How Active Coping Can Help

How Active Coping Can Help

Photo by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

  Written by: Sabrina Sourjah
Date Updated: 6/9/2021
Reviewed by: Patrick D. Randolph, Ph.D.

We all use a mix of active coping and passive coping to overcome challenges.

Whether it’s watching endless movie marathons, consuming too much wine, getting lost in the fantasy world of Harry Potter, or taking on too many projects than you can handle, we’ve all been there.

Some of the coping strategies we pick up in life can help our long-term health and well-being, while some strategies may cause more damage in the long term.

What is Active and Passive Coping?

As the name implies, active coping takes a more active role in shaping how you cope with life’s challenges. The American Psychological Association defines active coping as,

“a stress-management strategy in which a person directly works to control a stressor through appropriately targeted behavior and to embrace responsibility for resolving the situation using one’s available internal resources.”

An active coping style is considered as an adaptive and positive approach to life through new habits and perspectives.

Passive coping, on the other hand, is defined as,

“a stress-management strategy in which a person absolves himself of responsibility for managing a stressor and instead relinquishes control over its resolution to external resources, such as other people and environmental factors.”

Passive coping can result in a withdrawal from interpersonal relationships, leading to hoping, praying, and avoiding stressful situations.

Sometimes, passive coping can also be avoidant because of the lack of ownership in one’s own life and the tendency to avoid the stressor instead of facing it and striving to change the situation.

Active Coping Examples

  • Active coping methods come in various shapes.
  • Talking to a friend or family member when you need to vent about something.
  • Seeking professional help when you feel like you need help.
  • Making time to relax through meditation, yoga, forest bathing, massages, or other self-care activities.
  • Exercising regularly and playing team or individual sports.
  • Using humor to make the stressful situation lighter and more bearable.
  • Reaching out and connecting with new friends when you’re feeling lonely.
  • Journaling about what’s bothering you so you can untangle what’s going on.
  • Working with a coach on solving a problem or obstacle that’s keeping you from your goals.

Harmful coping mechanisms include:

  • Substance abuse and binge drinking
  • Escapism through solitary activities like reading or watching TV
  • Numbing through drugs and junk food
  • Excessive risk-taking such as reckless driving and theft
  • Self-harming behaviors like cutting and burning

Impact of Active Coping

1. Overall Health

Stress is connected to heart disease, asthma, obesity, diabetes, headaches, Alzheimer’s, and gastrointestinal issues. Active coping lets you work on decreasing your stress levels and the intensity of certain stressors, thereby lowering your risk of these diseases.

2. Surgery Outcomes

Studies reveal that postoperative recovery is favorably impacted by the patient’s active coping style. Other personality dimensions connected to surgery outcomes are life satisfaction, extraversion, and attainment orientation.

3. Mental Health

With consistent active coping strategies in place, the stress you experience will gradually decline. In addition, an active stress response gives you an empowered feeling about your life, especially when you see that your active coping strategies are working.

Chronic stress is also linked to high rates of depression and anxiety. For instance, researchers have found that those with demanding work, low rewards, and resultant high stress have an 80% higher risk of developing depression.

4. Longevity

A longevity study was conducted on elderly caregivers, who are naturally stressed by having to take care of their spouses. This study showed a 63% higher rate of death among stressed individuals than other elders in the same age group who are not caregivers.

5. Life Satisfaction

Research confirms that high stress is closely linked with less life satisfaction. Active coping gives you a way of lowering stress and improving life satisfaction.


Playing an active role in life, including in how you cope with difficulties, can result in an optimally lived life.