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A coping skill is a behavioral tool which may be used by individuals to offset or overcome adversity, disadvantage, or disability without correcting or eliminating the underlying condition.

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Defined

Virtually all living beings routinely utilize coping skills in daily life. These are perhaps most noticeable in response to physical disabilities. An easy example of the use of coping skills in the animal kingdom are three-legged dogs, which typically learn to overcome the obvious disability to become as agile and mobile as their four-legged counterparts, whether born with the disability, or having received it due to an injury.

When helping humans deal with specific problems, professional counselors have found that a focus of attention on coping skills (with or without remedial action) often helps individuals. The range of successful coping skills varies widely with the problems to be overcome. However, the learning and practice of coping skills are generally regarded as very helpful to most individuals. Even the sharing of learned coping skills with others is often beneficial.

Coping mechanisms

One group of coping skills are coping mechanisms, defined as the skills used to reduce stress. In psychological terms, these are consciously used skills and defense mechanisms are their unconscious counterpart. Overuse of coping mechanisms (such as avoiding problems or working obsessively) and defense mechanisms (such as denial and projection) may exacerbate one's problem rather than remedy it.

There are two primary styles of coping with problems such as stress.

Action-based coping

Action-based coping involves actually dealing with a problem that is causing stress. Examples can include getting a second job in the face of financial difficulties, or studying to prepare for exams. Examples of action-based coping include planning, suppression of competing activities, confrontation, self-control, and restraint.

Emotion-based coping

Emotion-based coping skills reduce the symptoms of stress without addressing the source of the stress. Sleeping or discussing the stress with a friend are all emotion-based coping strategies. Other examples include denial, repression, wishful thinking, distraction, relaxation, reappraisal, and humor. There are both positive and negative coping methods.

Harmful coping methods

Some coping methods are more like habits than skills, and can be harmful. Overused, they may actually worsen one's condition. Alcohol, cocaine and other drugs may provide temporary escape from one's problems, but, with excess use, ultimately result in greater problems.

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