The concept of coping is fascinating because it analyses the way in which an individual responds to a situation, as well as whether or not it is effective. Lazarus and Folkman (1984) defined coping as the "constantly changing cognitive and behavioural efforts made by individuals to manage specific external and/or internal demands that are appraised as taxing or exceeding the resources of the person". This essay will cover the many perspectives on the subject of coping, from the cognitive viewpoint to the more comprehensive biopsychosocial theory. It will also detail the characteristics of adaptive copers and the effective strategies they use, as well as comparing and contrasting these with patterns that are generally considered maladaptive.
The first published theory of coping was imagined by Lazarus (1984), who ascribed to the cognitive viewpoint. Lazarus was interested in the concept of stress as a transaction, and suggested that people go through stages of appraisal. The first stage is where the individual determines whether or not the event is a threat. If the event is identified as threatening, the individual then evaluates their ability to cope with the stressor. These evaluations are repeated regularly to ensure continued accuracy, especially as the individual attempts to deal with the stressor. Dienstbier (1989) refined this theory so that the term "stress" pertained only to negative outcomes, whereas the term "challenge" was introduced in reference to transactions which could lead to either a positive or negative outcome. The distinction was important because these outcomes resulted in different physiological responses. Frankenhaeuser (1986) discovered that these responses were tied to the level of dissatisfaction the individual was experiencing in relation to the amount of effort they were expending to reduce this dissatisfaction. The cognitive perspective on coping is mainly aimed at chronic stressors, and helps to explain why people perceive potential stressors differently.
Lazarus also held that coping could have either be emotion-based or focussed on problem-solving. Both of these methods are valid and useful, depending on the situation. Problem-solving is widely regarded as the most logical progression, however emotion-based coping is often an intermediary step towards this method. In some situations, emotion-based coping can even be more effective as a complete solution. Pennebaker (1995) was a strong follower of this view, and believed that it was best to "let out" the stress. In some cases, this is probably accurate, however more recent research (Davidson & Mostofsky, 2010) has discovered that releasing anger by screaming and punching things is more likely to intensify the emotion and lead to heart disease than it is to act cathartically.
Psychodynamic perspectives on coping were less popular than those from the cognitive persuasion, however they still made some interesting points. Fenichel (1946/1995) suggested that...