Everybody copes with stress in his or her own way. Some people focus on solving the problem that causes stress, while others alleviate stress by venting and sharing their feelings. Previous research has studied problem-focused and emotion-focused strategies at length. Avoidant coping, characterized by using denial or detachment as a method of avoiding the stressful feelings, has also been examined in great detail. But until now, few studies have looked at how coping profiles, combinations of coping techniques, affect psychological distress, and more specifically, stress, anxiety, and depression. Chris A. Eisenbarth of the Department of Health Promotion and Human Performance at Weber State University in Utah decided to explore how combinations of coping strategies worked to effect distress.
In a sample of 349 young adult college students, Eisenbarth studied which coping methods were used most often, used least often, and which were used in conjunction with one another to achieve the largest decreases in distress. He also examined the level of help-seeking that the students sought and how it related to outcome. Eisenbarth used cluster analysis to reveal several unique coping profiles. Participants who focused on emotional and problem solving with low avoidance and moderate help seeking behaviors had the lowest levels of distress. “Conversely, students with high avoidance coping, moderate support seeking, and low levels of problem- and emotion-focused coping reported the highest levels of psychological distress,” said Eisenbarth.
These findings demonstrate that coping strategies are not exclusive of one another, but rather, work in concert to alleviate or exacerbate stress. For example, people who are less stressed after venting about an issue may be able to think more clearly about how to resolve, or solve, the problem that causes the stress. In the same way, focusing on the solution may lessen the perceived threat attached to the stressor, and allow for more emotional coping. Eisenbarth also noticed that help-seeking was very beneficial when it was used in moderation and when other adaptive techniques were being employed. Eisenbarth hopes that this research can be used to enhance interventions designed to reduce maladaptive coping strategies such as avoidance, and that these results will help inform clinicians that a combination of positive coping methods may be a viable option for clients struggling with psychological distress.
Eisenbarth, Chris. Coping profiles and psychological distress: A cluster analysis. North American Journal of Psychology 14.3 (2012): 485-96. Print.
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