In common parlance, "coping" is often used to suggest that individuals are handling stress well or that they have the situation under control. However, most health psychologists who study stress and coping would define coping broadly to include all thoughts and behaviors that occur in response to a stressful experience, whether the person is handling the situation well or poorly. Coping includes what we do and think in response to a stressor, even if we are unaware of why or what we are doing. This broad definition is important for two reasons. First, if we limit the definition of coping to thoughts and behaviors that the individual purposefully and intentionally engages in as a way of handling the stressful situation, we may exclude a wide array of responses that typically remain outside of awareness. These can include, for example, believing in unrealistically positive illusions, escaping through the use of alcohol and other drugs, or fleeing from stress in one area of life (e.g., family) by immersing oneself in some unrelated activity (e.g., work). Second, this definition of coping does not assume a priori that some forms of coping are bad and others are good. All of the person's responses to the stressor are considered coping, whether or not they help to resolve the situation. This is important, as in recent years researchers have found that many forms of coping that have traditionally been considered bad coping, such as escape-avoidance, may actually have beneficial effects when coping with certain types of stressors under specific circumstances.
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