What Is Problem-Focused Coping? Problem Focused Strategies To Help You

How Learning Stress Management Can Benefit You

No one likes uncomfortable or stressful situations. When we are faced with a stressful situation, we have to decide on and choose a coping strategy to employ to deal with the issue at hand.

This article will explain both problem-focused coping strategies as well as emotion-focused coping techniques to deal with the stressors in our lives. This way, we can face our problems, stressful life events, and negative feelings with less anxiety and without feeling overwhelmed. 

What Is Focused Coping?

Focused coping involves identifying our stressors and focusing on how to deal with them. There are two types. Problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping. When we focus on the problem, we identify the root cause and use focused strategies to address it head-on, eradicating the stressors at their source. 

When we focus on the emotion, we employ focused strategies to help us rid ourselves of the emotions we are feeling as a direct result of the stressors. This helps us to banish negative thoughts so that we can more efficiently cope with the physical stressors. 

Focused Coping Strategies

Coping strategies are any strategies that we use to improve our mood, reduce stress, and improve our overall physical and mental health. There are many different coping strategies, and what works for one person may not work for another.

Clinical psychology generally accepts focused coping as the most direct and effective way to rid ourselves of stress and turmoil over an event when we cannot change the negative emotions we feel surrounding them immediately.

problem-focused coping, emotion focused strategies

Problem Focused Strategies

An Example

Suppose that there was the possibility for a big promotion at work. You have been working for the company for a long time, and while the thought of tossing your hat into the ring with other promotion hopefuls seems like a stressful situation, you feel as though you really deserve it.

Going after the promotion will mean that you will be competing with other employees for one spot. Let’s say that you have recently made several new friends and a few of them would also like the promotion. This adds to the stress of going for the promotion.

Now let’s complicate this matter further because that’s the way life is. Stress does not pause itself in the course of life to wait until you have successfully dealt with your other issues. Stress has a way of piling on when you least need it.

Now let’s say that you are having financial problems as well. Unless you get this promotion, you’re looking at facing an extended period of time dealing with the negative effects of debt.

Maybe you’ve got student loans; maybe there was an emergency bill you needed to pay. Perhaps family members needed a loan, and you didn’t have the money to give, but you did it anyway.

Money issues definitely add to the stress. Suddenly, you realize that this promotion is not a want. It’s a need. And you find that your stress levels are now through the roof, and it’s affecting everything from your confidence to your work performance to your well-being.

You know that there is going to be a performance review, and if you make it past that stage, an interview. The stress level is now at its peak. You need to employ focused coping, but where do you start?

You could seek professional medical advice and try to learn important coping skills that way, or get a referral to seek further help. But if you don’t have much time and you know that time is of the essence on this issue, then you’ve got to figure out some coping strategies by using other means, such as cognitive appraisal.

Here’s where we can help.

Focused Coping in this Example

Coping skills and problem solving go hand in hand. So when developing a coping strategy to deal with this issue, try to tell yourself that you are just solving a problem, and you do that all the time in life.

Emotion-Focused Coping Strategies

The emotion-focused coping method involves dealing with the way things make you feel rather than addressing the physical stressors head-on. So if your performance review is coming up, and you don’t have the dispositional optimism to keep yourself from feeling stress and anxiety about it, try to distract yourself.

You are combating the feelings, not the source of the stress.

You could try to distract yourself by reading a book or going for a walk instead of sitting around worried about a poor performance review. This will relieve some of the stress. It does nothing to address the potential stressors of the situation, but it will get you out of your head.

When you use emotion-focused coping, you are employing a method of coping that alleviates the negative emotions that you feel surrounding the stressors, so that the actual stressors don’t seem like such a big deal.

Emotion-focused strategies such as distraction and addressing and fixing psychological symptoms that are a direct result of the stressors will help you to feel more prepared in dealing with the stressors.

Related: What Are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms and How to Develop Healthy Habits

Progressive Muscle Relaxation

Stressful events cause our bodies to tense up. One method of stress management involves totally relaxing your body so that you cannot feel anxious. Anxiety can’t occur if you are completely relaxed physically, and there is no tension in your muscles.

Focus on specific muscle groups in your body. When you inhale, contract them. When you exhale, relax them. That’s all there is to it.

Doing this so that your body ends up relaxed not only reduces negative psychological effects, but it helps you sleep better and it increases your chances of having more positive emotions regarding the stressful event you will have to face. It only takes a few minutes, and it does a massive amount of good.

Most stressors can be reduced if we can eradicate the negative feelings that come along with them.

Problem Focused Strategies

Problem-focused coping is where you take action to alleviate the actual stressors that are causing you psychological and emotional distress. It is always a good idea to employ emotion-focused strategies first so that you are relaxed and less upset, but if you want to really get back to a less stressful life, you have to identify and deal with the root cause.

In the example about the job promotion, after you have dealt with the emotions invoked by the stress, look for possible solutions to the external stress.

Go directly to the person who performed the performance review and ask them what you might have been able to do better. Ask the person if you could improve in any way, regardless of whether you get the promotion or not.

This will make you look determined and interested not only in the goal, which was the better job but in being a better employee. You will most likely feel better when you leave that meeting.

If the person tells you that you did have some weak spots in your performance, you now know what they are. You can focus on those areas and improve them and be better prepared for the promotion when another opportunity presents itself.

This has alleviated the stress associated with not knowing how you did on the review, and it has made your boss take you more seriously as a driven employee.

Whether you get the job you wanted or not, you can now move past that issue. You can move on to the financial issue you are facing.

Go to the person at your job who is responsible for setting the pay rate and giving raises. If you got the promotion, you can skip this step.

If you didn’t get the promotion, address the rate you are being paid with the person responsible for setting it. Ask for a raise. Tell them that while you were considered for the promotion, you did not get it.

Bring up the good parts of your performance review, focus on the point that you are determined and driven enough to have applied for the higher paying job in the first place and that you think that you deserve more pay.

You may get what you ask for, and you may not. But knowing is half of the battle. If you get the raise, then you can make a plan to save the extra income to pay off debt or better your financial situation.

If you are turned down, you can either find a higher-paying job, or you can practice good time management and try to create a second line of income in your downtime. Either way, you have directly addressed this source of stress by asking for a raise.

Related: Stress Within the Workplace: What is it and How to Deal With it

problem-focused coping, emotion focused coping skills

Other Types of Coping

Health Psychology

Health psychology is a branch of behavioral medicine. Health psychologists study why people react the way they do to illness, why some don’t take the advice doctors give them to prevent and treat illness, and how best to encourage behavioral efforts of patients so that they can lead healthier lives.

Why do some people who are overweight or on the verge of diabetes do nothing to change their eating behaviors? Is eating one of their coping responses to stress? Is the issue environmental factors such as not having the resources to eat healthy foods?

Why are some people genetically predisposed to have issues with substance abuse and alcoholism still partaking in reckless behaviors, such as, drinking alcohol, and using drugs as a coping mechanism? They may be well aware that they are a prime candidate for developing alcoholism, but they do it anyway.

Why do some people who are more at risk for certain cancers not get preventative testing?

The examples of this are endless. Health psychologists look at a person’s physical health and habits and then try to engage the patients in a way that will push them towards better habits with the goal of good health in mind.

Behavioral medicine exists for purposes like this. Teaching patients coping strategies so that they can control their behavior in a way that spawns better health. When we learn to cope with our issues, we can control our habits in a way that benefits our health rather than harming it.

Sometimes removing oneself from the equation and thinking about someone else being in the same situations we are in is all it takes.

As an example, let’s say that you smoke cigarettes. You go to the doctor for regular checkups, and every time you do, your doctor urges you to quit smoking. You tell him that you know they’re bad for you. You might even tell him that you’ll work on cutting back.

Your doctor offers to write you a prescription for medication that can help you quit, as well as recommending other resources that you may not have been aware of, like acupuncture. However, you politely decline, and you go on your way, smoking.

What if the next time you had an appointment, the doctor decided to engage you in conversation before the appointment really got started and told you that one of his close friends just died due to lung cancer. You would most likely convey your condolences.

What if the doctor then went on to say that his friend was perfectly healthy and lived a life full of good habits and healthy decisions, aside from smoking, and that’s what caused the cancer. What if he told you that his friend was your age and that no one saw his death coming.

Now you might have a different perspective. Now you might be more inclined to take that prescription or go see a therapist to stop smoking. You were removed from the situation and saw it from the outside looking in, and things can shift more easily that way.

Health psychologists research why these things work. They research coping mechanisms that work based upon the individual differences in patients. They help to develop strategies for coping that work for an individual by doing the research necessary to understand why people behave the way they do when it comes to health.

Related: What Are Unhealthy Coping Mechanisms and How to Develop Healthy Habits

Can Focused Coping Work For You?

Focused coping seems scary in some ways. Rushing right at a problem doesn’t come naturally to all of us. Fight or flight response to stress kicks in, and some of us run while some of us attack. If you’re not on the fight end of the fight or flight spectrum, it seems very unnatural to directly confront stressors.

It really is true, though, that if you address stressors as they occur, they’re alleviated much more quickly. They can’t hang over your head because you have faced them, and you now know the outcome. It truly is a “ripping off the band-aid” action that gets the things we’re stressed about out of the way, and therefore, out of our minds.

When we employ coping focused on emotions, we are forced to address how we feel about things. This is never a bad idea. Understanding the ways we are prone to react, getting to know ourselves, and then finding out what alleviates the feelings we have when we feel stress is part of the process of learning to accept and love ourselves.

When we love ourselves, we are less hard on ourselves; therefore, we are more relaxed. When we are more relaxed, anxiety cannot plague us as easily.

Coping skills, whether problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping, or both, are necessary to get through life. Otherwise, we wouldn’t be able to hold jobs, have relationships, or be happy. Coping responses that are positive help us pave the way to better health in every aspect.

We can use strategies like cognitive appraisal to address our problems and understand the stress process. We can also work on our time management skills so that when stress hits us, we don’t shut down and kill our chances of bouncing back. Analysis of our issues as well as proper time management are great starting points in coping.

Related: How to Deal With Stress From Parents: 7 Best Tips to Make Life Better

Seek Professional Help When Necessary

There is nothing wrong with asking for help. In fact, any time a problem seems or has gotten bigger than what we can handle, we should reach out for help. Friends and family members are great resources for this, but sometimes we need experts.

Behavioral psychologists, psychologists, therapists, and psychiatrists are there for you. Use the help that is available to you to learn how to live a life that is stress-free or at least reduced.

An affordable and convenient option to find a therapist is Online-therapy where you can speak with a therapist from the comfort of your own home, on your schedule.

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