Coping strategy - what is it in behavioral psychology. Types and features

Coping strategies are mechanisms for dealing with stress. What do you do in difficult situations? Some people prefer to be active rather than sit idly by. Others prefer to shift responsibility onto others, sometimes even blaming them for what happened. There are also those who let everything take its course. What behavior can be considered correct? How should you behave in critical situations?

General characteristics of stress

A stressful state is characterized as a tense physical and mental state of the body. In general, in minimal doses, stress is needed by the body to maintain its optimal operating mode, but in excessive quantities it has an extremely negative effect on a person’s well-being and efficiency, thus causing psychosomatic diseases.

The founder of the doctrine of stress is the Canadian pathologist and endocrinologist Hans Selye, according to whose ideas stress is a stimulus for the body to achieve resistance in response to negative factors.

Selye identified two types of stress:

  • Eostress – stress that causes a positive effect
  • Distress is stress that causes a negative effect

Stress consists of three phases:

  • Alarm phase
  • Resistance phase
  • Exhaustion phase

It is interesting that people with a stable psyche are able to overcome the stage of anxiety, thereby avoiding stress.

If we talk about the present time, then stress is divided into emotional and informational. The first is associated with the emotional component of a person’s life, and the second is associated with the huge amount of information that bombards him. But, whatever the stress, its impact on the individual is in most cases the same. In the process of studying the influence of stress on a person, the question arose about his coping with difficult life situations, and the theory of coping appeared.

Where did the term come from?

Dr. Richard Lazarus

Coping strategies are everything that helps a person overcome stress. A stressful situation is characterized by anxiety, complexity, and uncertainty. Coping strategies provide an opportunity to cope with a difficult problem. The strategy can be emotional or behavioral. The Russian psychological school uses the concept of “experience” or coping behavior. The essence of coping is to enable a person to overcome life’s difficulties or reduce their impact on the body.

The term appeared in psychology in the early sixties of the last century. It was used by L. Murphy; he used it to describe how to overcome childhood developmental crises. A few years later, cognitive psychologist Richard Lazarus described strategies for coping with stressors in his book.

Coping theory

The theory of coping, as a question about a person’s interaction with problems in life, appeared in psychological science in the second half of the 20th century. And the very concept of “coping” (from the English “to cope” - to cope, cope) was introduced by the famous American psychologist Abraham Maslow.

Coping is usually understood as a person’s constantly changing behavioral and cognitive attempts to cope with special internal or external demands that are assessed as tension or exceed the individual’s ability to overcome them. In simpler terms, coping is a form of behavior that reflects a person’s readiness to solve life’s problems; behavior that is aimed at adapting to circumstances and which implies an already formed ability to use specific means to cope with stress. Choosing active actions increases the likelihood of a person eliminating the impact of sources of stress on his personality.

The details of this skill are intertwined with self-concept, empathy, environmental conditions, and locus of control. According to Abraham Maslow, coping behavior is the opposite of expressive behavior.

Selection of adaptation strategies

Some studies have shown that different personality traits are associated with certain coping strategies. Thus, insecure and anxious people prefer avoiding and distancing techniques of psychological defense. Choleric people choose aggressive and risky methods of overcoming difficulties. Accordingly, the specialist needs to focus on the patient’s capabilities. Also, sometimes it is necessary to replace an unstable protection technique with another method. For example, if a person reacts aggressively to any stimuli.

The most universal and simple adaptation methods are positive reappraisal, planning and self-control. These techniques can be taught to most patients. It is often recommended to combine these coping techniques with counterproductive techniques such as distraction and distancing. In this case, a person will be able to simultaneously distract himself from unpleasant experiences and find a way to solve the problem in a comfortable environment. It is important not to impose complex types of coping on patients with unstable mental health.

Problem Resolution

Problem solving can also include avoiding problems and seeking social support. Coping behavior here is implemented through the use of strategies that take as a basis the resources of the individual and the environment. One of the most important environmental resources is social support, and personal ones include positive self-esteem, an optimistic worldview, the potential for empathy, an internal locus of control, the ability for interpersonal interaction and some other psychological structures.

When a source of stress affects a person, a primary assessment occurs, based on which the type of situation is determined - favorable or threatening. From this moment, individual protection mechanisms begin to form. The processes that characterize a person’s coping with an unfavorable situation are part of the emotional reactions on which emotional stability depends. They are aimed at removing, eliminating or reducing the current source of stress, which at this stage is assessed secondarily. The result of the secondary assessment is that the person chooses one of three further behavioral strategies.

Resource approach

As stated above, each person has a set of certain resources that help control the situation, feelings, and emotions. With their help, you can maintain mental and physical health even in the most difficult, one might say, critical situations.

These resources are internal and external. The first include innate abilities, as well as skills and abilities that were acquired as they grew older. External - tools for dealing with stress from the environment, moral and emotional support from loved ones.

Each psychologist has his own opinion about resources. S, Selingman believed that the most important thing to combat stress is optimism. Ah, Bandura was banking on self-efficacy. For others, resilience is considered the most important indicator. Be that as it may, all these qualities influence the formation of coping strategies as much as changing circumstances.

If material and social resources were lacking in childhood, the repertoire of strategies in the future will be small. A person can even consciously narrow their spectrum. A good example: reluctance to interact with other people. Because of this, not only the circle of contacts decreases, but also the resources of the environment become smaller.


Coping occurs, as a rule, without the participation of the emotional component, but only in the case when the threat to a person is not assessed by him as real, for example, when he does not come into contact with objects, does not interact with people, etc.

Whatever the protective process, it will always be aimed at ridding a person of the mismatch of his motives and disunity of feelings, protecting him from receiving and realizing painful and negative emotions and eliminating tension and anxiety.

Maximum protection, which gives the greatest result, at the same time is only a tiny fraction of what coping behavior is generally capable of. Effective use of coping strategies can increase a person’s ability to adapt, but only when coping strategies are applied consciously, actively and depending on the specific situation.

Types of psychological defense

Coping and psychological defense are mechanisms that allow the individual to adapt to changing external situations that act as stimuli.

These mechanisms are similar to each other, but have certain differences


  • Coping occurs in a person’s mind; he can control behavior and change tactics; and psychological defense arises in the unconscious and it is impossible to fully control it.
  • Psychological protection is aimed only at reducing psycho-emotional stress, and coping allows you to build effective relationships.
  • Coping unfolds gradually over a certain period of time; and psychological defense occurs at lightning speed, while a distortion of reality is observed.
  • Coping presupposes the presence of certain resources inherent in it, and psychological defense indicates a lack of resources and flexibility of consciousness.

Just like coping, psychological defense can be presented in various forms.


  • Repression
    : a person forgets a situation that caused him discomfort. However, such a mechanism is not always reliable, since memories can return again. And to effectively forget, the brain spends a huge amount of resources.
  • Projection
    : This is a mechanism in which one's own thoughts and desires are unconsciously attributed to other people; this allows you to relieve yourself of responsibility for actions that seem “wrong.” For example, strong jealousy may be a consequence of the desire to cheat on your wife.
  • Introjection
    : this is the indiscriminate appropriation of other people's thoughts, norms, rules to oneself, regardless of one's own desires. In childhood, introjection is a normal mechanism, since all education and training are based on it (it is known that children perceive all information about the world uncritically); but in adulthood it can lead to the inability to have one’s own opinion, feel and think independently; a person turns into some kind of biorobot.
  • Merger
    : in this behavior, the boundary between one’s own and another personality disappears, leaving one all-encompassing “we”. This mechanism manifests itself positively in the relationship between a very young child and his mother, since it allows the child to survive in the first years of his existence. But in adults, fusion gives rise to the disappearance of the ability to feel, relationships are deprived of passion.
  • Rationalization
    : this mechanism encourages you to look for the causes of unpleasant situations not in yourself, but in some external circumstances. For example, a person, having failed to get a job that interests him, tries to convince himself and others that he himself did not particularly want to get it, since the work is supposedly tedious and uninteresting. Rationalization often manifests itself as devaluation.
  • Denial
    : This is a mechanism that manifests itself as an attempt to deny obvious facts. Denial is a complete rejection of unpleasant information. This behavior is reminiscent of the actions of a small child who thinks that if he closes his eyes and does not look at the bee, it will disappear and will not sting him. Naturally, such actions do not make the problem disappear, and sooner or later the presence of the problem has to be recognized (although often by that time it has already had its final impact on the person).
  • Regression
    : in this case, a person adapts to a difficult situation by returning to forms of behavior familiar from childhood - such as crying, whims, emotional requests, etc. A person learns on an unconscious level that such behavior guarantees a way out of a difficult situation, since it really worked in childhood : after all, his parents decided almost everything for him. However, in adulthood, regression is usually an indicator of immaturity, mental weakness, and inability to find a successful strategy to solve a problem.
  • Sublimation
    : a mechanism in which, in an attempt to forget a traumatic situation, a person switches to some other activity that is socially acceptable; most often it is creativity and sports. Sublimation is a productive defense mechanism because it has given society many great works of art and sporting achievements.
  • Reactive formation
    : in this case, consciousness protects a person from unpleasant impulses, producing opposite impulses, and often in an exaggerated form. For example, a person believes that it is unacceptable to even lightly spank children for pranks, and those parents who do this should be immediately brought to justice (or shot).

Criterion for success or failure

A coping strategy, based on the third criterion, can be successful - use constructive behavior to overcome a stressful situation, or unsuccessful - use unconstructive behavior that does not allow one to overcome a stressful situation.

Any coping strategy that a person uses can be assessed based on the above criteria, even for the simple reason that a person who finds himself in a stressful situation can use either one or several coping strategies at once.

Based on all this, we can assume that there is a direct relationship between those personality patterns through which people form their attitude towards the difficulties and problems that arise in life, and which coping strategy they choose. And in order to understand which coping strategy is best for you personally, you need to know yourself as best as possible and understand your reactions to certain events happening in life.

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Key words:1Psychoregulation


Experts have studied more than four hundred techniques for suppressing the effects of stress. The approach to classifying this phenomenon may vary. Some psychologists prefer to separate coping strategies that focus on ways to solve a problem and adaptation mechanisms that are associated exclusively with the emotional state. Others share direct coping strategies and types of avoidant behavior. At the same time, there is a generally accepted classification that includes well-studied techniques.

Main types of coping strategies:

  1. Active search for ways to overcome difficulties associated with analytical thinking. This is a productive type of coping strategy that allows an individual to calmly solve the problem that has arisen and not succumb to negative emotions. Voluntary and involuntary methods of protecting the psyche are used.
  2. A method of confrontation that involves an aggressive and risky solution to a problem. The role of a defensive reaction is self-confidence.
  3. Method of accepting responsibility: the individual understands that only he can solve the problem that has arisen.
  4. Avoidance behavior is a maladaptive coping strategy that involves distancing oneself from any difficulty.
  5. Self-control is the suppression of experiences that prevent you from finding a way to solve a problem.
  6. Positive reappraisal. Identifying the positive aspects of the situation and thus changing the emotional perception of the difficulty.
  7. Receiving help from society. A coping strategy may consist of communication that helps to speak out and receive psychological support.

It is important to determine the optimal defensive reaction in a particular situation. Many types of psychotherapy are aimed at identifying ways to deal with stress and selecting more effective techniques.

Examples of defensive reactions

For each type of coping strategy, characteristic examples can be given that demonstrate the essence of the defensive reaction:

  • The child was bullied by high school students. The student’s actions began to be ridiculed. Avoidance behavior has developed, in which the individual avoids companies and prefers to spend time alone.
  • A lonely man heard a loud noise in the kitchen at night. A brief feeling of fear gave way to aggression: he took a heavy object and headed to the kitchen, ready to defend his life and his property. Another coping strategy in such a situation may be to try to hide.
  • The applicant received the exam results and realized that she would not be able to enter the university. The girl goes to visit her friend and tells her about the situation in order to receive psychological support.

It should be borne in mind that the reaction to stress largely depends on gender and upbringing. Gender determines some behavioral stereotypes in stressful situations.

Instructions before starting the test

This test is used by psychologists all over the world. Domestic experts offer it to both adult subjects and adolescents. Before working with Amirkhan’s coping strategies indicator, the subject receives the following instructions: “This technique shows how people cope with the difficulties and obstacles that they have to face in life. The form contains questions describing various coping strategies. After reviewing these questions, you can determine which approach you usually use. In other words, this test is aimed at diagnosing coping strategies. To pass the test, you need to remember one of the serious difficulties that you had to deal with over the past six months, which forced you to spend a lot of effort. When reading the statements above, you must choose one of three possible options that characterize you: “Agree,” “Disagree,” “Completely agree.”


Finally, one of the most important ways of coping is reassessment of values, as well as self-change. The circumstances in which a person must overcome conflict are seen as a source of personal growth, an opportunity to gain experience and change for the better.

Self-perception may change in such a person towards the idea of ​​himself as a confident and strong person. Thus, the crisis acts as a basis for changing the system of worldviews and values, an opportunity to join new philosophical or religious views. That is why any, even the most unsuccessful experience can have a positive aspect - if it serves as the basis for positive personal transformations.

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