3. Coping strategies

What are coping strategies?

It is almost impossible to predict how one person will respond to stress and trauma at any particular time. Some people are capable of dealing with tremendous pressure and can even thrive on it. Others, however, will find themselves overwhelmed by apparently trivial developments.

Our reaction to stressful events is determined by a host of different factors, including the scale of the events themselves (e.g. were they life threatening) and the circumstances of our life when they occurred (e.g. were you already stressed by other factors).

But perhaps the most crucial indicator of how we deal with stress and trauma is the quality of our coping strategies. The more effectively we are able to respond to stress, and minimise the anxiety that comes along with it, the more resilient we will become in the long term.

Both cumulative and acute stress have the capacity to undermine our ability to function. Trauma can put a stop to everything. The ways we find to cope, however, will have a critical impact on our ability to recover and return to a productive, functioning life.

Trauma Tip

There are essentially two types of coping strategy:


These involve activities or mental states, such as alcohol use or emotional withdrawal, that are aimed at distancing ourselves from the stress that we might be experiencing. While they might alleviate anxiety in the short-term, they tend to compound the stress in the long-term by leaving the underlying causes unaddressed. They are also known as defence mechanisms. See the What Not To Do section for more information


These essentially give us the opportunity to take responsibility for our situation, either by changing the nature of the stress that we are experiencing (e.g. taking a break, reorganising our work schedule), or by addressing the way we are responding to the stress (e.g. talking it over with friends, staying fit and healthy). See the Practical Self-Care section for more information


Keeping physically fit will ensure thatyou are able to cope with stressful and traumatic events. True or False?

Sorry, wrong answer! Try again

Right answer! While physical exercise certainly helps address the build-up of stress, people's capacity to cope is also determined by a host of other factors, including pre-existing vulnerabilities, family circumstances and the scale of the stressful event.

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