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Distinguish between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping

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Problem-focused coping: Problem-focused coping is attempting to alleviate stress directly either by changing the stressor or the way we interact with that stressor, 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 coping aim to remove or reduce the cause of the stressor. (McLeod, Stress Management – Problem Focused Coping with Stress. , 2010) For example, the way classmates deal with stressors like exams , you can see a range of different coping responses.

Some classmates will pace around or worry about it, others will revise, or pester their teachers for clues. Problem-focused strategies include:

Taking Control – this response involves changing the relationship between yourself and the source of stress.

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Examples: escaping from the stress or removing the stress. : Information seeking is the most rational action. This involves the trying to understand the situation (e.g. using the internet) and putting into place cognitive strategies to avoid it in future.

Sweet V

Proficient in: Emotion

“ Ok, let me say I’m extremely satisfy with the result while it was a last minute thing. I really enjoy the effort put in. ”

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, and 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. Emotion-focused coping. 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 (Epping-Jordan, 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 for example a terrorist attack. There are Gender differences: women tend to use more emotion-focused strategies then men (Billings, 1981) It also may have negative side effects as it delays the person dealing with the problem. (McLeod, Emotion Focused Coping., 2009) My basic outlook on life and how does it impacts on my ability to cope with stress According to the study by Meyer Friedman, Ray Rosenman, and their colleagues (friedman, 1984) I am a type B personality so less prone to heart problems, I have always been an easygoing person and an optimist.

In my coping with stress I think I use the problem-focused coping most times, as I have always been a muscularly big person so with that confidence I was never afraid to grab the bull by the horns so to speak and directly try to work things out, also I have been into the healthy lifestyle and gyms since the age of fifteen. my social support is good and I do have a lot of close friends and keep in touch with them regularly, my family is with me most times (sons, daughter, sister and brother )so I think that my ability to cope with stress is excellent Some stress minimizing and management methods are exercise, relaxation, mediation, biofeedback and spirituality Exercise: exercise is your shortest route to a feeling of well-being and a physical glow. Everyone knows that exercise is good for you and that it is one of the best stress combatants available Not only does it keep the heart healthy and get oxygen into the system, but it helps deplete stress hormones and releases mood-enhancing chemicals which help us cope with stress better. Relaxation: Relaxation is more than a state of mind; it physically changes the way your body functions.

When your body is relaxed breathing slows, blood pressure and oxygen consumption decrease, and some people report an increased sense of well-being. This is called the “relaxation response.” Being able to produce the relaxation response using relaxation techniques may counteract the effects of long-term stress, which may contribute to or worsen a range of health problems including depression, digestive disorders, headaches, high blood pressure, and insomnia Mediation: Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that benefits both your emotional well-being and your overall health. And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and can even improve certain medical conditions.

The emotional benefits of meditation include: Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations, Building skills to manage your stress, Increasing self-awareness, Focusing on the present, Reducing negative emotions Spirituality: Research shows that people who are more religious or spiritual use their spirituality to cope with life,” In her new book, The SuperStress Solution, Dr. Roberta Lee devotes a section to the topic of spirituality and prayer. Notes ,Dr. Lee. “They’re better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and well-being. On an intellectual level, spirituality connects you to the world, which in turn enables you to stop trying to control things all by yourself. When you feel part of a greater whole, it’s easy to understand that you aren’t responsible for everything that happens in life.

Among the research she cites is one study of approximately 126,000 people that found that the people who frequently attended services increased their odds of living by 29 percent. Another study conducted by the National Institute for Health Care Research (NIHR) illustrated that the Canadian college students who were connected to their campus ministries visited doctors less often and were less stressed during difficult times than the other students. The students who had strong religious correlations also had higher positive feelings, lower levels of depression, and were better equipped at handling stress. (a) I employ exercise and relaxation for stress relief,and I use the problem-focused coping most times to directly address any stressful situation I encounter


Billings, A. G. (1981). The role of coping responses and social resources in attenuating the stress of life events. . Journal of Behavioral Medicine,, 13: 539-547. Epping-Jordan, J. A. (1994). Predictors of cancer progression in young adult men and women: Avoidance, intrusive thoughts, and psychological symptoms. Health Psychology. McLeod, S. A. (2009). Emotion Focused Coping. http://www.simplypsychology.org/emotion-focused-coping.html. McLeod, S. A. (2010). Stress Management – Problem Focused Coping with Stress. . http://www.simplypsychology.org/problem-focused-coping.html.

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Distinguish between problem-focused coping and emotion-focused coping

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problem focused coping pros and cons

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The Effect of Problem-Focused Coping Strategy Training on Psychological Symptoms of Mothers of Children with Down Syndrome

Masoume pourmohamadreza-tajrishi.

1 Pediatric Neurorehabilitation Research Center, University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, Tehran, Iran


2 Dept. of Psychology, Tarbiat Modares University, Tehran, Iran.


3 Dept. of Psychiatry, University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, Tehran, Iran

Enayatollah BAKHSHI

4 Dept. of Biostatistics, University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences, Tehran, Iran


Anxiety is one of the most common reactions that parents show while understanding their children’s intellectual disability due to Down syndrome. Anxiety leads parents not to develop appropriate relations with their children, subsequently their psychological health are at risk. The present study was aimed to determine the effect of problem-focused coping strategy training on psychological symptoms of mothers with Down child.

This was an experimental study with pretest and posttest design with case and control group. Sixty-four mothers were selected randomly from Iranian Down Syndrome Charity Society. They completed Symptoms Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R). They were assigned to experimental and control groups in equal. Experimental group participated in 12 training sessions (once a week; 60 minutes for each session) and received problem-focused coping strategy program, but control group did not. After 12 th session, all subjects completed SCL-90-R again. Analysis of covariance was used for analyzing the data.

There was a significant difference ( P <0.01) between experimental and control group according to psychological symptoms and its components (phobia, depression, paranoid thoughts, psychosis, somatic complaints, interpersonal sensitivity, obsession-compulsion, anxiety and aggression) after participation in intervention sessions.


There was a significant decrease in psychological symptoms, phobia, depression, paranoid thoughts, psychosis, somatic complaints, interpersonal sensitivity, obsession-compulsion, anxiety and aggression of experimental group. Our findings showed that problem-focused coping strategy-training program led to improve family’s perception towards the child and subsequently promote of mental health of mothers with Down children.


Down syndrome is one of the most common genetically disorders, which is accompanied with intellectual disability ( 1 ). Its prevalence varies from 1 from 700 to 900 of alive birth ( 2 ). Since, baby birth is a critical moment, the diagnosis of Down syndrome leads parents to experience various feelings before and after the moment ( 3 ). The family of children with Down syndrome experience more stress and tension than other families ( 4 – 6 ), but some researchers have not approved these relations ( 7 , 8 ). From 1980, massive researchers have emphasized on the role of mediating factors in experiencing stress ( 9 ). While confronting with a crisis, available social resources and facilities, family’s perception about the child, the presence of other stressors in family, and coping strategies are considered as important factors, which effect on psychological health of mothers with Down syndrome ( 10 – 12 ).

The appraisal of a situation will influence on the coping responses of an individual and leads to different emotional consequences. According to cognitive theory of stress and coping, each event will be appraised in two ways: at first, an individual appraises the situation (first appraisal), then, he will judge about the resources which are available for coping with stress (secondary appraisal). There is two types of coping: 1) problem-focused coping, which is directed on reducing environmental demands or increasing personal resources, 2) emotion-focused coping, which is concentrated on controlling emotional response to a stressful situation ( 13 ). People are able to regulate their emotional responses to a stressful situation through behavioral (i.e, alcohol consumption or substance use) or cognitive (i.e, changing the meaning of a situation or denial of unpleasant facts) approaches. Many studies have indicated that emotion-focused strategies (ineffective coping) are correlated with more psychological problems ( 14 ), while problem-focused or active coping strategies are related to wellbeing and health ( 15 , 16 ). Females usually prefer using emotion-focused coping more than males, also mothers of intellectual disabled children use less problem-focused strategies than their fathers and parents of normal children ( 17 ). Some investigations ( 7 , 18 ) have shown that there is a relationship between the intensity or frequency of behavior problems in intellectual disabled children and parental stress or psychiatric problems such as: cognitive disorder, depression, anxiety and hopeless. Mothers of autistic children have experienced more stress than mothers of children with Down syndrome ( 19 , 20 ) and mothers of intellectual disabled children ( 21 ). In spite of considerable documents that confirming the effect of mediating factors on manifesting stress in families of intellectual disabled children, if personal and familial resources satisfy their needs, an individual will be able to adapt successfully ( 22 , 23 ).

There is a multidimensional approach in relation to stress and coping in families ( 24 ). Therefore, the recent interventions are using family-centered approaches in which the experts work with parents together in order to help them to cope with their needs and challenges resulting from having disabled child ( 25 ). Beyond of these findings in family therapy approaches ( 26 ), various interventions such as: single-case management, cognitive-behavior group interventions, and parents’ supportive networks probably help to reduce parental stress ( 6 ).

The presence of a child with Down syndrome makes parents’ duties (especially mothers’) more complex. Children’s disabilities, their slow growth, and special resources that required for their care and training lead to strike parents’ balance and psychological calmness. Generally, there is a few studies about the relationship between parental stress and psychological helplessness amongest parents of children with special needs ( 27 ).

The present study was aimed to discover the relationship between the application of problem-focused coping strategies by mothers and their health. Therefore, it is looking the answer for this question: Does problem-focused coping strategy training influence on psychological symptoms of mothers with Down child?

Materials and Methods

This was an experimental study with pretest and posttest design covering a sample of 64 mothers of children (under 12 years old) with Down syndrome representative of Iranian Down Syndrome Charity Society aged 24 to 54 yr old (mean=35.22 and standard deviation=2.83). There were 180 members (children under 12 years old) in the Charity which 99 of them lived in Tehran. They were diagnosed as exceptional and educable children through clinical interview and assessment. Among them, 64 children were selected randomly by lottery and their mothers were invited to participate in the project. The study was formally approved by University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences ethics in Iran. At first, written informed were supplied by mothers. To measure mothers’ psychological symptoms, all participants answered to Symptoms Checklist-90-Revised (SCL-90-R). The SCL-90-R is a self-reporting diagnostic questionnaire and composed of 90 questions for assessing psychological symptoms. It is represented by Derogatis and his colleagues in 1973 and its last version was provided according to clinical experiences and psychometrics analyses in 1976. Derogatis has reported its internal stability 0.95, 0.77 for depression and psychosis respectively. Internal stability quotients in 94 psychotic persons were reported from 0.78 to 0.90 by test-retest in one-week interval. Various studies have reported its reliability between 0.73 to 0.36 for depression and phobia in respect ( 28 ). The checklist was scored based on Likert from zero (for selecting ‘never’ option) to 4 (very intensive). The questions of SCL-90-R are included 9 various dimensions (somatic complaints, obsession-compulsion, interrelations sensitivity, depression, anxiety, aggression, phobia, paranoid thoughts, and psychosis). Each dimension is scored separately and sum up of dimensions’ scores is representative for general symptom index. (GSI).

After answering to SCL-90-R, the mothers were divided to experimental and control groups randomly (32 individuals in each group). Experimental group participated in 12 intervention sessions (once a week; each lasting for 60 minutes) and trained by problem-focused coping strategy, while control group did not. All participants completed SCL-90-R after the sessions. During 4 th session, 5 individuals from experimental group did not continue to cooperate with the researcher due to fasting month. Also, the data for 4 individuals did not been analyzed because of more than one absence from the sessions. Therefore, the data of 55 individuals (23 persons in experimental group and 32 persons in control group) were analyzed by analysis of covariance (ANCOVA).

The problem-focused coping strategy training program which was used in the present study was provided by Lazarus and Folkman ( 13 ). It was presented in two stages in present study. At first stage, the purpose of training was to increase mothers’ knowledge and awareness about stress and coping strategies with it. At second stage, mothers were trained by the skills in order to know how to increase coping resources. Problem-focused coping strategies were divided to internal-dependent and external-dependent.

Internal-dependent strategies included problem solving, preserve internal control, and humour. External-dependent strategies included interpersonal and communicative skills, assertiveness, time management, develop supportive system, and physical practices like sport. The content of training sessions were as follows: ( Table 1 ).

The content of problem-focused coping strategy training program

In order to compare the mean of psychological symptoms and GSI in experimental and control groups, analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used.

It is required to test the assumptions of ANCOVA for determining the effectiveness of problem-focused coping strategy training on psychological symptoms of mothers with Down’s children. So, statistical presumptions (Pillai’s trace, Wilk’s Lamda, Hotellings’ trace, and Roys’ Largest Root) were tested for psychological symptoms and they were 0.97, 0.34, 0.54, 0.80, 0.01, 0.89, 0.58, 0.02, 0.18 for phobia, depression, Paranoid thoughts, psychosis, somatic complaints, interrelations sensitivity, obsession-compulsion, anxiety, and aggression respectively. It was showed that all predictors could differentiate between two groups. In order to compare the psychological symptoms of experimental and control groups in posttest, ANCOVA was used. Its results have reported in Table 2 .

The results of ANCOVA for comparing psychological symptoms of experimental and control groups

As indicated in Table 2 , there is a significant difference ( P <0.001) between experimental and control groups according to psychological symptoms. Also, according to η2, 48%, 36%, 3%, 44%, 27%, 36%, 34%, 50%, and 40% of variation of phobia, depression, paranoid thinking, psychosis, somatic complaints, interrelations sensitivity, obsession-compulsion, anxiety, and aggression respectively can be explained by participating in problem-focused coping strategy training sessions. Besides, the most variation of dependent variables was related to anxiety (0.50) and phobia (0.48).

In order to determine the effectiveness of problem-focused coping strategy training on the GSI in mothers with Down child, ANCOVA was used. At first, Pillai’s trace, Wilk’s Lamda, Hotellings’ trace, and Roys’ Largest Root were tested and they were significant ( P <0.001), which was indicating that overall predictors can differentiate between two groups. The results of ANCOVA were presented in Table 3 for comparing the GSI of experimental and control group.

The results of ANCOVA for comparing GSI of experimental and control groups

The results of ANCOVA showed that problem-focused coping strategy training had positive and significant effect ( P < 0.001) on GSI of experimental group. Also, according to Eta quotient (η2) 39% of variation in GSI can be explained by participating in problem-focused coping strategy training sessions. Accordingly, as far as mothers with Down child are participating to intervention sessions, their GSI will reduce and their mental health will increase.

The findings showed that problem-focused coping strategy training program has positive effect on the promotion of mental health and decrease of GSI and psychological symptoms (phobia, depression, paranoid thoughts, psychosis, somatic complaints, interrelations sensitivity, obsession-compulsion, anxiety, and aggression) in mothers of children with Down syndrome. This coincides with some studies ( 29 – 32 ). It seems that the components of problem-focused coping strategy (accepting responsibility and planned problem solving) are considered as confronting coping through which an individual tries to reduce the threatening situation itself and this might lead to reinforce family relations. People who persist on this strategy, have more mastery on the situation in stressful circumstances, and are able to adapt better with them, also experience less symptoms ( 13 , 16 ).

The second finding indicated that problem-focused coping strategy training has reduced phobia in mothers who had a child with Down syndrome. This was in agreement with some studies ( 33 – 35 ). Since, the participants learned to appraise each stressful stimulus at first to determine the threaten or damage resulting from it; they could use a series of coping responses in secondary appraisal ( 28 ). It looks that seeking social support (as one of the components of problem-focused coping) contains one’s effort to take informational and affective supports from friends and relatives when a person does secondary appraisal and wants to determine the best action must be done. It is expected that the best coping responses are problem-focused ones, because it is composed of four elements (awareness increasing, information processing, behavior modification, getting peaceful and relaxed solutions) ( 36 ).

Other finding showed that the depression of mothers who participated in training session has decreased. This is in agreement with some studies ( 24 , 37 , 38 ). Fery and colleagues ( 24 ) found that depression includes an extended clinical symptoms which vary from depressive mood, lack of enjoy or motivation and loss of energy. Additionally, it is composed of helpless feeling, suicide thoughts, and some cognitive and physical symptoms relating to depression. As far as, problem-focused coping strategy training emphasizes on replacing locus of control from external to internal factors, and considers one’s availability to social supportive groups, it is probably influence on reducing depression ( 28 ).

It was found that the training has reduced paranoid thinking in mothers of Down children. Some studies ( 39 – 41 ) have approved the finding. Considering that the selection of problem-focused coping strategy includes a set of logical and rational thoughts and efforts focused on confronting and analyzing the problem, we can express that paranoid thoughts include suspicion, egotropy, egocentrism, and fear to loss autonomy, illusion, and aggression ( 28 ). Then, reappraisal leads to understand the behavior positively regarding to the development of an individual and this might minimize paranoid thoughts ( 13 ). During training sessions, mothers knew to seek negative emotions as a subsequent of negative thoughts and wrote them, disputed and replaced them with logical thoughts. It is clear that this procedure probably leads to reduce paranoid thoughts ( 41 ).

Other finding showed that participating in intervention has caused the reduction of psychosis in mothers. This coincides with the results of Vollrath ( 42 ), Dempsey ( 43 ), Khamis ( 27 ) and Shakeri ( 35 ). Regarding that psychosis is varied from isolation state and schizotypal living to schizophrenia symptoms like illusion and thought spreading, also include disorders ranging from moderate isolation to acute psychosis ( 44 ), the use of problem-focused coping strategy causes optimal performance of a person in social and psychological dimensions. Consequently, it leads to mothers’ adaptation and reduction of psychosis symptoms ( 27 ).

The training has reduced somatic complaints of mothers with Down child. Some studies ( 45 , 38 ) are in agreement with this finding. As somatic complaints are related to one’s perception about body dysfunctions, usually autonomous system and its components function improperly and results in complaints about cardio-vascular, gastrointestinal, and respiratory systems. Furthermore, repeated headaches and musculature pains are considered as these complaints ( 28 ). In present study, participants knew how to master over their mind, change their complaints to requests, forget the anger relating to previous times, and use problem solving method for managing their anger. It is possible that the individuals who apply problem-focused coping strategies, their complaints will be less than before.

Also, the finding showed that participating in training sessions, has reduced the interrelations sensitivity of mothers. This finding coincides with the other results (such as: 33, 34). One explanation is that interrelations sensitivity refers to incompetency and inferiority feelings. Individuals who get high score in this component, are conscious in relations with others and have negative expectations about themselves ( 28 ). Davis and coworkers ( 46 ) believed that assertiveness means that a person is able to state his personal rights and feelings, say ‘NO’ without feeling guilty, spend sufficient time to answer other’s questions, ask for help, experience and express own feelings, have positive feeling in each circumstances, act logically toward criticism and unfair behaviors, and express his successes ( 36 ). Regarding to the process of problem-solving training in the intervention sessions and recognizing the boundaries for solving the problem in a creative manner (emotional boundaries like fear about: making a mistake, unknowing, being ridicule, environmental and cultural boundaries), the participants had access to the necessary information and it was emphasized on receiving support from family or friends. Therefore, it seems that the use of problem-focused coping strategy has been minimized the interrelations sensitivity of mothers with Down children.

Training sessions has reduced obsession-compulsion in mothers. As Dempsey ( 43 ) has stated that the symptoms which are included in obsession-compulsion are in accordance with clinical profile of obsession, this dimension focuses on thoughts, impulses and actions which the person considers them uncontrollable and are as signs of general subtleness. If an individual knows how negative effects of obsessions influence on his behaviors, judges their truth and untruth, and does not find rational cause for continuing them, so it is expected that obsession/compulsion will reduce ( 36 ).

Also, it was found that participating in intervention sessions has reduced mothers’ anxiety. This is in agreement with some studies ( 14 , 47 , 48 ). Anxiety is an indicator for being nervous, feeling stress and hand tremor, immediate fears, feeling frightening and anxiety toward the future which are reflecting clinical overt anxiety. Participating in training session made mothers acquaintance with physical methods (such as: sport and physical practices, diet, relaxation, …) for controlling stress and anxiety in order to reduce the signs of stress in themselves. So, the individuals who cope effectively with stressful events probably will show low levels of anxiety and depression ( 14 ).

The last findings showed that problem-focused coping strategy training has reduced aggression of mother with Down child. It coincides with the results of Harris ( 49 ), McNarma ( 41 ). Aggressive behavior describes the situation in which an individual wants to overcome on others’ thought and actions ( 50 ). The individuals who are over compete and feel difficult to take a rest or enjoy hobbies, their anger might trigger aggression and hinder them to use appropriate coping strategy ( 28 ). During problem-focused coping strategy program, the participants were trained about interpersonal and communicative skills in addition to knowing the advantages and damages of different behavior styles (passive, assertive, aggressive). In addition, they have been awarded with the best behavior style (assertive). They were trained about the anger and the ways of reducing it. Also, they learned to overcome their mind, forget the angers relating to previous times and use problem-solving method for managing the anger. It is probable that the use of problem-focused coping strategy leads to reducing aggression.

The effectiveness of problem-focused coping training on psychological symptoms was limited to short-time training sessions, lack of follow-up and self-reporting questionnaire. It is recommended that problem-focused coping strategy training be applied as educational and psychological services in schools and rehabilitation centers in order to prevent psychological problems. Since, the application of coping strategies is related to family perception about a child and parents’ personality characteristics; it is recommended to examine the relation between these variables in different developmental stages in a longitudinal study.

Regarding to the results, it can be concluded that problem-focused coping strategy has influenced positively on reduction of GSI and psychological symptoms in mothers with Down children. Considering that presenting adaptive strategies with Down syndrome will release their mothers from emotional stress and anxiety, and probably facilitates logic thinking in them. Therefore, it seems that stress, psychological health and parents’ adaptation are influencing with multiple factors ( 24 ). By the way, the application of problem-focused coping strategies when confronting with a crisis will improve family perception about the child and reduces psychological symptoms of mothers with Down syndrome. Therefore, it is important to make mothers aware of the role of problem-focused coping strategy.

Ethical consideration

Ethical issues (including plagiarism, informed consent, misconduct, data fabrication and/ or falsification, double publication and / or submission, redundancy, etc.) have been completely observed by the authors.


This article is a part of research project supported by Pediatric Neurorehabilitation Research Center of University of Social Welfare and Rehabilitation Sciences. We would like to thank the manager of Pediatric Neurorehabilitation Research Center. We also wish to thank all of the mothers with Down children in Iranian Down Syndrome Charity Society for their valuable collaboration with this study. The authors declare that there is no conflict of interest.


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By Elizabeth Saigal, Ph.D. CLC

When faced with a challenging or less than ideal circumstance, individuals generally use a combination of shifting their feeling response, directly tackling the situation itself, or changing their thinking about the situation. These three recognized ways of handling stress are known as Emotion-focused strategies, Problem-focused strategies, or Appraisal-focused strategies, respectively.

Emotion-focused strategies are directed towards reducing or preventing your own emotional reaction. This includes managing feelings by finding methods of release or distraction such as seeking social support or using relaxation techniques.

Problem-focused strategies are directed towards reducing or eliminating a stressor or the cause of a problem. This includes finding our more information about the issue, learning new skills to manage it, or evaluating the pros and cons of the alternatives.

Appraisal-focused strategies are directed towards challenging your own assumptions and modifying the way you think. This may include distancing yourself from the problem or challenge, altering goals and values, or identifying the humor in the situation to bring a positive spin.

Typically, people use a mix of these three coping strategies to manage challenging circumstances. Coaches can also promote use of these strategies by framing questions to bring a clients awareness to their emotional response to experiencing the challenge, the problem or specific challenge itself, or thoughts associated with the challenge is a great way to increase understanding. Possible questions might include:

Using questions like this to generating possibilities and alternative directions can be useful for coaching where a client is seeking increased clarity. There is an opportunity to bring attention to the emotion, energy, and tone, as well as the words the client uses to describe the situation, and ask questions related to Emotion-focused strategies and Appraisal-focused strategies. Not all coaching topics bring forth a specific challenge, but there are often opportunities to reflect back the ways in which a client chooses to directly interact with the environment that incorporate Problem-focused strategies too. For example, if a client has a goal to lose weight, what food options do they routinely have available that might have an impact on their weight loss experience?

These questions promote the client changing their experience to what they want by bringing clarity to which conditions are the most important and highlighting the contrast between want is wanted and unwanted. This leads to discovery of both the internal and external parameters that bring happiness and how they can be established.


Elizabeth Saigal is an ILCT Certified Life Coach. She offers Life Design Coaching for those intent on connecting with their inner truth and aligning with their intuition to live a life on purpose. You can connect with her and sign up to receive her Free Ten Step Life Design System at www.myspirecoaching.com

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problem focused coping pros and cons

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The Institute for Life Coach Training reserves the right to alter or modify its program offerings and/or requirements at any time; to offer courses in accordance with demand, availability and business dictates; to introduce or modify certification levels; and to make other changes as necessary or desirable in their programs and activities.

7 Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques for Uncertain Times

problem focused coping pros and cons

When a challenge comes up for you, you probably have a handful of go-to strategies to help you deal with it. Even if your approach varies slightly from problem to problem, you probably manage most difficulties in similar ways.

You might, for example, be a problem solver. When navigating a challenge or stressful event, you go straight to the source and work at it until you’ve either fixed what’s wrong or brought your stress down to a more manageable level.

What if taking immediate action isn’t your strong point? Maybe you try to hack your emotions by considering the situation from a different perspective or leaning on loved ones for support.

These two approaches represent two distinct coping strategies:

Both strategies can have benefits, but emotion-focused coping may be particularly useful in certain situations.

First, a look at what this coping style is good for

Emotion-focused coping skills help you process and work through unwanted or painful emotions and reactions. In other words, this approach helps you manage your emotions rather than outside circumstances.

This approach won’t help you solve a problem directly, but it’s a great tool to have for dealing with stressful situations you can’t change or control.

When you can manage your emotional response to a given situation more effectively, you may feel somewhat better about what’s happening — or at least more equipped to handle it.

Research from 2015 suggests people who tend to use emotion-focused coping strategies may be more resilient to stress and enjoy greater overall wellness.

1. Meditation

Meditation helps you learn to acknowledge and sit with all of your thoughts and experiences, even the difficult ones.

The key goal of meditation? Mindfulness: to recognize thoughts as they come up, accept them, and let them go without stewing over them or judging yourself for having them.

You can practice mindfulness anytime, anywhere, and it won’t cost you anything. It may feel a little awkward, even unhelpful, at first, and it can take some time before it feels natural. If you stick with it, you’ll generally begin seeing some benefits before long.

If you’re new to meditation, get started by learning more about different types or trying this easy body scan exercise .

2. Journaling

Journaling is a great way to sort through and come to terms with challenging emotions.

When something goes wrong, you might experience a lot of complicated, conflicting feelings. They might feel jumbled up inside you, making the thought of sorting them out exhausting. Or, maybe you’re not even sure how to name what you’re feeling with words.

Exhaustion and confusion are valid feelings and can be a good starting point for putting pen to paper.

Sometimes, writing down your feelings — no matter how messy or complex they are — is the first step in working through them. You might eventually find that journaling offers a type of emotional catharsis, as you purge them from your mind and into your journal.

To get the most out of journaling, try:

3. Positive thinking

Optimism won’t solve problems alone, but it can certainly boost your emotional wellness.

It’s important to understand that optimistic or positive thinking does not involve ignoring your problems. It’s about giving challenges a positive spin and finding pockets of joy to help you get through them.

To add more positive thinking to your life, try:

All these things are easier said than done, but with a bit of practice, they’ll start to feel more natural.

4. Forgiveness

It’s easy to focus on feelings of injustice or unfairness when someone wrongs you or does something unkind.

Most of the time, though, you can’t do anything to change the hurt you’ve sustained. In other words, the damage is done, and there’s nothing to do but let go and move forward.

Forgiveness can help you let go of hurt and begin healing from it. Of course, forgiveness doesn’t always happen easily. It can take some time to come to terms with your pain before you feel able to forgive.

Practicing forgiveness can benefit your emotional wellness in a number of ways. You might notice:

Looking for tips on practicing forgiveness? Check out our guide to letting go of the past.

5. Reframing

When you reframe a situation, you look at it from another perspective. This can help you consider the bigger picture instead of getting stuck on little details, as difficult or unpleasant as those details sometimes are.

Say, for example, your relationship has been struggling over the past few months, primarily because you and your partner haven’t had much time to do things together or communicate about problems.

Suddenly, you lose your job and find that you’re now spending plenty of time at home.

Not working isn’t ideal, of course, but for the moment there’s nothing you can do to change that situation. Instead of letting frustration and boredom build up, you can look at the bright side of the situation: You now have plenty of time to reconnect with your partner and strengthen your relationship .

6. Talking it out

Burying or pushing away negative emotions usually doesn’t do much to improve them.

You might not actively notice these unwanted emotions if you work very hard at keeping them hidden, but they do eventually tend to resurface.

In the meantime, they can trickle out in the form of:

It’s generally a good idea to talk about your feelings to any others involved in the situation. They may not even realize they had an impact on you unless you tell them.

Communicating your difficulties won’t always resolve them, but if an approach to resolution does exist, you’re more likely to discover it together.

Talking about your emotions to a trusted loved one can also help you feel better, especially when there’s no good solution to your problem. Friends and family can provide social and emotional support by listening with empathy and validating your feelings.

7. Working with a therapist

Some serious concerns can cause a lot of distress, especially when you can’t do anything to improve your situation.

Maybe you’re going through a breakup , facing a life-threatening health concern, or dealing with grief .

There’s not much you can do to change these circumstances and dealing with the painful emotions that come up on your own can be hard. But there’s no need to go it alone.

A trusted mental health professional can help you manage emotional distress by offering guidance on any of the emotion-focused coping strategies above. They can also provide support that’s more specifically tailored to your situation.

Our guide to affordable therapy can help you get started.

The bottom line

In an ideal world, you’d be able to face all your problems head-on and solve them right away. In reality, though, many challenges are beyond our control. Emotion-focused coping can help you weather these challenges and build resilience.

Mindful Moves: 15 Minute Yoga Flow for Anxiety

Crystal Raypole has previously worked as a writer and editor for GoodTherapy. Her fields of interest include Asian languages and literature, Japanese translation, cooking, natural sciences, sex positivity, and mental health. In particular, she’s committed to helping decrease stigma around mental health issues.

Last medically reviewed on April 21, 2020

How we reviewed this article:

Our experts continually monitor the health and wellness space, and we update our articles when new information becomes available.

Current Version

Apr 22, 2020

Crystal Raypole

Kelly Morrell

Medically Reviewed By

Timothy J. Legg, PhD, PsyD

Copy Edited By

Siobhan DeRemer

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Steps for Achieving Problem-Focused Coping: A Practical Setup

is problem-focused coping possible?

There are stressors in our everyday lives that cannot be avoided, which is why solving the problem at its root is the way to go. Letting stress take over and interfere with our lives might be the go-to way of handling problems, but there is a better, healthier way.

Problem-focused coping is all about tackling the problem as soon as we can, but at first, just accepting that you have a problem that you need to work on .

There is, of course, another way of coping, emotion-focused coping , but we’ll be focusing on the practicality of problem-focused coping here. You can read more about emotion-focused coping here . 

problem-focused coping is all about managing your stress

What is problem-focused coping?

To change one’s circumstances and reduce the situations in which you worry constantly, you need the support of problem-focused coping.

But what is problem-focused coping?

It is a stress management approach that’s based on dealing with or reducing the pain caused by the problem at hand. The person tries to manage the problem , or maybe alter it in a way that makes it less stressful. 

This accounts for:

generating different solutions helps you cope with the problem at hand.

What are the steps to achieve problem-focused coping?

Problem-focused coping gives you the facts at hand, it serves as a problem-solving strategy that sidesteps the emotional analysis we normally go through. Here’s how you can apply this coping strategy in three easy steps.

1. Face the problem

Identify the current problem you’re dealing with. Think back on your day, what might have triggered your stress, and understand that figuring out exactly what’s bothering you can be hard. The main takeaway is figuring out whether the problem is changeable, or just irreparable .

Then, face the situation with the truth in mind. Brainstorm different solutions to your problem, and don’t be afraid to get creative with your ways of dealing with your issues. 

reassuring yourself and validating your emotions is part of problem-focused coping.

2. Remove the Problem 

T ake action. Remove what’s causing you to stress out; don’t just accept the negative situations you’ve been thrown in. Try to realize that not addressing the problem is a statement of its own , you could be signaling to others that you’re okay with them causing or contributing to the issue at hand.

Additionally, if you don’t want to deal with or remove the problem, it’ll most likely remain there, worsening with time. Accept the fact that involved action is the way to go, and start the problem-solving process as soon as possible.  

3. Reassure yourself

An integral part of problem-focused coping is finding confidence in your way of dealing with a problem. Working through your issues head-on isn’t the easiest approach, and some might criticize your straightforwardness. 

Reassure yourself while removing stressors out of your life, there is no shame in prioritizing yourself and your comfort.

For example, when you face a problem with your partner, try sitting down and coming up with two or three different solutions to lessen the stress you’re feeling. Make a list of all the pros and cons corresponding to every solution, assign a weight to each point, and put all the potential solutions next to each other . 

You make your decision based on the weight of every pro versus the weight of every con. That way, you’re making your problem-solving process as efficient as it can be, while directly tackling the problem! Remember to validate your process of decision-making, and appreciate your efforts in taking direct action.

In the end, different coping strategies work for different people. 

Don’t be hard on yourself if problem-focused coping doesn’t give you the same results as other people. At the end of the day, we all function differently, with differing needs, and hold diversity in the way we cope every day!

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