Emotion-focused coping strategies aim to reduce and manage the intensity of the negative and distressing emotions that a stressful situation has caused rather than solving the problematic situation itself. These coping strategies thus help us feel better but don’t solve the source of our distress. Emotional focused coping often gets utilized when the problem is out of our control i.e. terminal illness or sudden death (Fawzy et al. 1990) and we need to try to cope and accept the situation. It has been proven that especially among the terminally ill, emotional coping combined with actively expressing and processing emotions has psychological adjustment benefits (Stanton et al. 2000), decreases depression, hostility and increases life satisfaction (Folkman,& Moskowitz, 2004) .Sometimes the strategies are used when one is not up to using problem solving strategies or when the stressor is perceived to be too great for solving. Emotion focused coping increases the sense of pleasure, positivity and contentment in our lives and thus enables us to increase our ability to focus on that which we can change .Women feel more often than men that they need to control their emotions first with the emotion focused coping and then start using problem focused coping to solve their problem.
A few example of behavioral emotional focused coping could be listening to music, massage, meditation, getting physical exercise, going out with a friend, writing in a journal or diary, taking a hot bath, expressing your emotions creatively (i.e. painting); humor (jokes or funny movies) etc. Positive self soothing thoughts such as telling yourself that you will be ok can also help calm down. Seeking social support is important as it provide the individual with sympathy, understanding, moral support as well as information, advice and resources. Some people turn to religion and spiritually for comfort. Spiritually help cope with the stress and emotions by providing a meaning and a larger context in which the situation can be understood and thus more accepted by those who believe in it (Zeidner & Hammer, 1992). It also helps the individual to find a silver lining, some positive meaning in otherwise negative circumstance.
Some emotional focused coping strategies are more positive, functional and adaptable than others. People may choose to mentally disengage from the situation by daydreaming or over- sleeping or just giving up dealing with the situation all together. It lowers the level of mental involvement and thus one feels temporarily less distressed but it can become a dysfunctional method of coping quite quickly. Denial of the reality of the event is another method which might help reduce the intensity of negative emotions and negative appraisal. The denial of the existence of the threat can have negative consequences such as not receiving the right medical treatment on time when the symptoms only start to appear. Substance abuse and even over-eating or smoking might provide a short relief and aid disconnect from reality but it starts a vicious cycle of dependency and creates additional problems. An additional strategy that distressed individuals utilize is self- blame or shifting blame to others.
It is a common reaction to initially react in an emotionally focused manner especially to traumatic events. In the shorter term it is an adaptive coping. However, after a while, problems become more complicated and less controllable. Emotionally focused coping is useful if it creates a pause, a break, which the individual takes for himself or herself, that enables him or her to have the time to gather strengths and to look at the problem from different perspectives. It is a time to find the right strategy and resources. It should, however, be a short term solution because it does not fix the core of the problem. Emotionally focused coping is most useful when circumstances will not change and the individual needs to learn to accept the situation like it is and to learn to live with its aftermath. In cases of problems that can be solved and changed, more direct and active problem solving strategies are needed.
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Fawzy, F. I., Kemeny, M. E., Fawzy, N. W., Elashoff, R., Morton, D., Cousins, N., & Fahey, J. L. (1990). A structured psychiatric intervention for cancer patients,: Changes over time in immunological measures. Archives of General Psychiatry, 47, 729-735.
Folkman,S.,& Moskowitz,J. T.(2004). COPING: Pitfalls and Promise. Annu. Rev. Psychol., 55,745–74.
Stanton, A. L., Kirk, S. B., Cameron, C. L., & Danoff-Burg, S. (2000). Coping through emotional approach: Scale construction and validation. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 78, 1150-1169
Zeidner, M. & Hammer, A. L. (1992). Coping with missile attack: Resources, strategies, and outcomes. Journal of Personality, 60, 709-746.