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Coping Strategies: Good, Bad, or Otherwise?

Let’s face it. Most of us agree that life can be stressful. Between the never-ending demand of responsibility, the always-incoming emails, the never seemingly attainable balance between work and home life, day-to-day living at times can feel overwhelming. 


So, what do we do with this never-ending influx of stress? How do we cope?


Many of us have heard about the notion of “coping strategies” regarding how we manage our stress, daily life, and emotions. 


Coping strategies can really include anything we do to regulate our thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in response to stress. They can range from commonly known self-care behaviours (i.e., exercise, meditation, seeking social support, therapy.etc.) to not so commonly considered behaviours (i.e., isolating oneself, oversleeping, always keeping busy, overspending, venting to others.etc.). 


The coping strategies we use in any given situation can be informed by a variety of factors. Perhaps how tired we are that day. Perhaps what we learned from our environments growing up (i.e., family, school, culture, traumatic events.etc.). Perhaps our current stress threshold, the environment we live or work in, or our current access to resources (i.e., time, money.etc.) all influence the coping strategy we choose.


Psychology theorists also suggest that the level of control we have over a particular stressor we are trying to cope with may influence our choice of strategy. For example, when we can influence change on a situation, we may utilize problem solving to cope (problem-focused coping), versus if we are unable to change situation then perhaps we change the meaning we associate with it (meaning-focused coping), or the emotions we associate with it (emotion-focused coping). 


Given the many variables that can influence coping strategy choice, how does one know which to choose? 


If only there were a magic wand that we could wave that would tell us the “right” coping strategy for us to use in any given situation. But what if there is no “right” coping strategy… What if, instead, there are just coping strategies that are sometimes helpful for us and sometimes not as helpful?


Perhaps… a place to start would be increasing our flexibility and understanding of the idea of “good”/” right” and “bad”/” wrong” coping strategies. Rather than categorizing these strategies in a moral hierarchy, by suggesting some of them to be good and others to be bad, considering strategies to be helpful and harmful according to their context can increase our flexibility in understanding and using them.


Discovering what coping strategies work best for you may take some time and practice. If you are looking to either change your coping strategies or your relationship to them, navigating this alongside a trusted therapist can be extremely helpful. Above all else, don’t forget to have a little compassion for yourself through the trial and error of finding coping strategies that suit you best. It takes time and effort but can make a significant difference in your ability to tolerate and cope with stress!


Folkman, S., & Moskowitz, J. T. (2004). Coping: Pitfalls and promise. Annual Review of Psychology, 55(1), 745–774. 




Marissa Whalley, MC, is DBT Level 2 accredited and offers individual sessions for those looking to learn DBT skills to manage their emotional overwhelm more effectively. If you are interested in learning more about Marissa or her approach to therapy, please click here to link to her full bio page.