Emotion-Focused Coping for Stress Management

By Jenni Jacobsen, LSW

When you’re faced with an upsetting or stressful situation, it’s important to find healthy, effective ways of coping. One strategy that can be helpful for stress management is emotion-focused coping. By learning how to utilize emotion-focused coping through various techniques, you can begin reducing the negative effects of stress in your daily life.

What Is Emotion-Focused Coping?

Emotion-focused coping refers to strategies that help people manage stress by regulating emotions and working to reduce or eliminate negative emotional reactions. This is in contrast to problem-focused coping, which involves managing stress by reducing its source.

For example, if a person is struggling with stress related to finances, a problem-focused coping strategy might be getting a second job to bring in more income. On the other hand, an emotion-focused coping strategy could include taking up an exercise program to try to reduce some of the stress linked to financial difficulties. 

Benefits of Using Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques

While tackling a problem head-on can be useful for managing stress, sometimes you cannot eliminate a stressor from your life, and you simply need to find outlets for coping. For instance, if you’re a teacher, you probably can’t avoid the fact that the end of the year is stressful. In this case, finding a way to regulate your emotions is probably most helpful.

Emotion-focused coping techniques can help you reduce the negative effects of stressful situations that you simply cannot avoid. They can also provide a source of relaxation and escape from daily or ongoing stressors. In fact, research has shown that emotion-based coping strategies that allow people to explore and express their emotions are effective for helping people adjust to infertility, cancer and assault. 

Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques

There are several different techniques that fall under the umbrella of emotion-focused coping, so you can find something that works for you. Techniques you may find helpful in your daily life include:

Meditation

If you’re looking for an outlet for stress, meditation works well. A recent study found that meditation improved mental distress, worrying, nervousness and muscular pain among a group of active working professionals. This emotion-focused coping technique can reduce some of the side effects associated with stress. 

Journaling

Journaling about your thoughts and experiences can also be a helpful way to cope with distress, and it may be especially beneficial for ongoing stress. For example, a study involving mothers of children who had behavioral symptoms found that journaling reduced distress among the mothers and improved mother-child relationships. 

In the study, journaling provided an outlet for mothers to disclose negative emotions, which appeared to be helpful for coping. You might consider journaling as a way to express your emotions during times of stress. 

Reframing  

Negative emotions can be reframed to be more positive. Sometimes, negative thoughts occur because we have developed distorted thinking patterns that ultimately result in more stress.

For example, some people may engage in a cognitive distortion called “filtering,” which is the tendency to focus on the negative aspects of a situation. If you focus on the negative, your thoughts and behaviors will also become negative. 

Reframing these negative thoughts is helpful for stress management. For example, instead of focusing on the distress you feel about your children going off to college, you may try to focus on the positive aspects. These might include the fact that they are gaining independence, or the newfound free time you will have. 

Forgiving

Hanging onto a grudge can be detrimental for emotional well-being, whereas forgiveness is more beneficial. Psychology experts have identified forgiveness as an important emotion-focused coping strategy, as it has positive effects on both physical and mental health. 

One recent study found that people who engage in emotional forgiveness hold the transgressor less responsible for whatever wrongdoing was committed. In these instances, they replace negative emotions like anger and resentment with positive emotions like empathy and love. This suggests that forgiving others could also improve your relationships. 

Positive Thinking

Similar to reframing, focusing on positives can help you to cope with stress. If you’re wrapped up in negative thinking patterns, your thoughts and behaviors will become more negative. If you think about the positive aspects of a situation or at least attempt to find the “silver lining,” the stressful times might not take as much of a toll.

If you’re coping with significant stress at school, you might consider that the stress is temporary. The positive is that it will pay off when you get your degree and land your dream job. If you’re dealing with added stress at work, you can focus on the long-term positive outcome or what you’ll gain from it. 

Other Stress Relief Techniques

In addition to emotion-focused coping techniques, these strategies can be helpful for stress reduction:

  • Getting regular exercise
  • Consuming a balanced diet 
  • Giving up smoking
  • Reducing caffeine consumption 
  • Learning and practicing relaxation techniques like progressive muscle relaxation
  • Asking for help when needed
  • Learning to say “no” to extra demands
  • Giving yourself realistic goals and expectations

When To Seek Help

Stress management techniques, including emotion-focused coping mechanisms, can be helpful if you’ve found that stress has become a little too overwhelming. While these techniques can be beneficial, some people may need additional support or services to help them overcome the effects of stress. 

If day-to-day stress is beginning to interfere with your relationships or your productivity at work or school, but the coping strategies you’re utilizing aren’t providing relief, it is likely time to seek professional intervention. A therapist can help you process your negative emotions and develop healthier, more balanced ways of thinking. During therapy sessions, you can also learn beneficial stress management techniques and receive guidance as you put them into practice. 

If you’re looking for some support for coping with stress, the Nobu app can be an excellent resource. This app offers several free features, including lessons from mental health experts, a mood tracker and training on mindfulness practices like yoga and deep breathing. Paid features of the Nobu app include the ability to schedule sessions with a licensed therapist, who will meet with you online. Sign up for Nobu today and download the app, available for free on both Apple and Android devices. 

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Edited by – Jonathan Strum Jonathan Strum graduated from the University of Nebraska Omaha with a Bachelor’s in Communication in 2017 and has been writing professionally ever since. He has written, edited and published content for health care professionals, educators, real estate agents, lawyers and high-level university faculty… Read more.
jenni jacobsen
Written by – Jenni Jacobsen, LSW Jenni Jacobsen is a licensed social worker through the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker and Marriage and Family Therapist Board. She has seven years of experience working in the social work field, working with clients with addiction-related and mental health… Read more.
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Medically Reviewed by – Dr. Angela Phillips

Angela is a licensed therapist and clinical researcher, and has worked in public, private, government, and not-for-profit organizations, across clinical and research-oriented roles. Angela’s clinical and research experience has included suicide prevention, cognitive behavioral… Read more.