Ways to Deal With Difficulties: Problem-Focused and Emotion-Focused Coping

When we face stressful life events, we typically use many kinds of coping strategies to deal with them. Sometimes we confront problems, and sometimes we      avoid problems. 

The strategies we use are likely to change over time, depending on the effectiveness of the applied strategy. The tribal wisdom of the Dakota Indians says that, “If your horse is dead, get off.”. This message is the essence of this post.

Research shows that, in general, problem-solving coping strategies are better for one’s mental health as they provide a sense of control, whereas emotion-focused coping strategies, in comparison, lead to lower perceptions of control and self-efficacy.

In short, problem-solving strategies aim at fixing the cause of a given stressful situation, whereas emotion-focused strategies aim at decreasing the emotional effects of a given stressful situation.

Emotion-focused coping strategies may have short-term effects in situations where a person endures high levels of stress without dealing with the cause of stress. However, if the cause of stress is enduring, emotion-focused coping is often applied. Please consider the following example.

A severe illness or a difficult life situation may leave you with no control, and then you hardly benefit from trying to gain control over something that is out of your control. You may actually get depressed over the fact that you cannot control or fix it. In this case, acceptance may be a more helpful coping strategy.

Even though a person accepts his illness (emotion-focused coping), he may still use problem-focused coping on a day-to-day basis by exerting health habits that prolong longevity.

This example illustrates that we can use different types of coping strategies in different situations. Normally, time will tell whether a strategy is helpful or not. We may need support to build up new strategies.

So, the question is: “Is the horse dead or not?”.

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