In detail

Coping: How do you deal with stressful situations?

Coping: How do you deal with stressful situations?

We could define the coping such as those personal dispositions that mediate between stressful agents and the body's responses. They refer to the cognitive and behavioral efforts that the individual makes to cope with stress.

Both to directly manage internal or external stress-generating demands (confrontation based on the problem), like the emotional and affective responses of discomfort generated by it (emotion based confrontation).

The classic psychodynamic defense mechanisms (denial, sublimation, repression, projection, etc.), can also be considered coping mechanisms to manage the stress or anxiety caused by it.


  • 1 Coping dimensions
  • 2 How do different types of people cope with stress?
  • 3 Conclusions
  • 4 References

Dimensions of coping

At a very basic level one can distinguish two dimensions in the confrontation:

  • Focused on the problem
  • Focus on emotion

And also:

  • Active confrontation: Make efforts to control and solve the problem. It usually leads to increases in catecholamine secretion and cardiovascular reactivity
  • Passive Confrontation: Do nothing to overcome the problem, which leads to increases in diastolic blood pressure and cortisol secretion. In addition, it is associated with immunosuppression

If the mechanisms of coping They are successful can significantly reduce stress responses. Likewise, they have been indicated as important reducers of the risk of psychic and physical disorders. An effective coping style could play an important role in health promotion and disease prevention.

Some examples of coping in specific cases

Adaptation to chronic disease (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis) and rehabilitation and recovery of patients after serious interventions or illnesses, may depend more on the coping mechanisms of the subject to their disease than on medical variables.

  • It is known that stoic acceptance and passivity worsen the evolution of cancer, while the fighting spirit extends survival.
  • In cardiovascular disorders, anger and hostile aggression aggravate the problem
  • There is personality characteristics which in themselves can be considered as coping styles (e.g., Type A personality, with its need for control, motivation for achievement, etc.)

There are no coping styles that can be considered a priori good or bad, it depends on the situation (especially on the controllability of the situation). Only some general statements can be made:

  • Problem solving and positive reevaluation are adaptive mechanisms
  • Confrontation and avoidance are obviously negative.

How do different types of people cope with stress?

Some authors have established coping typologies or coping, while other authors speak rather of continuous or dimensions. As an example of the first approach, we have Meichenbaum.

Meichenbaum distinguishes three types of confrontation

The self-referents

One would be the subjects who face a stress situation, rather than focus on the demands of the situation, focus on themselves. They are worried about how the situation affects them or how they feel.

They care about their own realization, they compare themselves with others, they present an excessive rumination of negative and self-critical thoughts. They are called subjects self-referents

This people, not paying enough attention to the characteristics of the problem, they will not have adequate clues to guide their behavior. Therefore, it is most likely that your answers are incorrect and that the consequences of the environment are negative, which will increase the discomfort.

The self-efficacy

A second type of people would be called self-efficacy. These focus on analyzing the demands of the situation to be able to give an adequate response, so they will have more chance of success.

They have learned to develop skills competentlyThey do not focus on themselves, but on the problematic situation looking for adequate information to initiate successful responses. We can distinguish three characteristics in the self-effective type:

  • Natural self-confidence: unreserved belief that destiny is in your hands (internal attributional style for successes)
  • Focus on the outside world: attention is not absorbed by their desires and interests, they do not occupy it over themselves. If attention is focused away from personality, frustrations of one's desires have fewer opportunities to disorganize consciousness. This produces more adaptability to the environment, more mobility
  • Discovery of new solutions: First, they try to solve obstacles that prevent them from achieving their objectives, without this is not possible, they find alternative goals (flexibility in the choice of objectives)

The deniers (not to be confused with negatives)

A third type is that of those who deny the existence of problems ignoring the situation. Especially, in those situations in which they cannot do anything.

Their behaviors will not be adequate to solve the problem, but they are not distressed or emotionally activated. It seems they didn't care about the problem, or they denied the situation. This subtype is not that you implement limited or defective strategies; They don't face the situation.

The coping understood as continuous or dimension

To explain the reaction of these people to stressful situations we will put them, instead of a category, in a dimension with two poles:


  • The repressor tends to denial and avoidance, internalize the problem, do not externalize it (they keep it). Deny or minimize subjective anxiety. However, they have higher physiological responses, especially higher cortisol levels.
  • The sensitizer is more vigilant and expansive, with a tendency to externalize problems. They maximize or exaggerate the expression of their anxiety (they are more dramatic). They have less physiological responses and cortisol levels.

The booster-dimmers

  • The increment has preference for the information. Rate as threatening ambiguous situations and attend to negative situations. Increase subjective anxiety and frustration. It is better when the threat is controllable.
  • The attenuator has a preference for distraction, cognitively avoids and transforms threat information to decrease its psychological impact. Therefore, reduce anxiety and frustration. This tendency to evasion interferes with the execution of instrumental behaviors. It is more appropriate when threats have no control, when we cannot do anything.


In conclusion, there are many ways people face stress on their own. However, if the stress overflows you, it is probably because your coping is failing.

Fortunately, Today there are a multitude of brief psychotherapies that can help you improve your coping with stress. And maybe you can turn what is today a limitation into a resource.


Rocha, A., Amarís, M., & Lopez-Lopez, W. (2017). The forgiveness as coping. A view from the Coping Complexity Model.

Meichenbaum, D., Fibla, J., & Toro, J. (1987).Manual stress inoculation. Spain: Martínez Roca.

Meichenbaum, D. (1988). Cognitive behavioral therapies.Contemporary Psychotherapies. Bilbao: Descrée de Brouwer.

Ramos, V., & Jordão, F. (2015). The relationship between work stress, the sources that give rise to it and coping strategies in the public and private sectors.Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology31(1), 11-20.

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