Coping Mechanisms

Coping Mechanisms. Psychology Fanatic article header image

Coping mechanisms are the thought and behavioral strategies people use to manage stress, trauma and painful emotions. Life is challenging. Experience often creates stress. Healthy coping skills assists with adjustment to the demands, helping us maintain emotional well-being in harsh circumstances.

Effective strategies enhance our ability to tolerate frustrations, minimizing the impact so we can continue to progress. Importantly, coping is an effective way to manage stress, relieving the weight of physical and psychological strain, allowing for healthy behaviors. If we implement an array of healthy coping strategies, then our emotional life tends to be more balanced.

Not all coping strategies are productive. Some mechanisms are immature relics from childhood and adolescence. Consequently, these mechanisms manage stress at the cost of future growth. Accordingly, many coping mechanisms are attractive but costly, providing quick relief but creating weightier challenges later. 

List of Common Coping Mechanisms

Coping Mechanisms vs. Defense Mechanisms

Coping mechanisms typically refer to conscious and voluntary acts intended to reduce stress. Basically, defense mechanisms are subconscious or unconscious adaptive responses. The difference between the two is that “coping strategies tend to be viewed as being conscious, intentional, and mostly adaptive, whereas defense mechanisms are seen as being unconscious, unintentional, and potentially maladaptive” (Diehl et al., 2014).

Many of the mature defenses have qualities resembling healthy coping styles. Accordingly, the line between a mature defense and a healthy coping strategy is somewhat blurred. In psychological literature, often they are used interchangeably.

A healthy approach is to identify unconscious defenses that hinder growth and replace them with healthy coping strategies. However, this often requires professional guidance and patient practice. Yet, many have discovered that by mindfully learning and implementing healthier strategies for regulating emotions that their life improves dramatically.

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​Diehl, M., Chui, H., Hay, E., Lumley, M., Grühn, D., & Labouvie-Vief, G. (2014). Change in Coping and Defense Mechanisms Across Adulthood: Longitudinal Findings in a European American Sample.Developmental Psychology,50(2), 634-648.

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