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Emotion Focused Coping

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There are many ways of coping with stress. Their effectiveness depends on the type of stressor, the particular individual, and the circumstances.

For example, if you think about the way your friends deal with stressors like exams, you will see a range of different coping responses. Some people will pace around or tell you how worried they are, others will revise, or pester their teachers for clues.

Lazarus and Folkman (1984) suggested there are two types of coping responses emotion focused and problem focused:

Emotion-focused coping involves trying to reduce the negative emotional responses associated with stress such as embarrassment, fear, anxiety, depression, excitement and frustration.  This may be the only realistic option when the source of stress is outside the person’s control.

Drug therapy can be seen as emotion focused coping as it focuses on the arousal caused by stress not the problem.

Emotion-focused strategies include

  • Keeping yourself busy to take your mind off the issue
  • Letting off steam to other people
  • Praying for guidance and strength
  • Ignoring the problem in the hope that it will go away
  • Distracting yourself (e.g. TV, eating)
  • Building yourself up to expect the worse


Emotion-focused strategies are often less effective than using problem-focused methods.  For example, Epping-Jordan et al (1994) found that patients with cancer who used avoidance strategies, e.g. denying they were very ill, deteriorated more quickly then those who faced up to their problems.  The same pattern exists in relation to dental health and financial problems.

It does not provide a long term solution.  However, they can be a good choice if the source of stress is outside the person’s control (e.g. terrorist attack).

Gender differences: women tend to use more emotion-focused strategies than men (Billings and Moos, 1981).  It also may have negative side effects as it delays the person dealing with the problem.


Billings, A. G., & Moos, R. H. (1981). The role of coping responses and social resources in attenuating the stress of life events. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 4, 139-157.

Epping-Jordan, J. A., Compas, B. E., & Howell, D. C. (1994). Predictors of cancer progression in young adult men and women: Avoidance, intrusive thoughts, and psychological symptoms. Health Psychology, 13: 539-547.

Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress,appraisal, and coping. New York: Springer.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2009). Emotion Focused Coping. Retrieved from http://www.simplypsychology.org/emotion-focused-coping.html