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Coping strategies


Coping is the way we deal with problems and stressful situations. How do you react during a conflict with your partner, a problem with your landlord, or a stressful assignment at work? Everyone has their own coping style. What are the different coping styles, and what can you do if your coping style is ineffective?

What is coping?

Your coping style is the way you deal with stress and problems. “To cope,” means managing or handling. You can handle stress in different ways, but often in stressful situations, you have one primary way of reacting. This response, both in your behavior and emotions, is called your coping style or coping strategy.

Some people have multiple coping styles and use them interchangeably. Some coping styles are effective, while others may work in the short term but not in the long term.


Your coping mechanisms

Your coping style or strategy is something you develop during childhood. In some cases, it works well for you, but not every coping style is effective for every type of stressful situation. Not every coping strategy is applicable to every problem.

If you feel stuck with a particular challenge, it might be helpful to gain insight into your current coping mechanisms. Then, you can evaluate whether there’s a different way to handle the situation. Refining your approach to dealing with the problem might shed a new light on things.


Coping styles

The different coping mechanisms are divided into the following two categories:


  1. Problem-Oriented (Active) Coping
    When you handle stressful situations this way, you focus on the problem itself. You actively seek a solution to the issue. This coping style often works well, but it requires that the problem is solvable. If the problem is beyond your control, you may not be able to find a solution.
  2. Emotion-Focused Coping
    With emotion-focused coping, you look for ways to regulate your emotions. This type of coping is effective for unsolvable problems. An example of emotion-focused coping is taking a moment for yourself to catch your breath in a stressful situation or calling a friend to vent and relax.


A less effective form of emotion-focused coping is defensive coping. This involves denying the existence of a problem or engaging in avoidance behavior. In the short term, this may make you feel better, but in the long term, it can lead to more symptoms.

Consider an anxious person: they might avoid certain places to prevent feeling anxious. In the short term, this works because they don’t have to face their fear. However, prolonged avoidance only perpetuates the fear. By facing the fear, you can learn that nothing serious will happen.

The best way of coping depends on the situation and varies from person to person.


Different coping strategies & effects

There are eight different coping styles, fitting into the previously mentioned categories.


  1. Actively Solving a Problem (Problem-Oriented)
    When you actively work on solving a problem and approach it analytically, you are using a problem-oriented coping style. For example, you might break a problem into smaller parts and tackle them one by one. This form of coping is very effective for solvable problems but not for unsolvable issues, such as the death of a loved one or a chronic illness.
  2. Seeking Support (Emotion-Focused)
    Seeking support from loved ones helps you release stress. Sometimes, just sharing your story can help you gain a better perspective. This is often an effective coping style.
  3. Expressing Your Emotions (Emotion-Focused)
    In this form of coping, you express the emotions that arise, such as anger, frustration, or sadness. Instead of bottling them up, you allow your emotions to be expressed.
  4. Avoiding or Waiting Out the Problem (Emotion-Focused)
    When you avoid or wait out a problem, you act as if it doesn’t exist, or you trivialize it by making jokes about it. This allows you to continue with your life normally for a while in the short term, but in the long run, it usually doesn’t solve anything.
  5. Seeking Anesthesia (Emotion-Focused)
    You deal with stress by seeking anesthesia. Instead of fighting your stress or sadness, you seek comfort through substances or activities. This might involve consuming alcohol, exercising excessively, or overworking. You emotionally distance yourself from the problem, essentially fleeing from it.
  6. Negative Passivity (Emotion-Focused)
    You excessively mull over a possible solution to your problem. If the solution is beyond your control, you never find it. This form of passive avoidance can lead to excessive rumination.
  7. Reassuring Thoughts (Emotion-Focused)
    You reassure yourself during a stressful event by encouraging yourself and believing that everything will be alright. This helps calm you down but doesn’t directly solve the problem.
  8. Acceptance (Emotion-Oriented)
    You accept that the problem exists and that you have certain feelings because of it. You observe these feelings without judging them and accept that they are there. This form of coping is part of the Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) method.


I seek help for my ineffective coping strategies

Do you experience a lot of stress and wonder if you are coping well? Many coping strategies are not inherently bad, but not all strategies work equally well in every situation. You can learn to handle stress and problems in different, more effective ways.

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    Have you tried many things yourself and are still experiencing symptoms because certain coping strategies? Help from a psychologist can help. Feel free to call us at 085-1308900 or contact us online.

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    Treatment is reimbursed only with a referral letter from the primary care physician and an official diagnosis according to DSM-5 guidelines. Learn more about costs and reimbursements.

publish-icon Published - 10 Jun 2024
Mariëlle has extensive experience in understanding coping strategies. During treatment, she will explore the factors that contribute to unhelpful coping strategies. She incorporates elements from various evidence-based treatment methods, such as Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR).
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