Conversation

Different people respond to stressful situations in different ways. To some extent, the coping strategies people use in dealing with negative events predict how those events will impact their mental health.

Psychologists have found that certain coping strategies seem to work better than others. An example of a coping strategy that doesn’t appear to work well in some situations is avoidance: research has shown a link between avoidant coping and lower wellbeing.

Recently, a group of psychologists in Spain studied three coping strategies that do seem to work well. These strategies were:

  • Positive reappraisal: Reevaluating stressful events to see them in a more positive light
  • Support seeking: Seeking out support from others in times of stress
  • Planning: Planning ahead to solve problems and find ways of dealing with stressful situations

The psychologists looked at how a group of 1,402 university students used (or didn’t use) these coping strategies. What they found was that these strategies appear to complement each other.

Specifically, students who used all three had higher levels of wellbeing. This finding led the researchers to conclude that in understanding how coping strategies work, it’s important to take into account people’s “ability to combine different approach coping strategies.”

The idea that being able to mix and match coping strategies is a useful coping strategy in itself is sometimes referred to as coping flexibility. No single coping strategy is going to be equally effective in all situations, and being able to choose effective coping strategies from a broad repertoire, and to discard coping strategies that aren’t working, has obvious advantages.

A 2012 study of 4,400 Japanese college students showed that flexible coping is associated with better mental health in several ways. Students who scored higher on coping flexibility had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. They also had lower levels of overall distress.

The takeaway is that developing multiple coping skills may have positive implications for mental health, especially when combined with the ability to use those coping skills effectively by adapting to different situations. And if you’re looking for a place to start, you could probably do worse than honing the three complementary coping skills listed above.

Image: Flickr/_Bunn_