Coping with ‘stress’ – emotion oriented approach

When you feel that the situation is not something you have a control over, and you do not have the ability to manage or control the cause or root of the problem then you tend to use the emotion-oriented coping strategy. The goal is to handle the feelings of distress being experienced by you, and not really what causes these emotions.

Needless to say, this is also the approach that most people resort or turn to whenever they are facing a lot of stress. People come up with various strategies and techniques that are meant to reduce or manage stress, and these can either be positive or negative responses – or both.

Ideally the action-oriented coping strategy is better, since it seeks to address and deal directly with the cause of the problem and actively find solution to put an end to it. The solutions which and action-oriented approach provides are for the long term, which cannot be said for emotion-focused coping strategies, which are mostly just delaying tactics and for short-term comfort.

However, the immediate benefits of the emotion-focused approach to stress cannot be denied.  It is often because people do not have control over a situation or the factors that are causing the stress in the first place. When people lose their grip on the whole situation, they tend to react using their emotions in order to cope with it.

In reality we are predisposed to use our emotions as a first response to any stress. As any stress first hits you at the heart of your emotions.  While, this coping strategy is not going to address the underlying issue or main problem, it will, at least, reduce the negative responses or outcomes triggered from them.


What then are some of our default emotion-oriented responses to stress?

Anger One of the most common or default emotional response to stress is rapidly getting angry when triggered.  This is typically our ‘fight’ response to stress.  People are unable to think rationally and use anger as an escape mechanism for short term relief.  Anger does provide some benefits. It at times acts as a motivating force that  might make people feel more optimistic and confident. Acknowledging anger can help lower stress on the heart and manage pain as some laboratory studies have gone on to who. And expressing anger as it arises (instead of bottling it up and letting it all come out in one explosive fight) has also been found to benefit interpersonal relationships.

‘Flight’ or ‘Denial The flight response or denial can take many forms. A person may decide to take the “flight” option and run away so he doesn’t have to deal with things directly, or he may seek other forms of escape that will give him escape and even momentary forgetfulness, anything to delay having to deal with the problem.

Worrying Some people will become resigned to their fate, and will go along with the flow of events, saying they have no choice. However, they will be especially and visibly gloomy and unhappy about it, sulking, and even complaining about the unfairness of it all.  Whenever stressors occur they fear for the ‘worst’.  At times they transfer their worries to others in their immediate circle as well.  You can easily identify such people in groups.  High levels of ‘neuroticism’ is seen to be behind such worrisome nature.

Long rebound time is one of the emotional response to stress. This can be identified with people who frequently bring their ‘past’ in transactions with the outside world.  Their past failures or stressors start to influence the way they react to situations in the present. You will find them to be lost, when you are in conversation with them as they are yet to recover from the past stressful situation.  Any stressful event will bother them for long time.

Reticence or being in the background and social withdrawal is another emotional response when stressed.   People may choose to avoid confronting the issue head on using an action oriented strategy and let others take charge of the situation and this gives them an opportunity to;

Blame as you need something – or someone – to vent your frustrations on. If people cannot or will not blame themselves , they will turn to others. For some people, pinning the blame on someone else somehow eases the load off their shoulders. In a way, it allows them to have control; no matter that it is very trivial; because they have someone to hold accountable for its fallout.

Excessive Problem focus Whenever confronted with any task which demands more than the available resources or skill sets, people are quick to spell out all the problems in undertaking the task.  It’s an emotional response to the fear of failure.  No matter how many solutions you come up with, they are quick to identify a problem in that solution as well.  It goes into a loop and no matter what you throw at them, excessive problem focus as a strategy starts to paralyze all affirmative action.

Now that we have looked at the default emotional response to our stressors, it’s time to look at how we can use it as a strategy to overcome stress.

It has to do with managing your ‘feelings’ using cognitive and behavioral methods to stress management.

Cognitive reframing Instead of focusing on the negatives of a situation, changing focus to the positives can reduce your stress levels.  For example if something goes wrong you can start to look at it as an opportunity to learn from and use such lessons in the future.  Like in the case of a failed sales pitch.  Instead of getting frustrated about the failure you could take a step back from the initial bad feeling and think objectively. Think about it: maybe you are looking at it all wrong. Maybe it is not really something that you should stress about or, even if it is, it is not something that will require a drastic response from you.

Learn how to find a silver lining in this situation. Try to look at the situation from a different perspective. You may even find something good or beneficial coming out of that stressful situation. For example of a rejected job applicant, reframing may involve, looking at the situation from the point of view of the recruiter that interviewed him or her, and made the final decision NOT selecting him for the position. Then maybe the person will end up acknowledging that, indeed, the other candidate chosen for the job was a better fit for the position.

Use of positive affirmations can help promote positive feelings and overall outlook during stressful situations.  For example, silently repeating, “I can do more than I think” or “Being positive is a choice, I choose to make” or “Whatever happens, happens for a larger good” can be very helpful emotional response to stressors.

Looking at the big picture Sometimes a stressful situation feels more devastating than it actually is. Asking a question like, “Will this matter in five years?” is one way to put a situation in perspective. This can make the stressful situation feel less overwhelming.

Rearrange or effect changes Maybe you need a change of environment. Go on a getaway or, if you want something more permanent, move to a new home. If this is not feasible, you can effect smaller changes. Rearrange your home and change your living environment. Change your routine in the morning when you wake up. Maybe you can take a different route to and from work. Even the slightest change or shift may have a positive effect on your stress levels.

Distract with new experiences Sometimes, you may feel that you are sick and tired of your work, and that is bringing you stress. Then look for a distraction that is entirely separate from the nature of your work. Find a new hobby.

Just talk Talking with someone you trust and who is willing to patiently listen to all what you have to say is a good strategy to reduce stress from pent up emotions. This is a great “letting it out” strategy. Stress may make you feel suffocated, and overflowing with strong emotions that are begging to be released. Those bottled up thoughts and feelings seem to be bubbling over, asking to be let out? Then do it. Talk about it.  Emotional disclosure can unburden you.  That’s probably the reason why there are several helpful ‘anonymous’ groups and communities which provide you with the time and space to vent out and release your emotions.

While an emotion-oriented approach to stress management does not change the reality of a stressful situation, it can change personal feelings and responses to a stressful experience.

Maybe It’s time for you to talk!

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