Coping Mechanisms: Dealing with Stress and Trauma

A man stressed

What are Coping Mechanisms?

Coping mechanisms refer to strategies people use to manage difficult, painful or distressing emotions when stressful and/or traumatic events occur. Most of us have experienced pain or gone through great stress at some point in our lives.
A divorce, loss of a loved one, loss of job, failed examination, debt, sexual or physical assault, are examples of life events that cause so much pain and that threatens to completely throw us off balance.

As we experience these events, we often feel that we might not be able to get through it. But when you look back today you’d realize that you feel a lot better now than then and you’ve been able to move on with life and do great things too. Thanks to coping mechanisms; they help us manage difficult and painful situations and adjust to the changes that occur with them.

If you happen to be going through a stressful situation, be rest assured that you’d come out of it just fine. You are not able to control the situation, and no one is, but you are able to manage it. This article will help you with the information you need to do just that.

Types of Coping Mechanisms

There are different ways people manage stress. Some of these coping methods are positive while others are negative. Positive coping mechanisms are beneficial and they produce good outcomes. Although their effect may not be immediate, yet they produce long-term solution to problems.

Negative coping mechanisms, on the other hand, are harmful to the health. While they may help to provide immediate relief from the painful feeling, it is short-term. In the end, the painful emotion is only reinforced. Before we look at positive ways to manage stress, let’s consider some of the common negative coping mechanisms that you shouldn’t try.

Negative coping mechanisms



Also known as emotional overeating, this is often employed during times of great stress or pain. While it may help to numb your pain, the effect is only temporal. Consuming too much food can cause obesity, and carrying too much weight can lead to serious health conditions like diabetes. It can also increase your risk of cancer. Even when done on a short-term, overeating can affect you significantly.

Excessive Alcohol Consumption

Alcohol consumption has been linked to a good number of health problems, and when you drink in excess, your risk only increases. Like overeating, drinking may seem to provide immediate relief but after a little while, you are back to where you left off, and in fact a lot more worse.


This is when a person intentionally avoids the situation that has caused him/her distress or pain. Avoidance is a form of escape that gives a false sense of security. This would not help to solve the situation but it would rather make it worse.


As a type of coping mechanism, denial is often used for self-protection. Refusing to accept a situation that you very well know to be true and real is denial. When you do this, you are unable to deal with the pain and heal from it. Denial may be appropriate initially, but you should not remain in that state for too long.

Compulsive Spending

If you are naturally the type that likes to shop, you may find emotional relief from going on a shopping spree, but this would not make you feel better in the long run. You would also end up with a leaner purse, which can in turn make you feel a lot worse.


Smoking is also often used to provide instant relief from stress, but when you smoke, a lot of negative stuffs happen in your body. The negative effects of smoking cigarettes far outweighs any perceived benefit.

Overconsumption of Caffeine

Caffeine is a known stress-reliever, but when taken in excess amounts, it can cause anxiety. You definitely do not want to add anxiety to the problems you are already being faced with! Overconsumption of caffeine can also give you headaches and worse still, lead to insomnia. Having a good night sleep is important for the health, and especially when you are stressed.

If you are going through a stressful situation or you’ve been through trauma, and you are employing any of these negative coping methods to deal with the situation, it is possible for you to stop and employ positive coping methods in managing the stress. These positive coping methods are not only effective, they are also healthy. Let’s take a look at some of them.

Positive Coping Mechanisms

Regular Exercise

A woman about to run

Exercise helps to combat stress. Ensure that you incorporate daily exercise into your routine if you are yet to do so. Walking, jogging, running and dance are some of the exercises you can perform daily. A pair of good running shoes and appropriate clothing is all you need for this. Exercises do not have to be boring, do they? There are other fun exercises like twisting crunch which you can also try out.

Eating a Healthy Balanced Diet

Healthy eating in moderate proportions would help you feel better. A balanced diet contains all the classes of foods in their appropriate sizes. Extreme dieting is not a good idea in times of stress.

Getting Quality Sleep

Good sleep has a calming effect on the mind and body. It will help you think better and ensure that you remain productive at work or at school. If you have trouble with sleeping, you should see your doctor.

Maintaining a Positive Outlook

Our perceptions and interpretations of situations always affect the way we respond to them. Identify any negative emotions in relation to the situation, examples include guilt and blame, and replace them with positive ones.

Seeking Support from Loved Ones

Talking about a stressful situation with a loved one or someone who genuinely cares about us always helps in the management of stress. Just by sharing your struggles with another, you are relieved of great emotional burdens and eased of pain. It is important that you surround yourself with loved ones who constantly encourage you and provide the support that you need. Social isolation in times of great stress can be dangerous.


Relaxation techniques like meditation can be very helpful in managing stress and anxiety. Taking deep, long breaths for several minutes is also a known way of calming the body. This technique is called deep breathing. To do this, find a quiet place, breathe in and hold your breath for five seconds after which you slowly breathe out. Repeating this process several times can help you to relax.

In Conclusion

It would be good to mention that the events that stress us out are not necessarily bad events, but happy events like having a baby, getting married, moving to a new house, getting a new job, can cause significant distress too in the same way that negative events do. So if you are getting married soon but you find that you feel so stressed out and you are wondering if everything is okay with you, it most likely is.

By employing the positive coping mechanisms that have been discussed here, you’d be able to manage the emotions that accompany the stressful events (both good and bad) that you are faced with. If after a while, you do not feel better, do not be embarrassed or shy to speak to your doctor about your stress.