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While on vacation at the beach, you might see the swelling waves as an excellent opportunity to test out your new surfing skills. However, your traveling mate might take those same aggressive waves as a cue to head for shore. Not everyone interprets a given stressor in the same way; nor will their responses always mirror each other when encountering the same stressor. There is plenty to learn about stress and coping from analyzing the way individuals manage stress. In fact, there are a number of assessments psychologists use to determine individuals’ coping styles, how they cope, and the frequency of their coping behaviors.

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While theorists place a great deal of emphasis on the types of coping, coping traits should not be viewed as exclusively adaptive or maladaptive. Not all coping traits fit into problem-solving or emotion-focused coping as Lazarus and Folkman discuss. Generally, positive/functional coping mechanisms (e.g., planning) are linked to good self-esteem, higher functioning, and lower perceived stress. While less positive strategies (e.g., denial, self-blame) are associated with more distress and lower esteem.

How you manage stress in your life can modify the stress response and subsequent health consequences. Recall the Primary Appraisal and Coping chart from last week. Imagine your disruptive and argumentative mother-in-law has announced that she is coming for a two-week visit. Once you appraise the stress potential of this situation, how would you respond to the scenario:

  1. You could solve the problem by calling her and asking her not to come.
  2. You can change how you feel about her coming by deciding to focus on the positive aspects of her visit.
  3. You could manage this stress by changing the physical response to it with the use of relaxation techniques.
  4. You plan a business trip for the same two-week time frame your mother-in-law plans to visit.

These approaches to managing a stressor are termed problem-focused, emotion-focused, biology-focused, and avoidance approaches. While the mother-in-law example tends to fit the concept of stress globally, it in no way implies that a visit from your mother-in-law would be stressful.

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