A coping skill
is a behavioral tool which may be used by individuals to offset or overcome adversity
, or disability
without correcting or eliminating the underlying condition.
Virtually all living beings routinely utilize coping skills in daily life. These are perhaps most noticeable in response to physical disabilities. An easy example of the use of coping skills in the animal kingdom are three-legged dogs
, which typically learn to overcome the obvious disability to become as agile and mobile as their four-legged counterparts, whether born with the disability, or having received it due to an injury.
When helping humans deal with specific problems, professional counselors have found that a focus of attention on coping skills (with or without remedial action) often helps individuals. The range of successful coping skills varies widely with the problems to be overcome. However, the learning and practice of coping skills are generally regarded as very helpful to most individuals. Even the sharing of learned coping skills with others is often beneficial.
One group of coping skills are coping mechanisms, defined as the skills used to reduce stress
. In psychological terms, these are consciously used skills and defense mechanisms are their unconscious counterpart. Overuse of coping mechanisms (such as avoiding problems or working obsessively) and defense mechanisms
(such as denial
) may exacerbate one's problem rather than remedy it.
There are two primary styles of coping with problems such as stress.
Action-based coping involves actually dealing with a problem that is causing stress. Examples can include getting a second job
in the face of financial difficulties, or studying
to prepare for exams. Action-based coping is generally seen as superior to emotion-based coping, as it can directly reduce a source of stress.
Examples of action-based coping include planning, suppression of competing activities, confrontation, self-control, and restraint.
Emotion-based coping skills reduce the symptoms of stress without addressing the source of the stress. Consuming alcohol
or discussing the stress with a friend
are all emotion-based coping strategies. Other examples include denial
, wishful thinking, distraction
, reappraisal, and humor
. There are both positive and negative coping strategies that can be defined as emotion-based. Emotion-based coping can be useful to reduce stress to a manageable level, enabling action-based coping, or when the source of stress can not be addressed directly.
Harmful coping methods
Some coping methods are more like habits than skills, and can be harmful. Overused, they may actually worsen one's condition. Alcohol
and other drugs
may provide temporary escape
from one's problems, but, with excess use, ultimately result in greater problems.