From Our Resiliency Blog Series: The Science & Spirit Of Resiliency: Building A Stronger You (Full list of 8 blogs)
This blog details various coping styles for both positive and negative events, emphasizing the role of coping styles in managing stressors. Coping involves responding to stress and conflict, with strategies differing based on individual responses.
The concepts of resilience and coping are interconnected but distinct, as resilience encompasses positive event focus, cognitive evaluation, and more.
In terms of coping (dealing) with both positive and negative events – this blog explores what positive psychology (PP) literature calls adaptive and maladaptive coping styles, addressing control, and examining the concept of surrender. Adaptive coping aligns controllability with strategies, including active coping and surrender. Active coping involves problem-solving and addressing emotions in situations with limited control. Surrender involves acknowledging the unchangeable.
Additionally, we explore savoring positive events, outlining strategies like gratitude, capitalization, behavioral expression, self-congratulation, sensory-perceptual sharpening, and memory building to enhance well-being.
In positive psychology literature, coping involves managing demands from stressors.
Effective coping entails mastering, minimizing, or enduring stress and conflict. Some PP scholars propose viewing positive events as opportunities for coping too.
Here, coping encompasses self-regulatory processes for responding to significant events. Just as negative events impact well-being negatively, positive events can enhance it. The impact of events hinges on individual responses.
In facing life’s tests, people’s responses differ. Some yield to despair, while others confront trials with hope and determination. Resilience and coping, though interconnected, hold distinct roles.
Coping involves managing demanding external pressures that strain or exceed one’s capacities.
Coping essentially outlines how you react to tough situations.
Limited resilience leads to struggles in handling hardships, impeding recovery. Conversely, resilient individuals employ effective coping strategies against adversity.
Resilience goes beyond coping, encompassing it alongside elements like positive event focus and cognitive evaluation (from earlier discussion), among others. Thus, one’s resilience shapes event perception, while coping relates to strategies post-event appraisal.
Coping styles that will be explored in the next section:
1 – Maladaptive patterns indicative of lower levels of resilience and
2 – Adaptive methods that have been tied to resilience.
Strengthening and increasing one’s sense of control or mastery ranks among the foremost goals in therapy, with the aim not solely to resolve all challenges, but to enhance self-directed problem-solving.
Research underscores the correlation between a sense of control and happiness, well-being, and job contentment.
Perceived control also intertwines with stress management, pain tolerance, and serves as a bulwark against detrimental emotions fueling despondency and indifference.
Conversely, loss of perceived control aligns with depression and psychiatric disorders.
While personal control often eludes people’s estimation, its extent varies in different scenarios. Strikingly, relinquishing control can sometimes enhance personal agency. A “healthy” level of personal control hinges on a realistic grasp of one’s boundaries and potential.
Maladaptive coping arises when coping strategies misalign with the situation’s controllability.
Further insights into these two maladaptive coping styles follow.
Amid the significance of personal control, fostering it is vital for most people. However, overcontrol happens when one overestimates their influence over an event. Notably, research has linked overcontrol to conditions like obsessive-compulsive tendencies. Notably, perfectionists tend to fixate on uncontrollable facets of unmet goals.
One study suggests that self-control might be better conceptualized as self-regulation, i.e., the ability to regulate oneself well in response to goals, priorities, and environmental demands. Rigid overcontrolling individuals suffer from problems regulating and directing their capacity for self-control. On the flip side, individuals with a high level of self-control can exert self-control when required and suspend self-control when its not required.
Ironically, many people invest extensive effort in managing aspects beyond their actual control, be it relationships, thoughts, sleep, or health. Despite influence existing, control over others’ thoughts, actions, and responses is often limited. A paradox of control’s limitations is also evidenced in studies. Insomniacs strive to control pre-sleep thoughts more than good sleepers, yet this exacerbates sleep difficulties. Attempting thought control paradoxically heightens subsequent thought frequency.
Overcontrol often entails obsessive thinking. Striving to command the uncontrollable, individuals engage in mental problem-solving. Ensnared by thoughts and visions of unlikely catastrophes, they become entangled in ceaseless cycles of rumination.
In conclusion, the aforementioned insights underscore the importance of relinquishing ineffective control as a vital skill for well-being.
Under control, also termed passive coping, reflects reduced effort of control over situations, at times, even relinquishing it entirely. Unlike overcontrol, where individuals take on immense responsibility to modify situations, those employing passive coping disavow responsibility and surrender control over stress and reactions to external parties. This externalization begets helplessness.
Passive coping links to unfavorable outcomes, depression, and poor psychological adjustment. Instances of passive coping involve seeking empathy or aid through complaints, retreat from challenges, or resorting to self-medication (illicit drugs or excessive alcohol) to navigate distress.
Adaptive coping are situations with a match between the controllability of the stressful situation and the coping strategy.
Essentially, it involves investing effort where personal control is viable and refraining from futile actions. This approach circumvents both under control and overcontrol.
A robust sense of personal control emerges from actively exerting influence when effective and relinquishing it when counterproductive. This discernment correlates with fewer psychological symptoms compared to its absence.
The ensuing discussion delves into two adaptive coping techniques: active coping and surrender.
Even when altering a situation is implausible, embracing an active approach remains viable.
Active coping involves problem-solving strategies, directing actions to tackle stressors and mitigate their impact.
These strategies aim to either reshape the stressor’s nature or transform cognitive and emotional responses.
Active copers rely on personal resources to face challenges, such as:
1 – Problem-solving
2 – Extra effort
3 – Seeking knowledge or
4 – Reframing issues (see our upcoming resiliency blog on reframing)
It stands as a resilient strategy against stress, health concerns, and adversity.
Amid difficulties, active coping is pivotal, focusing on controllable aspects.
In scenarios with little control, this involves addressing emotions (emotion-focused coping) rather than environmental elements (problem-focused coping). Research underscores the effectiveness of emotion-focused coping in low-control situations.
In social contexts, active coping can encompass open communication about one’s emotions.
It’s essential to note that this involves taking full ownership of emotions arising from uncontrollable situations, refraining from manipulating the situation through emotional expression. Instead, the aim is to convey the repercussions of actions and the intent to enhance the situation for all parties.
In essence, effective coping amidst uncontrollable circumstances demands recognizing limited influence on the external world and choosing how to manage emotions stemming from the situation.
Personal Life Example: Active Coping – A person employing active coping resembles someone directing their life skillfully through turbulent times. This person, neither overestimating nor underestimating their control, accurately comprehends their capacity to stay on course in their daily life affairs. Sometimes, this entails taking control and expertly navigating through adversity. On other occasions, he/she might relinquish control to safeguard self and/or others’ well-being, such as letting go of asserting one’s opinion in an argument during heavy conditions, prioritizing your health over staying the course etc.
Overestimating control can backfire – when facing utterly uncontrollable situations, the wisest response might involve letting go and embracing the circumstance. This includes events like the loss of a loved one, violent assault, or life-threatening illness. Less extreme instances involve being unable to control sleep, influence others’ thoughts, or stop thoughts from occurring. In these cases, control attempts can prove fruitless or even counterproductive. Trying to control sleep can lead to wakefulness, and attempting to halt thoughts might intensify them.
The solution isn’t less control, but rather surrendering to the unchangeable and acknowledging its immutable nature.
Surrender differs from emotional overwhelm or external control. Unlike overtaken feelings, surrender is a deliberate, intentional choice. Unlike giving up, it’s about releasing futile control attempts over the uncontrollable while focusing on manageable aspects within personal influence. It’s a shift from unproductive efforts to what’s manageable.
Unlike coping with negatives, coping (dealing) with positive events enhances enjoyment—a process known as “savoring” in PP. Savoring involves relishing past, present, and future positives, cultivating a sense of control over positive emotions.
This intentional approach generates happiness, optimism, life satisfaction, and reduces depressive symptoms according to PP research.
Three savoring components have been identified in PP:
1 – Experience
2 – Process and
3 – Strategy.
Savoring experience encapsulates sensations, thoughts, behaviors, and emotions when appreciating positives mindfully. The savoring process involves evolving mental and physical shifts that turn positive stimuli into savored feelings.
Savoring strategies encompass deliberate thoughts or actions in response to positives, intensifying or moderating positive feelings.
Amplifying strategies include the following:
While some view gratitude as an emotion solely tied to appreciating others’ help, another stance highlights its broader essence. In this view, gratitude signifies a life orientation towards noticing and valuing positivity in the world.
Grateful individuals consciously acknowledge positive occurrences. Highly grateful people might experience and express gratitude more intensely, frequently, or effortlessly.
Research has demonstrated that heightened gratitude aligns with numerous positive outcomes: well-being, autonomy, personal growth, environmental mastery, purpose in life, and self-acceptance.
This trait is trainable as evidenced by various studies. E.g., in one study, participants kept weekly journals for 10 weeks, noting their mood, health, and life experience. Divided into gratitude, hassle, and events groups, the gratitude group documented five things they were grateful for each week. Notably, the gratitude group reported fewer health complaints, with notably reduced physical illness symptoms compared to the other two groups. Moreover, the gratitude group spent significantly more time exercising compared to the hassle group.
Capitalization involves socially sharing positive events. One common response to positive occurrences is sharing them with others. In a PP study, participants recalled desired achievements and described their subsequent actions. Remarkably, over 80% spontaneously mentioned sharing or desiring to share their elation with others. Moreover, research reveals that 60% to 80% of individuals share their daily highlights with at least one other person.
Sharing positive events has an intriguing twist—studies reveal it can amplify positive emotions beyond the event itself.
Sharing necessitates retelling, allowing reliving the event. Additionally, recounting revives the event, enhancing memory salience. Lastly, listeners’ validation cultivates pleasurable interactions, enriching the experience.
The facial feedback hypothesis suggests that our emotional experience during an event can be intensified or subdued through corresponding facial muscle activity.
Studies support this idea by showing that altering typical facial responses to events can influence how we perceive them.
In a PP study, participants wore surface electrodes on their eyebrows, mouth corners, and jaws while viewing positive and negative slides. They were instructed to lightly touch and contract these muscles to evoke emotions. Surprisingly, this simple manipulation led to smiles or frowns without explicit emotional cues. Smiling participants felt happier watching positive slides (children playing), while frowning participants experienced increased anger with negative slides.
Self-congratulation is a cognitive form of savoring where one reflects on their pride in themselves. It’s applicable to positive events where the person believes they influenced the event’s occurrence, like acing an exam or completing a marathon. The stronger personal responsibility for a positive event the greater the increase in engagement in self-congratulatory savoring, among other strategies.
Note, although relishing milestones can elevate positive emotions, excessive boasting can come across as arrogance to others, leading to negative social outcomes.
Another savoring approach is sensory-perceptual sharpening, involving consciously focusing on the present moment to heighten the positive experience. How attention is directed during positive events significantly impacts emotional experience.
Mindfulness, the capacity to be fully present, has demonstrated this effect.
PP studies have observed that individuals with a history of depression who underwent mindfulness training reported increased occurrence of positive emotions and greater appreciation for and responsiveness to enjoyable daily activities.
Personal Life Example: Attuned to the present joys of your daily life journey, fully embracing a positive experience involves briefly letting go of the wheel in your life, pausing, and immersing yourself in sensations: for example, the breeze, the sun’s warmth, and bodily comfort.
Mindfully watching a positive film correlated with heightened positive emotions in a PP study. Sensory-perceptual sharpening is tied to an event’s duration; one study revealed that longer-lasting positive events are linked to increased use of this strategy for savoring. Altogether, these findings emphasize the significance of “experiential immersion” in intensifying positive emotions.
Memory building involves actively anchoring pleasurable details of a positive event in memory for later recall and savoring. This can be done through techniques like mental snapshots, collecting memorabilia, or journaling.
Recalling these memories later can elevate happiness. For instance, one study showed that participants who reminisced twice daily using imagery or memorabilia reported increased happiness compared to those thinking about current events.
Another experiment found that individuals who documented three good things daily for a week experienced prolonged happiness boosts even months later, compared to those who recalled childhood memories. These findings highlight the effectiveness of memory building in sustaining positive experiences’ benefits over time.
Below are positive psychology activities to help you develop greater resiliency:
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Until next blog, stay resilient and keep learning!
Written by Cynthia Aisha Meguid
Well-Being – Author, Educator, Consultant & Coach