Coping is a skill we learn as we get older to counteract life’s more unpleasant occurrences. Individuals need to cope when they encounter stimuli they believe to be stressful, and we do it because it works.
According to Folkman and Lazarus, coping can be generalized into two method sets: emotion- focused and problem- focused.
In emotion- focused coping a person pacifies the stress by engaging in distracting behavior or avoidance behaviors. These could include drinking or abusing alcohol, eating, sex, reading, hiking, drawing, and binge-watching (Gazzaniga).
In Problem- focused coping the person tries to take a direct approach to the source of stress and eliminate it. In this method the person may assess the issue, weigh it and search for solutions (Gazzaniga).
While it may seem obvious to you that problem- focused coping mechanisms are the more useful of the two, it is important to note that this is only true from a distance. People use problem-focused coping when the subject of their stress seems like something they can manage or control, while emotion- focused coping actually “enables [the person] to continue functioning in the face of uncontrollable stressors or high levels of stress” (Gazzaniga).
Both methods have their merits and their detractors. It is often stressful alone to deal with a problem, and that mounting stress can have emotional and physical strains- but emotional coping mechanisms do not often work on a long- term basis, and some of them only exacerbate your issues (e.g. drinking while poor keeps you poor, having an affair instead of dealing with your relationship to your spouse only complicates the problem in the long run).
The clear answer to stress is to assess the situation and try to implement both methods as best as you can or even walk away from the problem entirely (yes, contrary to what people say, walking away is at times the best option). How you handle stress has a lot to do with who you are as a person and your hardiness, or stress resistance.