Adaptive Strategies for Coping with Stress: Coping With and Without Support from Others

Feb 20, 2023

Kelly Schwind Wilson

How do you cope with stress? In a recent study, Catherine Kleshinski, Julia Stevenson-Street, Lindsay Mechem Rosokha and I were curious about how faculty, graduate students, and staff cope with stressful work and nonwork demands. This study began during a period of fully remote work and continued after individuals returned to university campuses and experienced a mix of working both remotely and in person. 

Past research has outlined multiple adaptive coping strategies individuals utilize to successfully manage stressful demands, including: 

  • Planning: thinking about how to cope with a stressor and creating a plan of action (e.g., developing action strategies, thinking about what steps to take).
  • Prioritizing: concentrating fully on the challenge at hand and suppressing other activities (e.g., putting other projects aside).
  • Positive reframing: construing or reappraising a stressor in positive terms.
  • Seeking emotional support: seeking moral support, sympathy, or understanding from others.
  • Seeking instrumental support: seeking advice, assistance, or information from others.  

Most research has investigated each of these coping strategies separately, yet we expected and found that individuals engage in more than one strategy simultaneously and continue to do so over time. For example, someone might prioritize certain activities and seek instrumental support to solve a complicated problem on an important project. In particular, our data demonstrated that participants who were “individualistic copers” — those who did not seek emotional or instrumental support — experienced the lowest work and well-being outcomes (e.g., lower thriving, task adaptability, and higher stress), while those who coped in at least one affiliative way (e.g., pursued emotional or instrumental support) experienced healthier outcomes. Overall, it appears crucial to find the right mix and balance of coping strategies, which leads to these recommendations: 

Tip #1: Build connections with others who are good listeners and helpers.  

Tip #2: Don’t wait to ask for help or support from people in your life. We found that seeking support early on makes it easier to do so over time.  

Tip #3: Using all five coping strategies all the time can increase stress by taxing your personal resources. The best approach may be to efficiently cope by engaging in at least one form of support seeking (emotional or instrumental) and one other strategy (e.g., planning). 


Kelly Schwind Wilson is an Associate Professor in the School of Business at Purdue University. She received her Ph.D. in Business Administration from the Eli Broad College of Business at Michigan State University and her B.A. in Psychology and Communication Studies from the University of Michigan. Kelly teaches leadership and organizational behavior courses at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. Her research focuses on two main areas including the work-nonwork interface and leadership, with an emphasis on how work and nonwork interpersonal relationships influence and are influenced by employees’ different roles and resources. 


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