Problem-focused coping includes those forms of coping that are geared directly toward solving the problem or changing the stressful situation. Most of the research examining problem-focused coping has been on planful problem-solving. Coping strategies based on planful problem-solving involve conscious attempts to determine and execute the most appropriate course of action needed to directly prevent, eliminate, or significantly improve a stressful situation. Making a plan of action and following it is an example of the sort of cool deliberate strategy that typifies this form of coping. Although the primary effect of problem-focused modes of coping is to change or eliminate the stressful environment, it is not unusual for such coping to result inadvertently in a reduction in negative affect and/or an increase in positive affect (e.g., devising and carrying out a plan to finish a task that one has felt pressured to complete). The increase in positive affect following the use of planful problem-solving may be the result of an improvement both in the way one perceives the stressful situation and in the direct changes in the stressful situation itself. In general, planful problemsolving tends to be associated with less negative emotion, more positive emotion, positive reappraisals of the stressful situation, and satisfactory outcomes.
Important moderators of this strategy and its influence on psychological well-being have been documented. First, it appears that individuals engage in a higher use of planful problem-solving when they per
Coping with Stress ceive a situation or encounter as one in which something can be changed for the better. Furthermore, the use of this strategy in uncontrollable or unchangeable situations seems to have a negative impact on psychological health. It appears that pursuing a futile course of action can interfere with the adaptive function of accepting those things that cannot be changed or altered. Second, when a loved one has something to lose in a stressful situation, individuals tend to use lower amounts of planful problem-solving than when a loved one does not have something to lose. Individuals seem to experience difficulty formulating a plan of action when coping with the added emotional distress invoked by concern for a loved one's well-being. Third, when the stress occurs at work, individuals tend to use higher levels of planful problem-solving. In this context, many forms of emotion-focused coping strategies may be viewed as ineffective and socially inappropriate.
In summary, in situations that require a course of action to minimize or reduce stress, the individual may be better off engaging in planful problem-solving efforts rather than in emotion-focused strategies such as denial. Such efforts will more likely improve the interactions between an individual and their environment, and have a positive impact on well-being.
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