The new year brings a lot of expectations. And those expectations sometimes don’t turn into reality when performance reviews don’t go as planned and raises aren’t quite what they could have been.
It can be hard to get through these setbacks and move forward, especially when your hopes were high. But it’s important to learn to cope with these letdowns in the right way.
Stephen Joseph, a professor of psychology at the University of Nottingham, writes in Psychology Today that there are three broadly accepted forms of coping. Some people look to problem-focused coping while others are more prone to emotion-focused coping. Still, others rely on avoidant coping to get by.
But these approaches are not created equal. Here’s a look at what each coping method means, and which type you should lean on to get through your latest setback.
“Problem-focused coping involves attempts to resolve difficulties by taking steps to remove threats and find solutions,” writes Joseph.
Problem-focused copers are also willing to ask for help from others, Joseph writes, and they’re laser-focused on the problem itself. That’s important because when something goes wrong, it’s easy to believe that everything has started crumbling around you. But really, the problem is usually localized and needs to be addressed without adding in confusion about compounding factors.
This method, according to Joseph, is mainly about “managing one’s emotions.”
“Emotion-focused coping generally involves talking through experiences with supportive others,” Joseph writes. “Through conversation, we are able to allocate blame and praise more objectively, seek new perspectives, correct incorrect perceptions and find new insights.”
Sometimes, having a sympathetic ear as a sounding board is enough to give clarity to what happened and decide how to move on. People who use emotion-focused coping get those benefits from their support network.
Avoidance means “we try not to think about the situation or we find ways to shut out our feelings,” Joseph writes. Sometimes, related coping mechanisms can be dangerous, such as looking to alcohol as a way to distance yourself from the situation.
Joseph writes that avoidance may be valuable under some conditions, especially when we’re not quite ready to deal with what happened. “But when avoidance is the only coping method for a prolonged period of time,” he continues, “problems begin to pile up. ”
How to cope
Clearly, avoidant coping isn’t the way to go long-term. And that’s the conclusion Joseph arrives at as well. “Research studies show that compared with people who have an avoidance coping style, individuals who use active problem-focused and emotion-focused coping strategies generally do better,” Joseph writes.
But even among the other two coping mechanisms, there’s one that takes the cake.
“My experience is that when confronted with a setback, problem-focused copers do best,” Joseph writes. “They look at the situation from different angles, seek solutions, and move forward in new directions.”
Whatever your setback is in the new year, make sure to cope with it healthfully. Even the worst news doesn’t have to be devastating, as long as you know how to come out of it on top.