#36: What Is Your Coping Style?

Season #3

We all have different coping styles, and we’ve all been exposed to different types of stress in our lives. So how do we understand the coping styles used in late life and what we can do about it?

Stress is a normal part of life, and coping is what people do to try and minimise stress. We all find different ways of coping with stress, and managing it, often through trial and error. Even when we are dealing with the same stress (e.g. lockdowns during the pandemic) we all find different ways of coping that we feel will work for us at that time.

To understand coping better, it’s helpful to break the three styles of coping down in more detail.  

Active coping involves actively trying to solve the problem to reduce stress. It is where we take action, problem-solve and be proactive, so that we are taking responsibility and taking action to solve the problem straight away.

Passive coping is where we feel helpless to deal with stress on our own and rely on others to resolve the situation for us. We feel we can’t do it alone and need help. In late life it can often be due to a loss of confidence to address issues, where we rely on someone else to share that mental load.

Avoidance in coping is when we are in denial. We may tell ourselves this is not happening, or try and forget it. This is common in late life, for example when changes need to be made, but those steps are not taken, until the problem is much bigger.

The most effective form of coping will depend on the nature of the issue presented. For example, does it need to be tackled right now? We can’t be actively coping with everything life throws at us, so we do need to pick our battles.

In addition to the three types of coping listed above, coping more broadly falls into two categories: adaptive and maladaptive. Both include five main characteristics as outlined below:


Key features of adaptive coping:

  1. Support: talking about the stress and seeking external help
  2. Relaxation: practising meditation and using calming techniques
  3. Problem solving: identifying a problem and developing and putting into practice potential solutions to effectively manage it
  4. Humour: making light of a stressful situation can keep it in perspective and prevent situation from becoming overwhelming
  5. Physical activity: can help people cope with stress and the after effects of traumatic events.


Characteristics of maladaptive coping:

  1. Escape: avoiding the situation
  2. Withdrawing: becoming socially isolated
  3. Unhealthy self-soothing activities: e.g. eating too much
  4. Excessive self-blame: being overly self-critical
  5. Excessive blaming: being overly critical of others.


With so many changes in late life, it can be really difficult for an older person, to use coping styles effectively. They can often get really muddled up, and the road ahead can at times seem quite dark and narrow.

We can support them through changes, by reminding them they are not alone. Supporting them should not be the sole responsibility of one person, so think about inclusion and involvement, so that others can play an active role.


In this episode you will learn:

  • What is coping?
  • The 3 styles of coping explained
  • 5 key features of adaptive coping mechanisms
  • 5 characteristics of maladaptive coping styles
  • Examples of common stressors in late life