Emotion-focused Coping vs. Problem-focused Coping: Which One is Better for You?

When facing a difficult challenge different people respond best to one kind of coping or another, depending on their personality and their individual circumstances. But how can you tell which approach is right for you? Read on to find out more about the two primary ways of coping with stress and challenges: problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping.

We all face challenges in our lives and different people respond best to one kind of coping or another depending on their personality and their individual circumstances. In this short article, I’m going to explore the two primary ways of coping with stress and challenges and the benefits and drawbacks of each.

What is emotion-focused coping?

Emotion-focused coping refers to efforts to reduce the impact of emotional stressors. When we are emotionally stressed, we may feel overwhelmed by feelings such as fear, anger, sadness, or shame. We may even feel numb or “spaced out,” with either too much or too little emotional response to the situation. If you’re trying to cope with emotional stressors, you might try to regulate your emotions in various ways. You might try to understand what’s behind your feelings so that they don’t feel so overwhelming. You might try to accept your feelings so that you’re not trying to push them away. You might try to reduce the intensity of your feelings through distraction or relaxation.

These are a few examples of how many of us take an emotionally focused method of coping.

What is problem-focused coping?

Problem-focused coping refers to efforts to solve the underlying causes of stress.

When we are stressed by a problem or challenge, we feel like we’re not in control of our lives and that we’re not going to be able to meet our goals. When trying to cope with these stressors, we may attempt to generate solutions and new ways of approaching the problem. You might try to reduce the intensity of your feelings by talking to an objective friend, brainstorming different solutions, or writing down your emotions to get them out of your head.

When to use which type of coping?

When facing a particular challenge, it’s essential to first get clear on your goal. Knowing what you want to accomplish will help you decide which type of coping is best for you.

If your goal is to reduce the intensity of your feelings, then emotion-focused coping is the way to go. If your goal is to solve the underlying causes of your stress, then problem-focused coping is your best bet.

For example, let’s say you’re stressed about an upcoming work interview. You want to reduce the intensity of your feelings, but you also want to be prepared and get the job. In this case, problem-focused coping will be more effective because it can help you develop a game plan for success.

emotion-focused coping

Benefits of using emotion-focused coping

  • Emotion-focused coping is flexible. Emotion-focused coping gives you the tools to change your emotional response as needed. You might start out feeling overwhelmed and end up feeling calm. You might start out feeling too little and end up feeling energised.
  • Emotion-focused coping can be a good strategy to use before working on problem-focused techniques.
  • Emotion-focused coping can be helpful for all kinds of stressors.

Drawbacks of using emotion-focused coping

  • People with low emotional intelligence may find it difficult to be aware of and change their feelings.
  • If you’re trying to change your feelings by understanding them, you may get overwhelmed by them later.
  •  If you’re trying to change your feelings by accepting them, you may come to a new level of acceptance that’s not helpful to you.

When to use problem-focused coping

  • If you need to solve the underlying causes of your stress, then problem-focused coping will be more effective.
  • Problem-focused coping is a good choice when you want to feel in control of your life and have a solid plan for solving the underlying causes of your stress.

Benefits of using problem-focused coping

  • Problem-focused coping has a positive effect on your mood.
  • Problem-focused coping can help reduce some of the negative impacts of stress.

Drawbacks of using problem-focused coping

  • Problem-focused coping doesn’t always reduce the intensity of your feelings.
  • Problem-focused coping can make you feel stressed about the challenges of solving your problems.

Wrapping up

In short, emotion-focused coping is good for reducing your feelings of stress. In contrast, problem-focused coping is better for solving the challenges that are causing you stress.

If you’re having trouble dealing with a stressful situation, it can be helpful to know which type of coping you should use. You might want to try both kinds of coping at different times, depending on which feels most beneficial to you in a given situation.

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