Emotion-Focused Coping: Techniques and Examples (2023)

Emotion-focused coping involves managing your emotional response to a situation instead of trying to solve the problem itself.

When you’re going through a stressful or difficult time, how do you cope?

Some people cope by trying to solve whatever problem they’re faced with. For example, if you’re feeling lonely, you could join a local group to try to make new friends. If you’re stressed at work, you might find ways to set stronger work-life boundaries or look for a new job.

This is called problem-focused coping. But not everyone copes with stress and challenges this way.

Other people may change the way they feel about the situation, instead of fixing the issue itself. This is called emotion-focused coping.

For example, instead of trying to meet new people, you might journal when you feel lonely to try to process what you’re feeling. Or you might practice mindfulness to manage your work-related stress rather than looking for a new position.

You might not always do one or the other, either.

Depending on each situation, you could choose emotion-focused or problem-focused coping. How they help you manage depends on many factors, including how the challenge may be affecting you.

Sometimes, you might even choose to approach a situation with both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping techniques.

What is emotion-focused coping best for?

(Video) Psychology 101: The Two Types of Coping

Any type of coping strategy that involves trying to change your emotional reaction to a stressful event can be considered emotion-focused coping. The concept was first introduced in the 1980s by Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman.

If you experience anxiety, sadness, anger, or fear during an event that’s out of your control, emotion-focused coping can help you manage these emotions by reducing their effect on you.

Although there’s not much recent research on emotion-focused coping, some older studies indicate that it can sometimes help people become more prepared for life’s hardships.

In a 2015 study, emotion-focused coping, also called emotional approach coping, was associated with:

  • increased positive thinking
  • stronger personal resources
  • less negative affect (feeling)

The researchers of this study concluded that people who often relied on emotion-focused coping developed more resilience and higher levels of general well-being.

However, not all research supports emotion-focused coping as the best way to deal with stress. In fact, this coping strategy has faced some controversy because, in some studies, it’s linked to negative outcomes.

It’s important to note, though, that some of these studies have focused on maladaptive emotion-focused coping only, like avoidant behaviors. For example, some people cope with a problem by not thinking about it or keeping busy. In general, avoidance isn’t considered an effective coping response.

Other types of emotion-focused coping strategies that may not be effective include:

  • denying the issue
  • suppressing (pushing down) emotions
  • giving up on the situation
  • using substances to deal with painful emotions

Emotion-focused coping strategies aren’t all about avoidance, though. They can also involve confronting, exploring, and understanding your feelings about a situation.

This type of emotional approach to coping can be effective when managing:

Problem-focused coping, on the other hand, seems to be more effective for depression and loneliness, based on findings in a self-reported study from 2013 and a review of scientific literature from 2018, respectively.

Again, though, some of these studies on problem-focused coping compare it to only maladaptive emotion-focused coping strategies, like avoidance and denial, rather than beneficial strategies.

(Video) Problem Focused vs. Emotion Focused Coping

These are a few strategies that may make emotion-focused coping more effective when dealing with life challenges:

1. Journaling

Journaling can be an excellent way to become more aware of and deal with painful emotions.

When done in the correct way, it’s been shown to have mental health benefits for symptoms of:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • trauma

When you’re journaling, you may want to avoid ruminating on negative situations. Instead, you can try to explore and express your emotions and consider identifying actionable steps to change your emotional perspective on the challenge you’re facing.

For example, once you’ve expressed how the challenge or situation makes you feel, you can try to acknowledge those emotions and take judgment away from them. You could write something like, “I am angry this happened to me. Anger is a natural emotion, and I have the right to feel this way.”

2. Mindfulness meditation

Mindfulness meditation is a way to notice your emotions about a stressful event in a nonjudgmental way. It’s been shown to have profound benefits for mental health, including managing symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression.

It’s best to incorporate mindfulness meditation into your routine instead of trying to use it only when you’re going through a difficult situation.

You can practice mindfulness in many ways. One of the most popular ones is with breathing exercises.

To do this, it’s recommended that you sit quietly and simply notice your breath as it goes in and out. When thoughts or feelings come up, try to simply notice them and then return your attention to your breathing.

(Video) EMOTION FOCUSED OR PROBLEM FOCUSED COPING SKILLS

3. Forgiveness

When you’re dealing with a broken heart or feel someone hurt or betrayed you, forgiveness may be one of the best emotion-focused coping strategies.

One 2007 research review suggests that practicing forgiveness can improve your overall health and heal your relationships.

Forgiving someone doesn’t mean you have to tolerate what they’ve done. Instead, you can let go of the hurt they caused you and choose to move on with your life. This may involve a process of internally facing the way this person has made you feel.

Self-forgiveness can also be a great way to cope with emotional pain by focusing on your emotions instead of the challenge itself.

4. Acceptance

Radical acceptance is a concept borrowed from dialectical behavior therapy. It might be especially useful in situations that are out of your control.

For example, if you live with a chronic health condition or if something traumatic happened to you, you may not be able to change the facts of the situation. Practicing radical acceptance means you stop fighting the reality of what’s in front of you.

Radical acceptance doesn’t mean you have to be fine with what happened. Instead, it means that you choose to make peace with the challenge or event, changing your emotional response to it.

A 2017 study including survivors of childhood sexual abuse found that as they practiced more radical acceptance, feelings of shame and guilt decreased.

5. Talking about it

Suppressing emotions can be an example of maladaptive emotion-focused coping. Its opposite may be openly acknowledging and expressing your emotions. You can do this with yourself, by journaling for example, or with a trusted loved one or a mental health professional.

You can see a therapist to explore possible solutions to your problems. This could be an example of problem-focused coping. You can also see a therapist to explore how you really feel and express your feelings openly, which is an example of emotion-focused coping. Both options are valid and can be helpful.

In 2021 study, researchers found that strong social support is a protective factor against the negative effects of stress.

There’s no rule that says that you need to choose between problem-focused or emotion-focused coping strategies.

While you may tend to rely on one more than the other, depending on your circumstances and personality traits, you can also make a conscious decision to use coping strategies from both methods.

For example, let’s say you’re experiencing high levels of stress at work.

You might take a problem-focused coping approach by strengthening boundaries and talking with your manager about your concerns. While you do these things, you can also take an emotion-focused approach to your stress by journaling or practicing mindfulness meditation.

It doesn’t need to be one or the other.

(Video) How to use Emotion-focused Coping techniques to deal with stress?

Like any other type of coping, emotion-focused strategies can be either maladaptive or supportive. When done adequately, emotion-focused coping help you deal with situations that are out of your control.

Other situations may call for a more problem-focused approach. You don’t have to choose between focusing on your emotions or on the challenge; you can use whatever coping strategies are most appropriate for your situation.

(Video) Lecture 6.1: Stress and Coping

Journaling and meditating may be two ways to apply emotion-focused coping.

It’s important that you keep yourself in check so you don’t repress or avoid emotions. Instead, consider approaching them directly and exploring and expressing them with honesty.

FAQs

What is emotion-focused coping example? ›

This is called emotion-focused coping. For example, instead of trying to meet new people, you might journal when you feel lonely to try to process what you're feeling. Or you might practice mindfulness to manage your work-related stress rather than looking for a new position.

What are the 5 types of coping strategies? ›

There are many different conceptualizations of coping strategies, but the five general types of coping strategies are problem-focused coping, emotion-focused coping, social support, religious coping, and meaning making.

How do you explain emotion-focused therapy? ›

Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) is a form of short-term therapy that aims to improve couple relationships by rekindling the physical and emotional bond that can get sacrificed to disappointment in a partner and alienation from them, a common dynamic in distressed couples.

What is the most common definition of emotion-focused coping? ›

Emotion-focused coping is a type of stress management that attempts to reduce negative emotional responses associated with stress. Negative emotions such as embarrassment, fear, anxiety, depression, excitement and frustration are reduced or removed by the individual by various methods of coping.

Is crying emotion-focused coping? ›

As summarized in Figure 1, crying may theoretically be considered a unique coping behavior, because it unites in itself both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping strategies.

What causes emotion-focused coping? ›

Emotion-focused coping is when you try to deal with your emotional response to the stressor. If you are trying to reduce, eliminate, or simply tolerate your emotional response to a stressor, then you're using emotion-focused coping.

What are 3 examples of coping skills you could use? ›

Good Coping Skills
  • Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques;
  • Having time to yourself;
  • Engaging in physical activity or exercise;
  • Reading;
  • Spending time with friends;
  • Finding humor;
  • Spending time on your hobbies;
  • Engaging in spirituality;
4 Oct 2017

What are the 10 coping strategies? ›

Top 10 Coping Skills
  • Deep Breathing. Often when faced with a stressful situation or feeling, our breathing changes. ...
  • Writing. Writing can be an effective means of working through stress. ...
  • Physical Activity. ...
  • Self-Talk. ...
  • Art. ...
  • Meditation. ...
  • Puzzles. ...
  • Music.
22 Oct 2019

What are the 4 types of coping strategies? ›

Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies: appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive), problem-focused (adaptive behavioral), emotion-focused, and occupation-focused coping. Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping.

What are 3 coping strategies for anxiety? ›

Anxiety management strategies
  • Slow breathing. When you're anxious, your breathing becomes faster and shallower. ...
  • Progressive muscle relaxation. Find a quiet location. ...
  • Stay in the present moment. ...
  • Healthy lifestyle. ...
  • Take small acts of bravery. ...
  • Challenge your self-talk. ...
  • Plan worry time. ...
  • Get to know your anxiety.

What are the 3 stages of EFT? ›

The stages of EFT are: - Stage 1: Stabilization (assessment and de-escalation phase). - Stage 2: Restructuring the bond (changing the phase of the interactional position). - Stage 3: Integration and consolidation.

What are the 3 goals of emotion-focused interventions? ›

The goals of EFT are strengthening the self, regulating affect, and creating new meaning. EFT is a neohumanistic, experiential approach to therapy reformulated in terms of modern emotion theory and affective neuroscience.

What are the 5 emotion management strategies? ›

5 strategies for managing your emotions using emotional...
  • Situation selection. Situation selection simply means choosing situations most likely to generate pleasant emotions. ...
  • Situation modification. ...
  • Attentional deployment. ...
  • Cognitive reappraisal. ...
  • Response modulation.
26 Apr 2021

Is exercise emotion-focused coping? ›

In particular, this research appears to be meaningful in suggesting that regular leisure-time physical exercise can lead to an effective problem-focused coping through elicitation of positive emotion.

What type of coping is crying? ›

Today's psychological thought largely concurs, emphasizing the role of crying as a mechanism that allows us to release stress and emotional pain. Crying is an important safety valve, largely because keeping difficult feelings inside — what psychologists call repressive coping — can be bad for our health.

What is emotion-focused in psychology? ›

Emotion-focused therapy (EFT) is a therapeutic approach based on the premise that emotions are key to identity. According to EFT, emotions are also a guide for individual choice and decision making. This type of therapy assumes that lacking emotional awareness or avoiding unpleasant emotions can cause harm.

What is an example of active coping? ›

Examples include solving problems, reframing the meaning of the problems, or seeking information. Active coping is thought to be an adaptive way of dealing with stressful events and to be a vital component of resilience in the face of stress, health problems, and other adversity.

What are 5 positive coping skills that you are willing to try? ›

Taking a walk, frequent vacations, reading a book, going shopping, volunteering, or watching a tv show are all good ideas of positive coping skills that you could adopt.

What are examples of cognitive coping skills? ›

A variety of different forms exist, such as putting the experience into perspective, seeking to understand the causes of the situation, thinking about steps to resolve the situation, thinking about pleasant experiences instead of the current difficulty (positive refocusing), redefining the situation to emphasize ...

What are 5 coping skills for anxiety? ›

Here are 11 tips for coping with an anxiety disorder:
  • Keep physically active. ...
  • Avoid alcohol and recreational drugs. ...
  • Quit smoking, and cut back or quit drinking caffeinated beverages. ...
  • Use stress management and relaxation techniques. ...
  • Make sleep a priority. ...
  • Eat healthy foods. ...
  • Learn about your disorder.
20 Jul 2021

What is the 54321 coping techniques? ›

The 5 senses grounding technique, often referred to as the 54321 method or 54321 anxiety trick is a tool that helps relieve anxiety symptoms and panic attacks. The 54321 method can be used as a practical way to calm anxiety by isolating each of your senses through observation.

What are the two main coping strategies? ›

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) distinguished two basic coping categories, i.e., problem-focused and emotion-focused coping, as responses aimed at “managing or altering the problem causing the distress” and “regulating emotional responses to the problem,” respectively (Lazarus and Folkman, 1984, p. 150).

What are the 3 major categories of coping with stress? ›

  • Task-oriented coping. This strategy requires very active problem-solving and focusing on the things you can control even during times like these. ...
  • Emotion-oriented coping. ...
  • Avoidance.
14 Apr 2020

What are your coping strategies to overcome your emotional triggers? ›

Trigger Management: Healthy Coping Skills
  • Exercising.
  • Resting.
  • Therapy or counseling.
  • Meditation or mindfulness.
  • Spending time with positive people.
26 Jun 2019

What is the most effective method of coping? ›

Relaxation. Engaging in relaxing activities, or practicing calming techniques, can help to manage stress and improve overall coping. Physical recreation. Regular exercise, such as running, or team sports, is a good way to handle the stress of given situation.

What are 3 examples of coping skills you could use? ›

Good Coping Skills
  • Practicing meditation and relaxation techniques;
  • Having time to yourself;
  • Engaging in physical activity or exercise;
  • Reading;
  • Spending time with friends;
  • Finding humor;
  • Spending time on your hobbies;
  • Engaging in spirituality;
4 Oct 2017

What is an example of a coping strategy? ›

Examples of coping strategies are avoidance, seeking social support, drug and alcohol abuse, journaling, making to-do-list, procrastination, meditation, taking a break, and self isolation.

What are the 3 goals of emotion-focused interventions? ›

Step 1: Identify key issues of concern. Step 2: Identify ways negative patterns of interaction increase conflict when key issues arise. Step 3: The therapist assists in the identification of unacknowledged fears and negative emotions related to attachment underlying negative interaction patterns.

What are the 4 types of coping strategies? ›

Weiten has identified four types of coping strategies: appraisal-focused (adaptive cognitive), problem-focused (adaptive behavioral), emotion-focused, and occupation-focused coping. Billings and Moos added avoidance coping as one of the emotion-focused coping.

What are the 10 coping strategies? ›

Top 10 Coping Skills
  • Deep Breathing. Often when faced with a stressful situation or feeling, our breathing changes. ...
  • Writing. Writing can be an effective means of working through stress. ...
  • Physical Activity. ...
  • Self-Talk. ...
  • Art. ...
  • Meditation. ...
  • Puzzles. ...
  • Music.
22 Oct 2019

What are 5 positive coping skills that you are willing to try? ›

Taking a walk, frequent vacations, reading a book, going shopping, volunteering, or watching a tv show are all good ideas of positive coping skills that you could adopt.

What are the 3 stages of EFT? ›

The stages of EFT are: - Stage 1: Stabilization (assessment and de-escalation phase). - Stage 2: Restructuring the bond (changing the phase of the interactional position). - Stage 3: Integration and consolidation.

What are the 5 emotion management strategies? ›

5 strategies for managing your emotions using emotional...
  • Situation selection. Situation selection simply means choosing situations most likely to generate pleasant emotions. ...
  • Situation modification. ...
  • Attentional deployment. ...
  • Cognitive reappraisal. ...
  • Response modulation.
26 Apr 2021

Videos

1. Coping Mechanisms
(Mental Health Collaborative, Inc)
2. Episode 4 - Emotion-Focused Coping
(Heartbeat NWCC)
3. Emotion Coping Skills
(Therapy in a Nutshell)
4. Emotion Focused Coping
(The Mental Breakdown)
5. 7 emotion focused coping techniques for uncertain times
(look positively)
6. What Are the 4 Types of Coping Mechanisms #AskATherapist
(Mended Light)
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