Motivation and emotion/Book/2020/Coping and emotion

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Coping and emotion:
What is the relationship between coping and emotion?

Overview[edit | edit source]

Most people experience a range of emotions everyday. Sometimes these emotions can seem overwhelming and out of control. Such situations can trigger a strong desire for us to do something about it in order to cope (Gembek, & Skinner, 2016, Richardson, & Rolston, 2020). This chapter discusses the relationship between coping and emotion and why this relationship is important in determining our current and future mental health, functioning and wellbeing. It will also suggest ways of promoting the use of better coping and emotion regulation skills.

Picture of a person experiencing stress.

Ask yourself.png

Focus questions:

  • What is coping?
  • What is emotion?
  • What is the relationship between coping and emotion?
  • Why is understanding this relationship important?

What is coping?[edit | edit source]

Problem-focused coping

Coping refers to how an individual adapts to, manages or alters a challenging or stressful situation. It is an intentional and conscious response to stress that aims to reduce it by either solving the problem (problem-focused coping) or regulating the emotional or attentional response the stressor triggered (emotion-focused coping). Coping is often applied to long-lasting stressors like bereavement, tragedy, loss or diagnosis of a chronic, incurable or life threatening disease (Austenfeld, & Stanton, 2004, Compas, Jaser, & Williams, 2014, Ehsan, Hadadi, Moradi, Pishva, & Pouladi, 2011, Gembek, & Skinner, 2016, Kleinert, Pels, & Schafer, 2020, Kutlu, Musabak, & Tuncay, 2008, Ong & Thompson, 2019, Stanislawski, 2019).

Coping theories and strategies[edit | edit source]

The most appropriate coping strategy to use depends on the situation. There are many conceptual models of coping and a lot of commonality among them; for example approach coping is very similar to both Lazarus and Folkman’s problem-focused and emotion-focussed strategies, as it includes any behavioural, cognitive or emotional activity directed towards solving the problem (Brief COPE inventory){fact}}.

Most researchers of coping agree that being able to use a variety of coping strategies in a wide range of stressful situations is most helpful, as different stressful situations may require different coping strategies (Dubow & Rubinlicht, 2011, Stanislawski, 2019, Kleinert, et al., 2020). For example avoidance coping, an approach that is usually considered maladaptive can be helpful in certain situations, as some of its strategies like distraction can be used to prevent stress from getting too overwhelming.

One of the most well-known conceptual models of coping is Lazarus and Folkman’s Problem-focused vs Emotion-focused model (Dubow & Rubinlicht, 2011).

Emotion-focused coping
Problem-Focused coping strategies Emotion-Focused coping strategies
-Problem Solving


-Cognitive Restructuring

-Defining the problem

-Seeking social support

-Positive reappraisal

-Emotional venting

-Using substances to suppress emotions





Problem-focused coping strategies are useful in situations where it is possible to solve the problem causing the stress by using available resources, altering perception or seeking social support.  Emotion-focused coping strategies are most useful in situations in which circumstances are out of the individual’s control. In these situations the individual instead focuses their attention on regulating their emotional response to the stressor using positive reappraisal, acceptance, emotional venting, distraction, relaxation, meditation, suppression and avoidance (Austenfeld, & Stanton, 2004, Dubow & Rubinlicht, 2011, Engstrom, Kristofferzon, & Nilsson, 2018, Kutlu, et al., 2008).

Other models include approach vs avoidance, voluntary vs involuntary, engagement vs disengagement, primary control vs secondary control, mature vs immature, positive-focus, support, active and evasive coping.  

Shuttle Box Dog Orange.png
Approach Coping Avoidance Coping
-Problem Solving

-Information Seeking

-positive framing







-resting more

-Substance use


-self blame

Positive-focus Coping Support Coping Active Coping Evasive Coping

-Positive reframing


-Instrumental support

-Emotional support


-Problem-focused coping


-Self Blame


-Venting of Emotions

What coping strategies do you use? Find out here

Why coping skills are important[edit | edit source]

Having healthy coping skills can help us get through tough times. Managing our stress can help us to feel better physically and mentally.[factual?]

Using appropriate coping skills can protect us against poor mental health outcomes and is associated with high quality of life and effective emotional regulation (Kutlu, et al., 2008). Our chosen style of coping can determine whether or not we are resilient in the face of stress (Gembek, & Skinner, 2016). Stress reduction is very important as chronic stress often leads to negative health consequences (Kleinert, et al., 2020).

Healthy coping skills can help to reduce stress, increase resilience and our ability to recover quickly from stressful situations (Ong & Thompson, 2019, Williams, 2018). Both emotion-focused and problem-focused coping styles including active coping, planning, cognitive reappraisal and humour have a strong negative relationship with depression such that individuals who use these strategies are less likely to develop or worsen existing depression (Adeyemo, Ijarogbe, Obembe, & Ogun, 2019, Ong & Thompson, 2019).

Approach coping strategies are particularly important because not attending to stressful situations can extend the stressful situation and make the problem worse (Williams, 2018).

Problems associated with poor coping skills[edit | edit source]

Ongoing stress is a risk factor for mental health conditions, so learning to deal with stress is a very important skill. There are some coping strategies however, that are more effective at reducing stress than others; for example reappraisal is very effective whereas denial or avoidance may actually worsen or prolong stress (Beyond Blue, Kleinert, et al., 2020). 

Unhealthy coping skills such as high emotion-oriented coping, venting of emotions, self blame, denial, distraction and suppression are associated with increased distress leading to anxiety and substance abuse as well as disordered eating, sleeping or over spending, depression, avoidance and helplessness (Stanislawski, 2019).  

Helplessness is a combination of problem avoidance and negative emotional coping (Stanislawski, 2019).  It is a maladaptive form of coping that includes thoughts of exaggerated limitations and negative aspects of the situation and is closely related to avoidance.

Avoidance is considered maladaptive because choosing to avoid unwanted thoughts and negative emotions, rather than attempting to alter them, means that the stressful situation and negative emotions will still be present and unresolved despite efforts to keep them out of awareness. It is also associated with the development of borderline and avoidant personality disorders, depression, anxiety and increased risk of suicidal behaviour (Hang, Huijie, Jingjin, Qinghua, & Weiping, 2019, Ong & Thompson, 2019).

Factors that influence coping strategies we choose to use[edit | edit source]

Our ability to cope is often affected by previous experiences we have had with similar stressors and their consequences (Ehsan, Hadadi, Moradi, Pishva, & Pouladi, 2011). In other words the way we deal with challenges now will influence the way we cope with similar situations in the future (Gembek, & Skinner, 2016).

Emotions like anxiety may motivate an individual to avoid situations perceived as threatening (Almeida, Cockshott, Greenwood, Hewlett, Kirwan, Lowe, & Richards, 2008). On the other hand a person who feels able to to regulate and tolerate negative emotions is less likely less likely to use avoidance coping strategies because they would not feel the need to avoid the stressful situation and would tend to prefer using positive reframing which is associated with less stress (Kleinert, et al., 2020).

Our choice of coping strategy can also be influenced by our level of emotional intelligence, gender, age, personality, self-efficacy, optimism, internal or external control resources, extroversion, confidence, environmental factors and social skills as well as the characteristics of the stressor. (Ehsan, et al., 2011, Kleinert, et al., 2020).

Efficacy and appraisal seem to be a particularly important factors in determining what coping strategies we use and their emotional outcomes. For example, if the individual is pessimistic, acceptance coping may be viewed as giving up, while if the individual is optimistic the same coping strategy may can be viewed as going with the flow (Almeida, et al., 2008, Ehsan, et al., 2011).

What is emotion?[edit | edit source]


Emotions are expressive, purposeful feelings and bodily responses that help us to adapt to opportunities and challenges in life. They can alert us to threats and rewards and have the power to motivate and guide our actions based on our thoughts, feelings, appraisals, schemas and interpretation of the situation (Chowdhury, 2020).  According to the cognitive perspective of emotion it is the appraisal of the stressor, not the stressor itself, that causes emotion and those conscious and unconscious thoughts are what determine our emotional reaction.  

These thoughts often include whether or not the situation was expected, whether it is positive or negative, our level of control, efficacy, over the situation, cause attribution and whether or not we can cope with it. During an emotional reaction the individual experiences bodily, attentional, cognitive and behavioural changes including tears, recollection of sad memories and withdrawal if the emotional reaction is sadness. The emotional reaction is then interpreted to determine the best way to respond to the problem. During this process the individual decides whether or not they can cope with the situation and if so how (Alkozei, Killgore, & Smith, 2017).

How emotions are triggered.png

Emotional intelligence and regulation[edit | edit source]

Emotional intelligence is our ability to observe and differentiate between feelings and emotions and use this information to inform our thoughts, activities and to create positive consequences in our relationships with ourselves and others (Ehsan, et al., 2011).

Emotion-regulation is a set of processes used to influence the emotions we have and our ability to effectively monitor, evaluate and modify negative emotions to cope with difficult situations (Chowdhury, M, R., 2020, Kleinert, et al., 2020, Ong & Thompson, 2019, Richardson, & Rolston, 2020).

The emotion regulation process[edit | edit source]

The emotion regulation process model includes cognitive reappraisal and expressive suppression (Ong & Thompson, 2019).

-Cognitive appraisal is used before an emotional response has been fully generated and attempts to reinterpret a stressful situation in a way that changes the meaning and emotional impact of the stressor and is associated with positive emotional coping (Stanislawski, 2019).

-Expressive suppression is a response focused strategy that acts later in the emotion generation process and attempts to hide or reduce the emotion evoked by the stressful situation. It is not useful at reducing the experience of negative emotions but can limit the expression of behaviours associated with the negative emotions and is related to problem-focussed and avoidance coping strategies (Stanislawski, 2019).

Emotions can be regulated at various points throughout the processing of an emotional response by modifying the situation, altering our attention and thoughts about the situation (Given, Lehto, & Wierenga, 2017). Emotional regulation strategy choices made during emotional episodes are known as proactive strategies, while strategy choices made after an emotional episode are called reactive strategies. Proactive strategies include avoiding the situation or making it less likely to happen, trying to gain control over the situation, distraction or rumination or changing the way we think about the situation in hopes of reducing its emotional impact. Reactive strategies usually involve suppression of the feelings or bodily responses of the emotion.

Proactive Strategies Reactive Strategies
Situation Selection: taking action to make the emotional experience less likely to occur or avoiding it.

Situation Modification: efforts to gain control over the situation. Problem-focused coping.

Attentional Focus: distracting oneself from the situation or thinking too much on the situation.

Reappraisal: changing the way we think about the situation in order to reduce its emotional impact.  

Suppression: efforts to lessen the feeling or bodily response associated with the emotion. For example taking a deep breath.

Why emotional regulation is important[edit | edit source]

Emotion regulation skills help us to be more self-aware, mindful and gain a broader and better perception of our problems allowing us to react more positively, adapt and actively modify or accept our emotions in order to feel better and increase our tolerance to negative emotions and stress. These skills are important for preventing chronic stress, promoting psychological health and development of executive cognitive functions and social competence (Chowdhury, M, R., 2020, Hjemdal,et al., 2018, Kleinert, et al., 2020).

Emotional regulation skill predicts the individual’s ability to function and cope and has been found to have a positive correlation with hope and self-esteem (Austenfeld & Stanton, 2004).  It can also minimise cognitive dissonance, negative psychological symptoms and burnout and allow the individual to tolerate uncertainty, refocus and make more accurate appraisals of a stressful situation (Given, Lehto, & Wierenga, 2017, Kleinert, et al., 2020).

Problems associated with poor emotional regulation[edit | edit source]

Healthy emotion regulation strategies can help to diffuse strong emotions while unhealthy emotion regulation strategies may leave lasting damage and no resolution (Richardson, & Rolston, 2020).

Healthy Emotion Regulation Strategies Unhealthy Emotion Regulation Strategies
-Talking with friends


-keeping a journal



-taking care of self when unwell

-getting enough sleep

-Taking a break when needed


-Abusing alcohol or drugs


-avoiding difficult situations

-physical or verbal aggression

-excessive social media use in place of other responsibilities

People with poor emotional regulation tend to have trouble acquiring social support in stressful situations and are more likely to use more avoidance-focused coping strategies and expressive suppression which are associated with higher levels of internalising symptoms, anxiety, depression and suicide risk (Ehsan, et al., 2011, Hjemdal,et al., 2018, Ong & Thompson, 2019).

What is the relationship between coping and emotion?[edit | edit source]

Coping and emotion are distinct but closely related constructs that share several functions and goals including the process of emotion regulation.

Coping processes include procedures used to manage emotions, reduce distress and maintain positive emotions and is sometimes considered a special category of emotion regulation because its primary aim is to reduce or eliminate the impact stress or regulate emotion (Almeida, et al., 2008, Compas, Jaser, & Williams, 2014, Ehsan, et al., 2011, Hjemdal, et al., 2018, Ong & Thompson, 2019, Williams, 2018).

It has been suggested that, in the relationship between coping and emotion, the coping strategy used is the independent variable and the emotional outcome from using that particular coping strategy is the dependent variable as it provides a way of measuring the effectiveness of the coping strategy (Almeida, et al., 2008).

  1. Emotion as an antecedent of coping: Emotion precedes, influences and motivates coping by alerting us that there is a problem.
  2. Coping as a function of emotion regulation: Coping functions as a form of emotion regulation either remedying the problem or altering the emotional response to the stressor. The coping strategy used is determined by the individual’s sense of efficacy, appraisal and interpretation of the emotion.
  3. Emotion as a consequence or measure of the effectiveness of the coping strategy: The resulting emotion following the use of a coping strategy is a measure of the effectiveness of the coping strategy.  

The relationship between coping and emotion.png

The impact of coping on emotional outcomes depends on underlying efficacy appraisals, optimism or pessimism such that those who regularly experience overwhelming negative emotions are much more likely to use unhealthy emotion regulation and coping strategies resulting in worse or no change in the situation (Richardson, & Rolston, 2020)(Almeida, et al., 2008).

Some research has combined emotional regulation and coping strategies indicating that there is similarity or overlap between the two. According to this research emotion regulation and coping strategies can be divided into adaptive and maladaptive strategies (Gorgen, Hiller, & Witthoft, 2014).

Adaptive emotion regulation and coping strategies Maladaptive emotion regulation and coping strategies

-Positive refocusing



-putting things into perspective



-Blaming of self or others

-Emotional suppression


Conclusion[edit | edit source]

Coping and emotion are distinct but interconnected constructs that influence, motivate and validated each other.

Our ability to cope and regulate emotions effectively is important for building resilience to life stressors and understanding the relationship between coping and emotion can help to determine ways of preventing and treating behavioural and mental disorders (Compas,et al., 2014, Ehsan, et al., 2011, Ong & Thompson, 2019).

Learning how to understand the relationship between our thoughts, emotions, behaviours and coping skills is very important. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy addresses this relationship and can be very beneficial for those who have poor emotional regulation and maladaptive coping styles (Compas,et al., 2014, Richardson, & Rolston, 2020).

Better self-efficacy improves outcomes from coping and emotional regulation techniques learned in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Self Efficacy is the belief that we can or can’t do something. These beliefs are based on our own personal behaviour history, experiences and social appraisal but can be changed or enhanced through therapy.  Efficacy can also determine the extent to which we cope in stressful situations and whether we address (problem focused coping) or avoid the problem (Almeida, et al., 2008).

See also[edit | edit source]

References[edit | edit source]

Adeyemo, S., Ijarogbe, G. T., Obembe, O. B., & Ogun, O. C. (2019). The relationship between coping styles and depression among caregivers of children with cerebral palsy in Nigeria, West Africa. Archive of Clinical Psychiatry, 46 (6). 145-150.

doi: 10.1590/0101-6083000000215

Alkozei, A., Killgore, W., & Sith, R. (2017). How Do Emotions Work? Frontiers for Young Minds. 5(69). doi: 10.3389/frym.2017.00069

Almeida, C., Cockshott, Z., Greenwood, R., Hewlett, S., Kirwan, J. R., Lowe, R., & Richards, P. (2008). Self-efficacy as an appraisal that moderates the coping-emotion relationship: Associations among people with rheumatoid arthritis. Psychology and Health. 23(2). 155-174. doi: 10.1080/14768320601139160

Austenfeld, J. L., & Stanton, A. L. (2004). Coping Through Emotional Approach: A New Look at Emotion, Coping and Health-Related Outcomes. Journal of Personality. 72(6).

Beyond Blue

Brief COPE. Retrieved October 21, 2020 from,

Chowdhury, M, R. What is Emotion Regulation? Retrieved October 20, 2020 from,

Compas, B. E., Jaser, S. S., & Williams, E. K. (2014). Coping and Emotion from Childhood to Early Adulthood: Points of Convergence and Divergence. Aust Journal of Psychology. 66(2). 71-81. Doi:10.1111/ajpy.12043

Dubow, E. F., and Rubinlincht, M. (2011). Encyclopaedia of Adolescence.

Ehsan, H. B., Hadadi, P., Moradi, A., Pishva, N., & Pouladi, F. (2011). The Relationship between Coping strategies and Emotional Intelligence. Social and Behavioural Sciences. 30. 748-751. doi: 10.1016/j.sbspro.2011.10.146

Engstrom, M., Kristofferzon, M. J., & Nilsson, A. (2018). Coping mediates the relationship between sense of coherence and mental quality of life in patients with chronic illness: a cross-sectional study. Quality of Life Research. 27. 1855-1863. doi: 10.1007/s11136-018-1845-0

Gembek, M. J. Z, & Skinner, E. A. (2016). The Development of Coping: Implications for Psychopathology and Resilience. Risk, Resilience and Intervention. 4. doi: 10.1002/9781119125556.devpsy410

Given, B., Lehto, R. H., & Wierenga, K. L. (2017). Emotion Regulation in Chronic Disease Populations: An Integrative Review. Res Theory Nurs Pract. 31(3). 247-271. doi: 10.1891/1541-6577.31.3.247

Gorgen, S. M., Hiller, W., & Witthoft, M. (2014). Health Anxiety, Cognitive Coping and Emotion Regulation: A Latent Variable Approach. International Society of Behavioural Medicine. 21. 364-374. doi: 10.1007/s12529-013-9297-y

Hang, Y., Huijie, L., Jingjin, S., Qinghua, Z., & Weiping, D. (2019). Commonalities and differences in Psychological Adjustment to Chronic Illnesses Among Older Adults: a Comparative Study Based on the Stress and Coping Paradigm. International Journal of Behavioural Medicine. 26(2). 143-153. doi: 10.1007/s12529-019-09773-8

Hjemdal, O., Holen, S., Loevaas, M. E. S., Martinsen, K., Neumer, S. P., Patras, J., Reinfjell, T., & Sund, A. M. (2018). Emotion regulation and its relation to symptoms of anxiety and depression in children aged 8-12 years: does parental gender play a differentiating role? BMC Psychology. 6(42).

Kleinert, J., Pils, F., & Schafer, A. (2020). Coping strategies as mediators within the relationship between emotion-regulation and perceived stress in teachers. International Journal of Emotional Education. 12. 35-47.

Kutlu, M., Musabak, I., & Tuncay, T. (2008). The relationship between anxiety, coping strategies and characteristics of patients with diabetes. Health and Quality of Life Outcomes. 6(79). doi: 10.1186/1477-7525-6-79

Ong, E., & Thompson, C. (2019). The Importance of Coping and Emotion Regulation in the Occurrence of Suicidal Behaviour. Mental & Physical Health. 122(4). 1192-1210. doi: 10.1177/0033294118781855

Richardson, E. L., & Rolston, A. (2020). What is emotion regulation and how do we do it? Cornell Research Program.

Stanislawski, K. (2019). The Coping Circumplex Model: An Integrative Model of the Structure of Coping With Stress. Frontiers in Psychology. 
doi: 10.3389/fpsyg

Williams, S. (2018). 6 Keys to the Good Life: #5 Coping Skills. Retrieved on October 19th 2020 from

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