Coping Mechanisms for Stress

Katherine Williams, Devin Kowalczyk
  • Author
    Katherine Williams

    Katherine Williams has an Mth in Theological Ethics and Philosophy from The University of Aberdeen and a BA in Theatre Arts from Oral Roberts University. Katherine has 10+ years of experience teaching literacy, essay composition, philosophy, and world languages. Katherine is also a TEFL-Certified ESL teacher. She has 3 years of experience teaching and developing curriculum for ESL students.

  • Instructor
    Devin Kowalczyk

    Devin has taught psychology and has a master's degree in clinical forensic psychology. He is working on his PhD.

Explore coping mechanisms for stress. Learn about the adaptive stress response, types of defense mechanisms, and the importance of coping with stress. Updated: 01/23/2022

Table of Contents


What is Stress?

Stress is a response to a perceived threat or challenge that may result in physical or psychological changes. It is the body's natural reaction to perceived danger and has been found to be beneficial when used appropriately. Stress is a normal part of life. It can be caused by many different things, such as work, family, or health problems.

Some of the causes of stress are:

  • Work-related stress: This is often caused by a lack of time to complete tasks or by feeling as though one cannot do anything to improve their work situation.
  • Family-related stress: This can be caused by not being able to spend enough time with loved ones and not being able to provide for them financially.
  • Financial stress: This can be caused by having too much debt or not having enough money for basic needs such as food and shelter.

The two types of stress are physical and emotional. Physical stress is when the body is under pressure, and it can lead to illnesses like high blood pressure and heart disease. Emotional stress can cause mental health issues like depression and anxiety. Cortisol is a hormone that is secreted by the adrenal glands in response to stress. It helps the body deal with stressful situations by increasing blood sugar levels and stimulating your immune system so that one can fight off infections or diseases. Cortisol also prepares the body for fight-or-flight responses by raising blood pressure.

What is a Coping Mechanism?

Coping mechanisms are used to deal with the physical and mental manifestations of stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues. Coping mechanisms can also be used to help people cope with the pain of loss, grief, or other difficult emotions.

Coping mechanisms can be physical or mental actions. Coping mechanisms can be healthy or unhealthy. Some healthy coping mechanisms include exercise, meditation, yoga, positive thinking, self-talk, and cognitive behavioral therapy. A healthy coping mechanism can help one:

  • Reduce the perception of pain and suffering
  • Improve well-being and mood
  • Maintain positive attitudes about things going well for you

Some unhealthy coping mechanisms can include, self-harm, abusive self-talk, excessive exercise, eating disorders, alcohol, drugs, gambling, etc. An unhealthy coping mechanism may seem like it is helping, but in reality, it is only suppressing and numbing the pain.

Coping mechanisms may be learned or inherited through culture, family, and personal experiences. They can be used as ways to help a person feel good about themselves when they are feeling overwhelmed with not having control over what is happening in their life - like losing a loved one. Coping mechanisms are used by people in most cultures worldwide, even though there is no one-size-fits-all way of coping with difficult emotions. People use a variety of strategies as a way to not feel overwhelmed or internalize their stress.

Cognitive-behavioral therapy can also be considered as a type of coping mechanism because it focuses on changing behaviors, thoughts, and feelings in order to stop the reliving of negative memories.

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Coping Mechanisms for Stress

Coping mechanisms for stress can be divided into two categories: cognitive and behavioral.

Cognitive coping mechanisms are those which help to regulate emotions, reduce stress, and improve mood. Examples of these include:

  • Meditation: This is a great way to reduce stress and anxiety and improve overall mood.
  • Deep breathing exercises: Deep breathing is a powerful coping mechanism that can help the mind and body calm and reset to come out of fight or flight mode. Taking a few minutes to follow a guided breathing meditation can be the difference between a terrible day and one that's not so bad.
  • Journaling: Writing down thoughts is an excellent way to process unfiltered emotions and sort out difficult thoughts, desires, and needs.

Journaling or writing a story to process thoughts and emotions can be classified as a healthy coping mechanism.

adaptive stress response, coping mechanisms psychology, pros and cons of defense mechanisms, displacement coping mechanism

Behavioral coping mechanisms are those which help one to avoid the source of the stress in the first place by changing one's behavior. Examples of these include:

  • Exercise/Yoga: This is a great way to help one relax and relieve tension in the body while improving their physical health as well as mental health. Exercise is also known to release endorphins which improves mood and overall feelings of satisfaction.
  • Diet Change: A healthy diet can help boost one's mood by providing nutrients that contribute to good mental health such as Omega-3 fatty acids found in salmon or flaxseeds.
  • Therapy: Speaking with a therapist is a great way to express emotions and thoughts in a non-judgmental environment. A good therapist can also make suggestions for personalized ways to alleviate stress.
  • Socializing with Friends: Connection with loved ones is an excellent way to boost mood and have a sense of unity and belonging, which can help alleviate stress. Helping someone with their problems is also a well-known way to helping to alleviate personal stress, as a feeling of accomplishment also comes after with helping someone.
  • Creative Expression: Channeling energy into a project or an activity can help one to feel liberated from burdens, clear one's head, and sort out thoughts so one can reenter the stressful situation with a clear mind and even temper.

Stress Adaption

Stress is a natural part of life, but too much can be harmful. Adaptive stress response helps organisms to cope with stress, while maladaptive coping mechanisms can be damaging.

Adaptive stress response is the process that occurs when an organism is exposed to a stressful situation. It includes physiological and behavioral changes that help the organism to cope with the stress and regain homeostasis. Adaptive stress responses include:

  1. Fight or flight response
  2. Hormonal changes
  3. Cognitive changes
  4. Social support
  5. Interpersonal relationships
  6. Physiological changes

Maladaptive coping mechanisms are self-destructive behaviors that harm the individual and others around them. They include substance abuse, risky sexual behavior, and violence among others. Maladaptive coping mechanisms include:

  1. Denial, avoidance, and dissociation from the stressor
  2. Substance abuse
  3. Harmful behaviors
  4. Self-harm
  5. Suicidal ideation

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