What is coping?

Coping is a term used within the fields of psychology and coaching. To ‘cope’ with something means to handle it, or master it. A coping strategy is therefore a strategy that you use to handle or master a given situation, feeling or challenge.

Why is it important to learn to cope with stress?

When we feel stress, it is often associated with changes in our lives. Changes are stressful because they force us to change our lives, the way we do things, or perhaps the way we think about the world. If we experience that too many changes are happening at once, or within a short time, it often makes us feel that we no longer have any control over what is happening and become overwhelmed.

When we find ways to adapt to the new demands, and get through the changes, it is because we find ways to master our challenges. Mastery is a process, not an event. Nor is it the case that you only have one way of coping with situations. Most people have many different coping strategies that they use depending on the situation they are in. Different people may also have different coping styles, or prefer to use some coping strategies over others.

Examples of coping strategies

One of the most important coping strategies is to maintain a network that can support us, as support from others is one of the things that research shows is best at protecting us against stress. Examples of other coping strategies could be;

  • Asking others for help
  • Taking responsibility for the situation
  • Participating in problem solving
  • Challenging past beliefs
  • Trying to change what is stressing you
  • Staying away from what is stressing you

Improving coping strategies

The first step towards becoming better at using constructive coping strategies, is to become aware of when you start feeling stressed and how you have coped with those situations in the past. By reflecting on ways you have handled stressful situations in the past, you can begin to assess how effective your current coping strategies are – and how to improve them. If it seems unmanageable, then here is a suggestion on how you can work with your coping strategies.

  • Identify what makes you feel stressed and think about how you usually react in those situations
  • Assess how effective your current coping strategy is. Does it work in a way that benefits you in the long run? Does it help you achieve the result you wanted it to?
  • Think about other possible coping strategies that you would like to use. You can also explore what strategies others use to get inspiration. If necessary, make a list for yourself so that you can more easily get an overview of your options.
  • Choose a coping strategy that you would like to work on, or become better at using. If you have multiple you would like to work on using, it is best to start by choosing one, until you have become accustomed to using it.
  • Consider whether you can actually imagine using the coping strategy that you have chosen. Is it realistic? You can also try to imagine a specific situation where you would have to use the new coping strategy, to see how it feels
  • The last step is to practice using the new coping strategy. It may be a good idea to consciously try it out in situations where you only feel a little pressured. This is because it is extra difficult for us to deviate from our normal strategies when we are really stressed. Therefore, it is good to start small, and slowly work towards using the new strategy

Read more about stress

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