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Main article: Coping behavior

A coping skill is a behavioral tool which may be used by individuals to offset or overcome adversity, disadvantage, or disability without correcting or eliminating the underlying condition. Virtually all living beings routinely utilize coping skills in daily life. These are perhaps most noticeable in response to physical disabilities. An easy example of the use of coping skills in the animal kingdom are three-legged dogs, which typically learn to overcome the obvious disability to become as agile and mobile as their four-legged counterparts, whether born with the disability, or having received it due to an injury.

Positive coping skills

• Orient one’s self rapidly • Plan decisive action • Mobilise emergency problem-solving mechanisms • Use assistance resources appropriately • Deal simultaneously with the affective or emotional dimensions of the experience • Express painful emotions appropriately in manageable amounts • Acknowledge pain, but avoid obsession over troubled feelings • Develop strategies to convert uncertainty into manageable risk • Acknowledge increased dependency needs and seek, receive, and use assistance • Tolerate uncertainty without resorting to impulsive action • React to environmental challenges and recognise their positive value for growth • Use non-destructive defences and modes of tension relief to cope with anxiety (e.g. humour, exercise, eating habits, time management, relaxation techniques)

Negative coping skills

• Use of excessive denial, withdrawal, retreat, avoidance • High use of fantasy, poor reality testing • Impulsive behaviour • Venting rage on weaker individuals and creating scapegoats • Over-dependent, clinging, counter dependent behaviour • Inability to evoke caring feelings from others • Emotional suppression, leading to “hopeless-helpless-giving up” syndrome • Use of hyper-ritualistic behaviour with no purpose • Fatigue and poor regulation of rest-work cycle • Misuse of drugs and other substances (e.g. alcohol, increasing intake of drugs by taking sleeping pills and other tranquilizing agents) • Inability to use social support systems

When helping humans deal with specific problems, professional counselors have found that a focus of attention on coping skills (with or without remedial action) often helps individuals. The range of successful coping skills varies widely with the problems to be overcome. However, the learning and practice of coping skills are generally regarded as very helpful to most individuals. Even the sharing of learned coping skills with others is often beneficial.

When coping methods are overused they may actually worsen one's condition. Alcohol, cocaine and other drugs may provide temporary escape from one's problems, but, with excess use, ultimately result in greater problems.

One group of coping skills are coping mechanisms, defined as the skills used to reduce stress. In psychological terms, these are consciously used skills and defense mechanisms are their unconscious counterpart. Overuse of coping mechanisms (such as avoiding problems or working obsessively) and defense mechanisms (such as denial and projection), may exacerbate one's problem rather than remedy it.

Coping skills

There are two primary styles of coping with stress.

Action-based coping

Action-based coping involves actually dealing with a problem that is causing stress. Examples can include getting a second job in the face of financial difficulties, or studying to prepare for exams. Action-based coping is generally seen as superior to emotion-based coping, as it can directly reduce a source of stress.

Emotion-based coping

Emotion-based coping skills reduce the symptoms of stress without addressing the source of the stress. Consuming alcohol, sleeping or discussing the stress with a friend are all emotion-based coping strategies. Emotion-based coping can make an individual feel better about a problem, but ultimately will not solve it. However, emotion-based coping can be useful to reduce stress to a manageable level, enabling action-based coping, or when the source of stress can not be addressed directly.[1]

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  1. Folkman, Susan (1984). Personal control and stress and coping processes: A theoretical analysis.. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology 46: 839-852.