Learning about our own coping strategies

Sure, no two people are alike, and emotional lives are complex. But recent research suggests that most people manage their feelings in ways that can be classified into three core groups.

The study was published in the journal Psychological Bulletin, conducted by Dr Kristin Naragon-Gainey. She is an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo’s Department of Psychology and an expert on emotion and how it is changed in mood and anxiety disorders. She and her team examined hundreds of studies that reported correlations between various strategies for emotion regulation, searching for relationships among them. Their findings show that most people tend to use multiple emotional coping strategies, which can be grouped into three main categories:

  • Evaders.
    The first group incorporated concepts such as avoidance or distraction. These situations occur when someone is not in the present moment. Naragon-Gainey says, “Your thoughts and attention are elsewhere and you’re trying to feel better through that.”
  • The Ruminators.
    The next group stays fixated on negative thoughts, where self-blame and failure keep cycling back. Lying awake at two a.m., thinking, “Why did I say that? I sounded so stupid,” is an example of this. (For more on this subject, see our column, 
    “How to Finally Stop Ruminating.” )
  • Problem Solvers.
    The third group employs strategies such as acceptance and problem-solving, which could be more useful in a wide variety of situations.

Naragon-Gainey hopes the groupings will be useful for therapists, the “clinicians who are trying to better characterize the nature of the emotion regulation difficulties their clients are having.” For example, “If a therapist has a client who is using drugs or alcohol to change their emotions in some way this research may help identify if that client is lacking in other skills.”

Yet the groupings can also be useful information for us laypeople, as it gives insight into our thought processes and how we deal with emotions on a daily basis.

“The 3 Ways People Manage Emotions” by Kathryn Drury Wagner was originally published on Spirituality & Health.

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