different tasks in a realistic way that can be followed.

Time management won't work if you try to cram more tasks into your day than you can physically do. Start by making a list of all the things that need to be done and their due dates. Then you can create a calendar blocking off time for each task to organize your time and meet your deadlines. This will relieve the stress of having too much to do in too little time, since all time and tasks are accounted for.

Planners are one way to use time management strategies
planner

2. Avoid the Problem

The best way to avoid a stressor like having too much to do is to avoid taking on too much work in the first place. Although we usually think of avoidance as a bad thing, sometimes refusing to take on a task we can't finish is beneficial. All people have a limit for how much they can accomplish. Pick the most important tasks and focus on doing them well. This will ensure your success, decreasing your stress levels.

3. Ask for Support

If you absolutely must take on what feels like too much work, enlist some supports. You might be able to ask for an extension for certain projects, or if you struggle with a particular task, ask for help from someone who is more familiar with it. If organization is interfering with your productivity, ask a highly organized friend to help you get your physical or mental space together. If you have an assistant at work, delegate work to them, removing some from your own plate. Delegating tasks may seem obvious, but oftentimes we feel we can do the task better, faster, or don't want to lose control. This results in us having too much work and, consequently, being overly stressed.

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