Problem Focused Coping (What is it)

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This blog post will explore what Problem Focused Coping is and what are the various techniques of problem focused coping. 

We will also briefly discuss what coping is and what are the two kinds of coping styles that have been identified. 

What is Problem Focused coping?

Problem Focused coping is one of the two coping styles identified by Lazarus and Folkman (1984) in their book Stress, appraisal and coping. 

It refers to a stress management strategy that involves direct confrontation of the stressor in an attempt to decrease or eliminate the stress or source of stress.’

This style of coping involves actively developing a problem solving strategy to identify and apply various possible solutions to the problem as well as confronting the source of the problem.

It also involves developing action steps to tackle the problem as a way to cope and this form of coping is generally overseen in people who are able to identify when the stressor is within their own capacity to change. 

One example of problem focused coping is:

When a student is anxious about an exam, they cope by struging more, reviewing their materials, attending classes, managing time to study etc. 

Problem-focused coping involves targeting the cause of stress in a practical and systematic way and these streets often include:

  • Weighing the pros and cons
  • Time-management.
  • Obtaining social support.

In general problem-focused coping is an effective way to remove and cope with stressors as it deals with the root of the problem and provides long term solutions in most cases. 

These strategies of coping are often seen to apply well to medical conditions ever, they might not be as effective for various situations that are emotionally weighted such as loss and grief.

This problem focused coping style does not work in situations where the capacity of control and ability to remove stress is less than the demands of the stress so they work best when the person can do something that can influence the source of stress- for example, an exam. 

It is a form of coping that is most suitable for people who are optimistic whereas people who are more pessimistic do better with other forms of coping as not everyone’s the same. 

What is Coping?

Coping refers to the way an individual responds to a stressor which is often related to a negative experience. 

Coping styles of individuals differ and people may adopt various styles- a combination of many styles or one single style of coping. 

There are two notable styles of coping that has been identified by Lazarus and Folkman (1984):

Problem-focus coping styles and emotion-focused coping styles. 

Problem Focused coping style

People who use the problem focused approach tend to deal with the source of the problem by confronting it head on and tackling the source of stress. 

This is often done by learning new information about the issues, learning new skills to manage the problem, seeking out support from others, as well as managing their time to better handle the problem. 

It is characterised by the following:

  • taking control of the situation
  • Information seeking of the situation.
  • Evaluating pros and cons of the given situation.

Problem-focused coping strategies are similar to problem solving strategies used in everyday life and often involves the process of identifying the problem, considering the possible outcomes, weighing the pros and cons, and then considering alternative solutions before applying the solutions. 

Emotional Coping style

In the case of people who use emotion focused coping styles, their way of coping is to manage the emotional response to their perception of the event that is causing stress.

This particular coping style includes efforts such as avoiding the problem, minimising it, or distancing oneself from the problem.

It can also include positive comparisons with others or seeking positivity in a negative event, it generally involves some kind of self-deception to help an individual cope with the stressor and the sense of threat. 

The main aim of this approach is to minimise the feelings associated with the stress and the process of coping involves:

  • Avoiding the situation
  • Managing the emotional response via relaxation, medication etc.
  • Accepting the situation for what it is. 
  • Distraction
  • Emotional disclosure via expressing one’s emotions.
  • Praying for guidance and strength to a higher power.

In the case of both coping styles, many people use both forms of coping styles based on context and situation.

The Problem solving approach is more suitable and more likely applied when the individual encounter stresses that they perceive as controllable or something they can do to inc=fleuce change. 

Whereas, emotional coping can be used for uncontrollable stressors where a person feels powerless to cope with or to change their circumstances. 

 For example, a person may use the problem focused coping style for professional stressors whereas use the emotional coping style for stress that involves personal loss and grief. 

What are the various Problem Focused Coping techniques?

The various techniques of problem focused coping include:

Time Management

This coping strategy is an active form of problem focused coping style where an individual has been able to identify that what they have in their control is time, thus actively managing time so as to help them acquire skills and knowledge to help them solve the problem. 

In time management, one’s time is organised efficiently and allotted to different tasks in a way that is manageable and realistic so that they have enough time to be able to do things that alleviate the stress, reduce the stressor, or completely eliminate the stressor. 

Develop strategy and plan of action

The most obvious ways to cope using a problem focused coping approach is to spend time devising a strategy to help you cope with the stressor by removing or reducing the source of stress. 

This involves actively preparing a plan of action that allows you to reduce your exposure to the stressor, the time you struggle with the stressor, assess your resources to deal with the stressor, as well as a plan to help you effectively apply the strategy and evaluate the impact of the strategy.

Weighing pros and cons

Another way of coping with stressors is to actively weigh the pros and cons of various strategies that they might develop to cope with the stress or eliminate the stressor. 

This is an active contemplation of whether the various strategies they have come up with can be an active problem solving plan or not. It also allows individuals to consider which plan of action is most effective and what they can apply for the best results. 

Ask for Support

Problem focused approach also involves seeking support when the individual thinks that the demands of the stressor overwhelmed their own personal resources. 

The main goal is to reduce or remove the stressor and if extra help can get it done then, seeking support from others by delegating tasks, removing stressors from our own plate and giving it togethers etc can be another way to cope.

This process is not avoiding the problem but rather a way to help people work with others and solve the problem in a more efficient way instead of struggling with it alone. 

Consider outcomes

Another technique is to visualise and consider the possible outcomes of the problem and the strategy applied to resolve this problem and remove, reduce the stressor. 

This technique is for people to look forward and consider the multiple ways the plan of action can result in an outcome, weigh the pros and cons of each strategy and consider each outcome in terms of the pros and cons. 

It is a very structured approach with a clear goal in mind and often requires thoughtful processing of the situation and the problem itself. 

Seek out alternatives

Finally, one way of coping through the problem solving approach is to seek out alternative solutions- this means that the individual will have various back up plans for them to apply.

The process goes the same for these alternative solutions as well, where the outcomes are considered and the pros and cons weighed. 

These alternatives are also applied in the case that initial strategies do not work out in the individual’s favour.


This blog post has explored what Problem Focused Coping is and what are the various techniques of problem focused coping. 

We have also briefly discussed what coping is and what are the two kinds of coping styles that have been identified. 

FAQ related to Problem Focused Coping

What are the two types of focused coping?

The two approaches of coping with problems and stress include:

  • Problem-focused coping involves handling stress by facing it head-on and taking action to resolve the underlying cause of the stress. Some strategies include time management and seeking out support. 
  • Emotion-focused coping involves regulating your feelings and emotional response to the problem. Techniques can include mediation and expression of emotions and feelings. 

What is the difference between emotion-focused coping and problem focused coping?

Problem-focused (or solution-focused) coping aims to eliminate or reduce the sources of stress directly whereas emotion-focused coping focuses on regulating the emotional reactions to stress in more efficient and healthy ways. 

What is problem focused constructive coping?

Constructive coping is an instrumental approach to stress management that is generally considered to be adaptive and includes planning, seeking support from others, reframing the situation, and seeking out alternative solutions.

What is Meaning focused coping?

Meaning-focused coping is a form of coping in which the person applies his or her beliefs, values, and existential ideals to sustain their ability to cope and also motivate themselves to work towards a positive state of well-being. 

What does coping refer to?

Coping refers to the process with which people manage stressful situations. It involves thoughts and behaviours that are used to manage stress from either internal as well as external sources.

What are healthy ways of coping?

Healthy problem-focused coping skills include:

  • Ask for support 
  • Create a to-do list.
  • Engage in problem-solving.
  • Set healthy boundaries.
  • Leave a situation that is causing you stress.
  • Manage time more efficiently


Lazarus, R. S., & Folkman, S. (1984). Stress, appraisal and coping. New York, NY: Springer.

McLeod.S. (2015). Stress Management. SimplyPsychology. Retrieved on 26th December 2021.

Regulating Stress. LumenLearning. Retrieved on 26th December 2021.

Problem Focused Coping. American Psychological Association. Retrieved on 26th December 2021.

Problem-Focused Coping: Definition, Strategies & Examples. Retrieved 26th December 2021.

Roncaglia, I. (2014). Coping styles: A better understanding of stress and anxiety in individuals with autism spectrum conditions through sport and exercise models. Psychological Thought, 7(2), 134-143.

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