What is a Coping Mechanism?
Coping mechanisms are the approaches people employ – irrespective of the uncertain, stressful, or traumatic situation – to help deflate, manage, and survive the pain and/or emotions while maintaining normalcy in their emotional and mental well-being.
In the context of the definition, coping refers to dealing with problems or difficulties and mechanism is the method or process. In very simple terms, coping mechanism is the method or process used in dealing with stressful situations.
Experiences such as stress, change or trauma affect our general wellbeing in one way or another. Stress and change are inevitable occurrences in life and our response to it can influence our daily functioning. Our response to it is a reflection of our resilience and coping abilities.
The following are the various styles of coping which include; Appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive), Problem-focused (adaptive behavioural), and Emotional-focused.
Appraisal-focused Coping Mechanism: This is a coping mechanism focused on changing one’s assumptions and modifying the way one thinks about the stress. It is an approach that instigates a paradigm shift on the factors that are causing the stress or pain. This mechanism involves distancing one’s self from the problem or challenge, changing one’s perspective, and/or identifying the humour to bring some positivity to the whole situation. Humour has been shown to play a great role in the moderation of stress, when people alter the way they think about a problem by approaching it differently.
Problem-focused Coping Mechanism (Adaptive-Behavioral): This a more goal-oriented approach employed in dealing with the stressors or problems. This approach focuses on reducing or eliminating the factors causing the stress. Individuals who approach problems and difficulties using this mechanism venture into researching, studying, and learning new skills to manage the stress. The information gotten from the research will be used to evaluate the pros and cons of the alternatives to take in reducing or eliminating the cause of the stress. One who is anxious about an upcoming examination (cause of stress) may decide to employ this approach, and in employing this approach he or she may look to increase study time, take revision classes or seek help from one who is proficient in areas where he or she finds difficult (reduction), or even decide not to take the examination (elimination).
Emotional-focused Coping Mechanism: This coping mechanism includes activities such as releasing pent-up emotions, distracting oneself, managing hostile feelings, meditating, mindfulness practices, and using systematic relaxation procedures. These activities are carried out in an attempt to mitigate negative emotional responses to stress. Other negative emotions such as fear, anxiety, aggression, depression, humiliation can be mitigated by an individual in various ways such as; seeking social support, re-appraising the stressor in a positive light, accepting responsibility, using avoidance, and exercising self-control.
Coping Mechanism and Mental Health
It is without doubts that the improvement of overall wellbeing is a human necessity. Thus, effective coping mechanism need to be deployed. People who are able to adjust productively to a stressful, or traumatic situation may have, through effective coping mechanisms, become less prone to experience anxiety, depression and other mental health concerns.
Individuals who do not employ the adaptive or effective coping mechanism and choose to employ the maladaptive approach to coping are most likely to slip into diminishing mental health conditions. For example, a person who resolves to drug or alcohol use in the face of a stressful situation is prone to become dependent on substances (Substance Use Disorder).
If you are experiencing any sort of discomfort or stress, and you do not know how to cope, silence is not the best remedy.
Call the Lagos Lifeline (09090006463, Monday to Friday 9 am to 5 pm) to benefit from the free tele-behavioral health services and get professional guidance on best coping strategies to employ.