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Emotionally Focused Coping Mechanisms: A Guide

by A Hospidales
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meditation at sunset

“I’ve used my sense of humor as a coping tool. It’s gotten me through a lot of challenging times.”

Adam Rippon

Coping mechanisms are strategies that we use to try to manage difficult emotions such as stress, anxiety, and other negative feelings and emotions.

They can be healthy or unhealthy.

The key to developing an effective coping strategy is to find a way that works for you.

Some people need social support from friends or family, while others prefer to work through their problems without help from anyone else.

We often use coping mechanisms without even realizing it.

Some common coping mechanisms include:

  • Eating
  • Drinking
  • Smoking
  • Exercising
  • Talking to friends or family members
  • Meditating

What is emotion-focused coping?

Emotion-focused coping mechanisms (EFCMs) are methods of managing your emotions effectively when you are faced with stress.

They are mindfulness-based techniques that can be used to help individuals regulate their emotions.

There are many different EFCMs, but all of them involve becoming aware of and accepting one’s emotions, and then responding to them in a healthy way.

They alter the way you experience a situation, causing it to have a different effect on you.

Through this approach, you are able to manage the emotions associated with stress.

In this article, we will discuss emotion-focused coping mechanisms and how they can help you deal with any situation you might be facing.

“Comedy is a coping mechanism, and it helps us stay alive.”

Thundercat

When facing a stressor you can’t control or change, emotion-focused coping mechanisms can be helpful.

They are designed to help you regulate your negative emotions as a result of a trauma, event, or circumstance that you may encounter.

People may feel better in the short term by using certain emotional coping mechanisms.

Nevertheless, over time, they can actually contribute to an increase in anxiety and stress.

The reason for this is that these coping mechanisms are known for distracting people from the problem at hand, instead focusing on the emotions they are experiencing.

Often, this prevents people from finding long-lasting solutions to their problems and can be counterproductive.

“I’ve always had a quirky way of looking at things. It’s my coping mechanism.”

Sherri Shepherd

Many people believe that problem-oriented coping mechanisms are the best way to manage stress.

Cut out everything that creates stress from your life and you’ve effectively dealt with stress.

Although this may be an effective strategy in some situations, you will never learn how to efficiently regulate negative emotions if you always resort to problem-based coping mechanisms.

Trying to eliminate every source of stress will not teach you how to cope with your emotions.

Besides, it is almost impossible to eliminate every source of stress from your life.

For example, you cannot influence whether your employer decides to lay off you.

There is only so much you can do to prevent lifestyle illnesses.

You cannot prevent tragedy from happening.

Additionally, acute stress can have a positive impact on your life.  

it’s chronic stress that presents us with a real problem.

“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.”

William James

The Benefits of Emotion-Focused Coping

A problem-focused approach focuses on removing stressors, while an emotion-focused approach focuses on reducing the negative effects these stressors cause.

It is not necessary to wait for life to change, you need not alter the inevitable, all you need to do is change your response.

Consider how you could deal with stress more effectively if you refused to allow it to negatively affect you.

That’s the idea.

By doing this, you can reduce your stress levels and allow your body and mind to recover more quickly.

It also allows you to be more focused when looking for solutions.

In an environment where you are not bombarded with negative emotions, you are more likely to apply solutions that are often right in front of you.

“It’s not stress that kills us, it’s our reaction to it.”

Hans Selye

Stressed-out people seldom make good decisions.

Using emotional coping mechanisms can improve your overall state of mind, which is useful if you need to employ problem-focused strategies as well.

You can therefore improve your emotional state and improve your ability to find solutions by using emotion-focused coping mechanisms.

This is why the two strategies can be useful in certain circumstances.

A problem-focused coping mechanism tends to work best when you know precisely what type of stressor you are dealing with, whereas an emotion-focused method is useful for the vast majority of problems.

Furthermore, emotion-focused techniques can be unique to each individual.

What works for you may not work for someone else.

Discover which strategy is most appropriate for you.

“The greatest mistake you can make in life is to be continually fearing you will make one.””

Elbert Hubbard

Examples of Emotion-Focused Coping Mechanisms

Rumination

Rumination is a coping mechanism that people use when people are feeling stressed, anxious, or down, and feel like they don’t have any other options.

It’s when a person repeatedly thinks or talks about the same problem or issue over and over again, often in a negative way.

It’s a way of avoiding the problem by thinking about it over and over again.

“Times of stress are also times that are signals for growth, and if we use adversity properly, we can grow through adversity.”

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski

Ruminating can make people feel like they’re doing something to try and fix the problem, when in reality, ruminating usually just makes the person feel worse.

Rumination usually doesn’t solve the problem and can actually make it worse.

It can lead to depression, anxiety disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder and other mental health problems.

To deal with rumination, it’s important to get help from a therapist or counsellor if needed.

There are also some self-help techniques that may be helpful, such as mindfulness meditation or cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT).

“To experience peace does not mean that your life is always blissful. It means that you are capable of tapping into a blissful state of mind amidst the normal chaos of a hectic life.”

Jill Botte Taylor

Self-blame

Blaming oneself is a type of cognitive distortion in which a person believes that they are entirely or partially responsible for a negative event.

It’s a self-defeating coping strategy that can lead to guilt, shame, and worthlessness.

People who are overly self-critical are also more likely to engage in other forms of self-destructive behaviour, such as alcohol or drug abuse, binge eating, or suicide ideation.

There are many reasons why people might blame themselves after a negative event.

Some people may feel like they’re at fault, or that they could have done something to prevent the event from happening.

“There is a luxury in self reproach. When we blame ourselves, we feel no one else has a right to blame us.”

Oscar Wilde

Others may believe that they’re not entitled to feel good after a traumatic experience.

Some people may think that they’re being punished for some unknown sin.

Coping with self-blame can be difficult because it perpetuates negative thoughts and emotions.

One way to cope with self-blame is to challenge the thoughts by examining the evidence for and against them.

Other helpful coping strategies include accepting that things may not have gone well but that doesn’t make you a bad person, forgiving yourself, and seeking social support.

“Until you stop blaming and become posiively self-critical, you are not going to move forward.”

Bryant McGill

Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is a coping mechanism in which a person dwells on the worst-case scenario for any given stressful or difficult situation.

There are healthy and unhealthy ways to cope with stress, and catastrophizing is definitely an unhealthy way to deal with it.

It involves imagining the worst possible outcome and then dwelling on it.

People who catastrophize often feel like they can’t control what’s happening in their lives.

This often results in increased anxiety and frustration, which can interfere with problem solving and decision making.

Some people catastrophize as a way to prepare for the worst case scenario, while others do it because they find it difficult to tolerate stress or uncertainty.

If you find that catastrophizing is impacting your quality of life or causing you distress, it might be helpful to explore other coping mechanisms such as positive self-talk or problem solving.

“Sometimes you don’t realize the weight of something you’ve been carrying until you feel the weight of its release.”

Unknown

All or nothing thinking

All or nothing thinking is often a coping mechanism that individuals use to protect themselves from feeling vulnerable.

It is a cognitive distortion that occurs when a person views things in black and white terms, such as “I am a total failure” or “I am the best”.

They see things as either completely good or bad, with no middle ground.

For example, if an individual tells themselves “I am the best at…”, then they will never feel inferior or inadequate.

“He who fears he will suffer already suffers because he fears.”

Michel De Montaigne

However, this type of thinking can be harmful because it leads to perfectionism and excessive self-criticism.

This type of thinking can lead to distorted beliefs about oneself and the world, and can contribute to feelings of anxiety and depression when individuals are unable to meet their own high standards.

People who engage in all or nothing thinking often have difficulty coping with stress and uncertainty.

They may feel like they are never good enough, no matter what they do, or that they are destined to fail no matter how hard they try.

This type of thinking can be very counterproductive and can lead to decreased self-esteem and increased anxiety and depression.

“If you are distressed by anything external, the pain is not due to the thing itself but to your own estimate of it; and this you have the power to revoke at any moment.”

Marcus Aurelius

Emotional suppression

Emotional suppression is a coping mechanism used to deal with difficult situations or feelings.

It involves people attempting to control their emotions and feelings by inhibiting or restraining their emotions or by refusing to acknowledge or express them.

This can be done consciously or unconsciously, and often leads to negative psychological consequences such as increased stress levels, anxiety, and depression.

“Stress is not what happens to us. It’s our response TO what happens. And RESPONSE is something we can choose.”

Maureen Killoran

People who regularly suppress their emotions tend to have difficulty regulating their moods and tend to be less happy overall than those who express their emotions freely.

Suppressed emotions can also lead to physical problems such as headaches, neck pain, and chest pain.

Suppressing emotions can be helpful in the short-term, but it can also have negative consequences in the long-term.

For example, suppressing anger can lead to resentment and bitterness, and suppressing sadness can lead to depression and anxiety.

“If you dont like something, change it. If you cannot change it, change the way you think about it.”

Mary Engelbreit

Avoidance

Avoidance is a coping mechanism characterized by the efforts of an individual to minimize exposure to psychologically harmful stimuli, such as those that are associated with disturbing or painful thoughts, memories, or feelings.

It is a type of defensive avoidance in which the person feels as though they cannot confront or deal with the painful thoughts or feelings head-on, so they instead try to avoid them altogether.

This can be accomplished through various means such as withdrawing from social activities, distancing oneself from friends and family members, or staying busy and distracted.

“Don’t believe every worried thought you have. Worried thoughts are notoriously inaccurate.”

Renee Jain

It can also involve trying not to think about or remember the stressful event.

While avoidance may provide temporary relief in the short-term, it often leads to greater problems and distress in the long-term.

This coping mechanism is often used because it is thought to be less threatening or less emotionally arousing than other coping strategies such as confrontation or escape/avoidance.

It may also be used because it allows people to maintain a sense of control over their environment.

However, avoidance can actually increase distress in the long run by preventing people from processing and resolving their problems.

“Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it.”

Kahlil Gibran

Meditation

The beauty of meditation is that it can help you separate your thoughts from you as you deal with stress. It provides you with the space necessary to take a step back from the situation and choose your response rather than to react.

Meditation is a great coping mechanism because it allows you to take a step back and observe your thoughts and emotions from a distance. This can be incredibly helpful in situations where you feel overwhelmed or stressed out.

“With every breath, the old moment is lost; a new moment arrives. We exhale and we let go of the old moment. It is lost to us. In doing so, we let go of the person we used to be. We inhale and breathe in the moment that is becoming. In doing so, we welcome the person we are becoming. We repeat the process. This is meditation. This is renewal. This is life.”

Lama Surya Das

When you’re meditating, you’re basically training your mind to become more calm and peaceful. The more you practice, the easier it will be to remain calm and centered even in the midst of chaos. This can be a lifesaver when stress starts to take its toll.

Journaling

Journaling can be a great way to cope with difficult emotions or situations.

This involves writing down your thoughts and feelings about the situation.

Journaling can be helpful because it can allow you to process what happened, make sense of your feelings, and track your progress over time.

It can also be a way to connect with other people who might have gone through something similar.

“Stress is like spice – in the right proportion, it enhances the flavour of a dish. Too little produces a bland, dull meal; too much may choke you.”

Donald Tubesing

It can provide a safe and private outlet for thoughts and feelings, and can be helpful in exploring and understanding your emotions.

There are many reasons why journaling is an effective emotion-focused coping tool.

It provides you with an emotional outlet for all of the feelings you are dealing with, but it also gives you space to brainstorm solutions.

In general, it can help you create more positive feelings which are a great tool for managing stress.

Journaling can also help you to track your progress over time, identify patterns, and find solutions to problems.

It can also be a great way to document happy moments or accomplishments.

And finally, journaling can be a useful tool for stress relief and relaxation.

“Stress is largely self-inflicted, so the ability to manage stress more effectively comes from managing oneself.”

Michael Hetherington

Reframing

Reframing is coping mechanism that involves viewing a stressful or negative event in a more positive light.

You’re changing how you view a problem, which is not about tricking yourself into believing you’re stress-free or that problems aren’t present.

It’s about seeing it from a new perspective and recognizing benefits and solutions.

When you’re reframing a problem, you’re looking at in a different way.

In other words, you find a new perspective or different way to think about it.

“The language we use is extremely powerful. It is the frame through which we perceive and describe ourselves and our picture of the world.”

Iben Dissing Sandahl

This can make a massive difference as to whether it stresses you out or not because it can help you to feel more in control and less stressed.

When faced with a difficult situation, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed or even panicked.

In these moments, it can be helpful to take a step back and reframe the problem.

For example, instead of seeing a missed opportunity as a failure, you might see it as a learning experience.

So, instead of thinking “I’m going to fail,” try thinking “I may not have succeeded yet, but I can learn from my mistakes if I do not succeed on this occasion.

“If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

Reframing can be helpful because it allows you to find the silver lining in difficult situations.

It can also help you stay positive and motivated in the face of adversity.

However, it’s important to note that reframing is not always possible or appropriate; some situations are simply too negative to be viewed in a more positive light.

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