The word that probably describes living in big cities most accurately is “stress.” Indeed, the amount of responsibilities an average citizen must deal with on a daily basis, the numbers of people around, poor ecology, excessive workloads, relationship problems, and many other factors may affect our psychological condition greatly. Given that every person is unique, people develop different coping mechanisms in order to get rid of stress, or to at least alleviate its effects.
Some of these mechanisms can be peculiar, while others are typical. For example, for some people, it is enough to go to a bar on Friday night, have a chat with a friend, or hit a gym; another person might need to change his or her entire lifestyle–downshift, for instance. It depends on the intensity of stress, and on individual tolerance towards it. Let us take a closer look at what coping mechanisms are among the most widespread.
To start with, what is a coping mechanism? According to psychologists Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman, coping can be defined as an aggregate of behavioral and thinking strategies scientifically defined as the sum of cognitive and behavioral efforts aimed at the solution of internal or external problems. In other words, a coping mechanism is what a person does in order to solve the situation he or she finds uncomfortable. In this regard, it is also important to note that coping can be reactive and proactive. The former implies actions following stressful stimuli; the latter, on the contrary, means acting in order to prevent such stimuli from occurring (Explorable).
Although people tend to generalize the term “stress,” it falls into several specific subcategories. In particular, the aforementioned Richard Lazarus believed stress could be divided into three major types: harm, threat, and challenge. The harm type refers to stress induced by damage that cannot be prevented. Post-traumatic stress disorder, for example, can be related to this subcategory. Stress from a breakup, from losing a large sum of money or something valuable is also harm stress. Threat stress is evoked when damage has not been dealt yet, but a person is already anticipating it. For instance, a person afraid to fly in airplanes may experience severe stress from expecting their plane to crash. Finally, challenge stress–the most healthy one, perhaps–comes from the situations when we face difficult circumstances, but feel confident about ourselves overcoming them. A professional beginning to work on a new difficult task may be experiencing challenge stress most often (The Psychologist).
Anyways, how do people alleviate stress? What do they do to make themselves feel better, and are all of the coping mechanisms similarly efficient? It is plausible to divide them into two large categories: emotional and problem-focused coping. Emotional stress coping strategies include such behaviors as self-distraction, therapeutic talk (which may be done not only with a psychotherapist, but also with a friend: unlike many people tend to think, talking to a close friend may sometimes be as efficient as a psychotherapeutic session), or journaling. Religious people often find respite in praying or meditation. Among less healthy strategies are eating (meaning excessive food consumption levels, or eating unhealthy food such as sugary, fat, and so on), drinking alcohol, and doing drugs. A person may also try to suppress unpleasant sensations, or reframe his or her way of thinking in order to start perceiving the stressful situation from a different perspective.
On the other hand, there are problem-focused coping strategies. They imply acting rather than feeling, and is believed to be more effective than emotional strategies. Indeed, some of the problem-focused coping mechanisms are productive, especially compared to drinking or indulging in self-pitying talks. For instance, a person may start looking for ways to solve the problem causing the stress rather than just react to it emotionally. Or, a person may reorganize his or her habits and life in general in such a way that routine exercises do not take as much time and effort as usually–and thus decrease their levels of stress. A person may also build a system of social support–in other words, find people whom he or she may address in a time of need (Simply Psychology).
Each of the mechanisms described above can be effective in their own way, even the destructive ones. After all, a person manages to alleviate his or her stress–and this is exactly the goal of a coping mechanism. However, it is important to distinguish between harmful and beneficial mechanisms, and to combine productive and constructive emotional and problem-focused strategies in order to manage stress more effectively.
“Stress and Coping Mechanisms – How the Body Responds to Stressors.” Explorable, explorable.com/stress-and-coping-mechanisms.
“Stress and Coping in the Workplace.” The Psychologist, thepsychologist.bps.org.uk/volume-20/edition-9/stress-and-coping-workplace.
McLeod, Saul. “Stress Management.” Simply Psychology, www.simplypsychology.org/stress-management.html.