Stress, Coping, and Health
Coping refers to efforts to manage stress. Coping can be adaptive or maladaptive. Adaptive coping strategies generally involve confronting problems directly, making reasonably realistic appraisals of problems, recognizing and changing unhealthy emotional reactions, and trying to prevent adverse effects on the body. Maladaptive coping includes using alcohol or drugs to escape problems.
Some researchers believe that people have characteristic ways of coping, even in different sorts of situations. Other researchers believe that people use different coping styles in different situations and that people’s ways of coping change over time.
There are many different coping strategies. Some common ones include:
- Releasing pent-up emotions by talking or writing about them
- Getting social support
- Reappraising an event or changing perspective on the problem
- Spirituality and faith
- Problem solving
- Comparing oneself to others who are worse off
- Altruism or helping others
- Using defense mechanisms
- Aggressive behavior
- Self-indulgent behavior, such as overeating, smoking, and excessive use of alcohol or drugs
Factors That Improve Coping
Some people cope more effectively than others. Some important factors that influence coping are social support, optimism, and perceived control:
- Social support: Many studies show that having good social support correlates with better physical and mental health. Researchers believe that supportive social networks buffer the effects of stressful circumstances. In stressful situations, a social network can provide a person with care and comfort, access to helpful resources, and advice about how to evaluate and manage problems.
- Optimism: A tendency to expect positive outcomes, optimism is associated with better physical health. Optimistic people are more likely to find social support, appraise events in less threatening ways, take good care of themselves when sick, and use active coping strategies that focus on problem solving.
- Perceived control: The term locus of control refers to people’s perception of whether or not they have control over circumstances in their lives. People with an internal locus of control tend to believe they have control over their circumstances. People with an external locus of control tend to believe that fate, luck, or other people control circumstances. Having an internal locus of control is associated with better physical and emotional health.