Proven Strategies for Coping With Stress

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When coping with stress, it can sometimes be difficult to know where to even begin, though there is no shortage of advice that may come your way. Should you tackle the problem head-on? Or should you simply need to change how you think about the stressors you face? Is there a specific way to make your stress dissolve so that coping with stress becomes a no-brainer? And how can you best choose the appropriate method for coping with stress?

The bad news is that it's not always easy to cope with stress--it's usually a process, and the "right answer" isn't always clear. The good news is that it becomes easier and easier to cope with stress once you become aware of what works best for you and in which situations each strategy is most helpful. More good news is that there are few "wrong answers" when it comes to coping--it's usually a case of choosing between strategies that work "okay" and strategies that work "great," depending on your situation. (There are a few unhealthy responses to stress that you should look out for, like excessive drinking or obsessive worrying, but most of the coping strategies you intentionally use are helpful to some degree.)

There are several different strategies that people use for coping with stress, and each type of coping strategy brings unique benefits. Finding the best match of strategies for your situation is the key to maximizing your stress management efforts. Simply put, when coping with stress, the following two main strategies are useful:

Solution-Based Coping With Stress

When someone employs solution-based coping strategies for coping with stress, they work to identify areas of their lives that can be changed, and follow a plan that will bring about change.

Solution-based coping includes eliminating stressors, like quitting a stressful job, breaking up with a toxic partner, or paring down a busy schedule, as a means of eliminating the stress before you encounter more of it.

This can be an extremely effective technique for coping with stress, and many of the uncomfortable emotions we experience along with stress—anxiety, anger, frustration—are signals that changes need to be made, if possible.

However, sometimes we find ourselves in stressful situations where we can’t make changes in our lives, and can’t eliminate the stressors that we experience. For example, we might be working at a job we can’t easily leave, and need to get along with difficult co-workers; we may find that our partner causes us stress, but is worth staying with anyway; we may find that every activity in our busy schedule is vital, and can’t be eliminated. In cases like these, we still have the option of appraisal-based coping with stress.

Appraisal-Based Coping With Stress

This strategy of coping with stress involves how we feel about the stressors we face throughout the day. Appraisal-based coping strategies include cognitive restructuring, positive thinking, and humor, for example. Asking yourself whether something really needs to cause stress, or can just be accepted as part of life, finding the humor in the ridiculousness of a stressful situation, or finding someone who seems to be coping with stress in a particular way and exploring their attitude—these are all effective strategies that involve appraisal-based coping with stress.

One note about these strategies for coping with stress: it’s sometimes difficult to know when something can (and should) be changed, and when it should be dealt with mentally via acceptance. In fact, the famous serenity prayer that’s been so helpful in programs like AA and in daily life for many people, is all about these two styles of coping with stress: “God grant me the strength to change what I can, the patience to accept what I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”

That’s why, when recommending a plan for coping with stress, I recommend an approach that generally includes both coping strategies, as well as some classic stress management techniques.

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Article Sources

  • Lazarus, R. Stress and Emotion, 2006.