Coping Behavior

Coping behavior refers to the various psychological and behavioral strategies used to cope with stressful events. There are two main groups of strategies: active problem solving, and emotion-focused tactics that involve regulating the consequences of stressors.

Coping strategies can be divided into active and emotional methods of addressing life stressors, and people use both types depending on the situation and the individual's personality. Coping can include adaptive, attack, avoidance, behavioral, cognitive, conversion, defense, and self-harm mechanisms. The more active strategies are often employed for problems seen as controllable whereas people tend to react emotionally when the cause of the stress is seen as uncontrollable.

Another distinction is made between coping that aims to actively address the stressor or change the way one thinks about it (seen as a more positive approach) and avoidance techniques such as alcohol consumption or self-imposed isolation that can cause psychological damage and adverse repercussions. Coping mechanisms can mask the true problem, and addressing the mechanism without considering those deeper problems can be unhelpful. Dealing with the root of the problem is seen as the most effective way to make the coping mechanism unnecessary.

Researchers have two methods with which to gather empirical data about the ways that people cope, the Ways of Coping measure created by Susan Folkman and Richard Lazarus, and the COPE measure devised by C. Sue Carter. The former is based on empirical responses to a variety of stressors and the levels at which a person has employed the various coping strategies to deal with them.

The COPE measure is widely used by researchers and consists of a constant set of items divided into two groups. The first group investigates traits, or how a person typically reacts to a variety of stressful situations. The second looks at a specific stressful event and measures a person's response to it. Responses are rated on a four-point scale, ranging from something they do a lot to things they never do. The COPE exists in a long form of 60 items, and a shortened version called the Brief COPE that can be used when a patient may become frustrated by the length of the original (in which case the COPE would become a stressor in itself).

The physical ramifications of positive coping strategies and negative strategies such as avoidance have been documented in multiple studies. Active coping strategies, for example, result in a stronger immune system response whereas avoidance can result in faster disease progression and lower numbers of white T cells.

See also Research methodology ; Stress .



Bourne, Edmund, and Lorna Garano. Coping with Anxiety. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger, 2003.

Reevy, Gretchen, and Erica Frydenberg. Personality, Stress, and Coping: Implications for Education. Charlotte, NC: Information Age, 2011.


Boyes, Alice. “Why Avoidance Coping Is the Most Important Factor in Anxiety.” Psychology Today. http:// (accessed July 15, 2015).

National Institutes of Health. “Cognitive-Behavioral Coping Skills Therapy Manual.” (accessed July 15, 2015).


American Psychological Association, 750 First St. NE, Washington, DC, 20002, (202) 336-5500, (800) 3742721, .

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