Evaluate strategies for coping with stress



Folkman and Lazarus (1988) Two ways of coping


Problem-focused coping


·         This is an attempt to remove or correct a problematic situation (e.g. as quitting an abusive relationship, drafting a revision plan, or taking extra courses to qualify for a new job).

·         A special form of problem-focused coping is called pro-active coping that is used to avoid a future problem (such as studying hard for an exam to avoid the stress of failing).


Emotion-focused coping


·         This is an attempt to manage the emotional aspects of stress (e.g. example, changing the way one thinks about a problem or learning to accept it, using relaxation techniques, seeking social support, or using drugs to alleviate tension).

·         A special form of emotion - focused coping is avoidance coping (for example, denying the problem or drinking alcohol to forget the problem. Avoidance coping could be effective in the short - term. Some coping strategies may be problematic, for example, if people become dependent on alcohol.


Problem-focused coping may be the most adaptive in situations perceived as controllable. Emotion -focused coping may be the most adaptive in situations that are perceived as uncontrollable.


Gender differences in coping strategies: Taylor (2002) Tend and befriend theory of coping


·         The physiological stress reactions (fight or flight and GAS) are the body’s instinctual coping mechanisms to deal with imminent threat. These reactions are adequate in dangerous situations but there may be gender differences in managing stress.

·         The tend and befriend theory suggests that evolution has provided males and females with different challenges.

·         Males tend to exhibit the fight or flight response, which is triggered by adrenaline.

·         Females tend to exhibit the tend and befriend response, which is triggered by the hormone oxytocin. "Tend" refers to nurturing activities and "befriend" refers to seeking social support.

·         The theory was formulated on the basis of a meta-analysis on research on stress and coping. The study found that women tend to use social support more than men as coping strategy. Women also provide more social support to others, and draw on socially supportive networks more consistently in times of stress.


Social support as coping strategy


·         Seeking social support is a coping strategy related to emotion-focused coping. Social support can act as a buffer against the physiological and psychological effects of stress but it can also protect against potential stress on a daily basis without apparent stressors. Social support can be defined as the experience of being part of a social network with access to mutual assistance and obligations.


·         Social support can come from a partner, relatives, friends, or various social support groups. Social support from others indicates that you “belong” and this is an important factor in the face of stress. Social support from pets also seems to have a beneficial effect against stress. The perception or belief that emotional support is available appears to be a much stronger influence on mental health than the actual receipts of social support (Wethering and Kessler, 1986).


Social support may manifest as:

·         Emotional support: verbal or non-verbal communication of caring and concern. It could include listening, empathizing, and comforting.

·         Informational support: information to guide and advice to help a person to understand and cope better with a stressful situation.

·         Practical support: tangible assistance such as transportation, assistance with household chores or financial assistance.


Allen et al. (1999) Pets as social support

·         The researchers investigated whether owning a pet could reduce stress in a sample of 48 participants (New York City stockbrokers) who suffered from mental stress. They were living alone and had all been treated with drugs against high blood pressure (hypertension) – a consequence of stress. There was an equal distribution of men and women and they all had to be willing to acquire a pet as part of the experiment.

·         Half of the participants were randomly allocated to a condition, where a cat or dog was added to their treatment. Blood pressure and heart rate were measured before the drug therapy began and six months later.

·         Results showed that in tests where participants were stressed, the pet owners remained significantly more stable than the participants who did not own a pet. According to the researchers, a loving pet can have a calming influence on stress symptoms such as blood pressure and heart rate. This is particularly the case for individuals who have a limited social network.