• Jared Ng

3 Ways People Cope with Stress

Stress is an integral part of everyone’s life. You, me, and everyone else faces stress to a certain degree. It could be due to your environmental, mental, emotional, and/or physiological component(s).

However, this does not mean that you must be reclusive or attempt to eliminate all sources of conflict and tension in life. It depends on how you perceived it. Some stress is beneficial to act as a challenge so you can be creative and grow psychologically and spiritually.

Living healthfully by getting sufficient sleep, eating healthily, exercising regularly, taking ‘quiet time”, and avoiding unhealthy habits such as smoking, excessive alcohol, is fundamental to limiting stress.

Sometimes, when you are overloaded with work and school, you put off taking care of yourself. Hence, you should set aside a fixed amount of time on your schedule for healthful or relaxing activities.

Besides living healthfully, managing stress also involves coping. Coping requires efforts to manage a stressful situation regardless if those efforts are successful. In general, there are 3 types of coping processes.

Problem-Focused Coping

Problem-focused coping involves handling stress head-on and a plan is devised for taking action to resolve the underlying cause. Optimism is key as one needs to have faith and belief that he/she can change things for the better.

The mind is powerful. Even if the change ends up impossible, believing in it lessens stress. If you are pessimistic and think that the situation you are in cannot be changed and improved, it will just create a sense of helplessness and hopelessness, which may lead to giving up and depression.

Ways to practice problem-focused coping:

  • Eliminate (if possible) or limit interaction with the stressor. (E.g. Changing your major, jobs, saying “NO” to unreasonable request.)

  • Alter your perception of a stressful situation. Perceiving a situation as less intimidating will make you feel more at ease.

  • Set attainable goals. And don’t be too hard on yourself if you don't win or achieve your goal. Instead, enjoy the joy of participating in the event and learning something from the experience.

  • Focus on your personal strengths, values and positive qualities instead of your weaknesses. Have confidence in your ability to lessen stress. Remember to give credit to yourself when due!

  • Seek social support such as friends, family, or counsellors or anyone who you feel can understand, lend a sympathetic ear, and offer valuable feedback. Sharing also allows you to open up your problems and lessen the burden.

  • Enjoy a good laughter.

  • Engage in sensory experiences or nature such as art, music, walk in the park, or along the beach.

Emotion-Focused Coping

Emotion-focused coping involves regulating your feelings and emotional response to the problem instead of addressing the problem. It seeks to adopting an attitude that lessens anxiety and brings comfort.

To facilitate acceptance, one might seek solace and comfort in religion, social contact, being with Nature, or become more involved with volunteering and helping others.

Ways to practice emotion-focused coping:

  • Relax and calm your mind. There are a variety of methods that can stop physiologic stress response. These includes autogenic training, biofeedback, hypnosis, relaxation response, image visualisation, progressive muscle relaxation, virtual reality therapies, massage, and meditation.

  • Making one of these methods work for you requires practise and persistence. Choose one of them and make sure to practise daily for a week or two. If you noticed benefits and results, you can incorporate them as part of your daily ritual practise. Check out the 9 Ways to Heal Anxiety, Stress & Promote Mind-Body Harmony here.

  • Lastly, let go of your worries and stop carrying problems in your mind.

Defence Mechanisms

Defence mechanisms are mental processes used by people to distort the perception of reality and awareness so as to avoid unpleasant thoughts, memories, emotions, and situations. Examples of defence mechanisms include denial, repression, displacement, reaction formation, identification, rationalisation, isolation and dissociation, and projection.

A common defence mechanism is denial. Denial refers to the absolute rejection of a truth or objective reality. An example would be a smoker not believing he is at risk for lung cancer even though he knows and science has proven that smoking causes cancer. Such a person denies reality to prevent awareness of the truth, so he can continue doing what he enjoys, while avoiding the fear of death.

Other forms of defence mechanisms include:

  • Repression - Keeping distressing thoughts and feelings unconscious. (E.g. Rape victim who has no memory of the assault)

  • Displacement - Diverting an emotion from the original target or source to another. (E.g. Angry at parents but yell at your friend)

  • Reaction formation - Expressing the opposite of one's true feelings or motives. (E.g. Friendly with someone you dislike)

  • Identification - Taking on the characteristics of someone viewed as successful. ( E.g. Feeling superior because your favourite football team won)

  • Rationalisation - Justifying an unacceptable thought or feeling by selecting a logical reason to think or feel that way. (E.g. Believing that you failed a course due to an incompetent teacher rather than your ineffective studying)

  • Isolation & Dissociation - Compartmentalising thoughts and feelings in different parts of awareness. (E.g. Successful professional negotiator frequently feuds with his neighbours)

  • Projection - Attributing one's own unacceptable behaviour onto someone else. (E.g. A student dislikes her roommate but believes the roommate dislikes her)

Defence mechanisms help to protect us from thoughts and beliefs that we find threatening. Hence we distort the reality to make us feel safe.

However, distorting reality may not necessarily be bad. Instead, it is needed sometimes due to feeling overwhelmed, trauma, or abuse. For such cases, denial helps a person to cope with an otherwise highly stressful psychological situation.


In general, problem-focused coping is best for dealing with practical problems and situations that can be resisted or overcome with one’s personal efforts. Emotion-focused coping is best for dealing with situations not amendable to change but has to be faced. Examples include: death of a loved one, illness, natural disaster. Defence mechanisms like denial and avoidance tend to be ineffective coping strategies.

Facilitating Coping

Even when emotions make us aware that something is not going well in our lives, we may not know what the problem is, and the best way to deal with it. People should not suffer in silence thinking that they are crazy or going insane.

When in such distress, one should seek social support and advice from trusted friends, family members, or mental health professionals like counsellors, psychotherapist or physicians. This allows them to see their problem in a new perspective and devise a workable solution.

How do you cope with stress and why? Comment below!

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