Problem Focused Coping with Stress

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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 (1991) and Folkman (1984) suggested there are two types of coping responses emotion focused and problem focused:

Problem-focused coping targets the causes of stress in practical ways which tackles the problem or stressful situation that is causing stress, consequently directly reducing the stress.

Problem focused strategies aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor.

Problem-focused strategies include:

  • Taking Control – this response involves changing the relationship between yourself and the source of stress. Examples: escaping from the stress or removing the stress.

  • Information Seeking – the most rational action. This involves the individual trying to understand the situation (e.g. using the internet) and putting into place cognitive strategies to avoid it in future. Information seeking is a cognitive response to stress.

  • Evaluating the pros and cons of different options for dealing with the stressor.


In general problem-focused coping is best, as it removes the stressor, so deals with the root cause of the problem, providing a long term solution.

However, it is not always best, or possible to use problem-focused strategies. For example, when someone dies, problem-focused strategies may not be very helpful for the bereaved. Dealing with the feeling of loss requires emotion-focused coping.

Problem focused approached will not work in any situation where it is beyond the individual’s control to remove the source of stress. They work best when the person can control the source of stress (e.g. exams, work based stressors etc.).

It is not a productive method for all individuals. For example, not all people are able to take control of a situation. People with low self esteem typically use emotion focused coping strategies.


Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal, and coping. Springer Publishing Company.

Lazarus, R. S. (1991). Progress on a cognitive-motivational-relational theory of emotion. American psychologist, 46(8), 819.

How to cite this article:

McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress Management - Problem Focused Coping with Stress. Retrieved from