You’ve probably heard of Coping Skills, the specific activities that you engage in to cope with stress and difficult emotions. Something lesser known in mainstream psychology is what are called Coping Styles. Coping styles describe the ways in which people prefer to cope with stress. They are the broader categories that coping skills fall under. Based on the coping styles that you identify most with, you will likely benefit more from specific coping skills over others, therefore coping styles are important to be aware of in order to know which coping skills may work best for you. Knowing your coping styles can also help to avoid negative patterns of dealing with stress. Just like there are positive and negative coping skills, there are also positive and negative coping styles. Examining these styles and identifying which ones you identify most with (both positive and negative) can help you to break bad patterns in your life and also help you to deal more effectively with emotional stress.
I believe that it’s always better and easier to replace negative behaviors with positive ones rather than just trying to stop negative behaviors. Stopping a negative coping behavior leaves somewhat of a void, as there is still some kind of stressor that needs to be dealt with (i.e. what was causing you to use a negative coping skill to begin with). Think of the urge to engage in a negative coping skill as your mind telling you that there is something that you need to cope with in a healthier way. When you feel the urge to use a negative coping skill, ask yourself what it is that is making you stressed and anxious, and then find a positive coping skill to replace the negative one with. Understanding coping styles will help to identify which negative styles you tend to engage in most, and also which positive styles you gravitate toward that you can replace negative behaviors with.
Negative Coping Styles
Denial: Avoidance of the issue altogether may lead to denying that a problem even exists. Denial is usually maintained by distractions such as excessive alcohol consumption, overworking, or sleeping more than usual.
Self-blame: Internalizing the issue, and blaming oneself (beyond just taking responsibility for one's actions), leads to low self-esteem and sometimes depression.
Venting: An externalizing coping technique, venting is the outward expression of emotions that results in release but no actual change. In moderation it can be healthy, however ruminating on the negative can lead to feelings of helplessness as well as strained relationships over time.
Surrender: Giving in to our negative thoughts and behaviors and repeating them over and over.
Avoidance: Finding ways to escape or block out our problems, such as social withdrawal and isolation.
Overcompensation: Doing the opposite of what our internal problems makes us feel. Aggression, hostility, manipulation, recognition-seeking, and excessive orderliness can all be signs of overcompensating. .
Positive Coping Styles
Humor: Pointing out the amusing aspects of the problem at hand.
Seeking support: Asking for help or finding emotional support from family members or friends can be an effective way of maintaining emotional health during a stressful period.
Problem-solving: Locate the source of the problem and develop solutions. Replacing the negative coping styles Surrender and Avoidance with Problem-Solving can be a good strategy, as focusing on solutions can help overcome feelings of helplessness and hopelessness.
Relaxation: Engaging in relaxing activities or practicing calming techniques can help to manage stress and improve overall coping.
Physical recreation: Regular exercise, such as running or team sports, is a good way to reduce stress in a given situation or overall. This can also include yoga, meditating, progressive muscle relaxation, and other active relaxation techniques.
Adjusting expectations: Anticipating various outcomes to scenarios in life helps prepare us for the stress associated with a major change or event.
Now that you have a better understanding of coping styles, you can start to work on replacing your negative coping skills with positive ones. Be mindful of the fact that the urge to engage in a negative behavior is usually a sign that your mind is trying cope with something. Stopping the negative is good, but replacing it with something positive will lead to better emotional health and stress management.
Scott Fantucchio, LMHC