9 Problem-Based Coping Techniques to Help Your Mental Health - couple sitting and looking at bridge

9 Problem-Based Coping Techniques to Help Your Mental Health

Haeli Harris
April 30, 2021
October 9, 2022

We often push our internal struggles to the wayside. Unhealthy coping techniques are often used. Those that struggle with anxiety and depression often push away their feelings and thoughts—delaying much-needed healing.

Don't push away those feelings anymore! Learn how to get to the root of mental health struggles like anxiety and depression with these problem-focused coping techniques.  

What are coping techniques?

Coping techniques (or coping skills) are ways an individual can solve or tolerate stressful problems.

There are many different types of coping techniques, such as self-care, distraction, creativity, being social, taking action, mindfulness, and more.  

Problem vs. Emotion-Focused Coping Techniques

When your mental health needs a boost, you have two sets of coping skills to choose from: problem-focused and emotion-focused.

Problem-focused coping skills go to the root of the problem. They address what is causing you distress by changing your situation.

For instance, if you have a toothache and it is causing you stress, it is best to use a problem-focused coping technique to get to the root of the problem—go to the dentist! Soothing yourself by doing yoga or journaling won't make your stress go away.

Emotion-focusing coping techniques are great for when the thing that is causing you to stress is outside your control, or you are not willing to change the immediate situation.

If you are grieving the death of a loved one, emotion-focused coping techniques would be more appropriate.

Sometimes, you can use a combination of both techniques! For instance, if you have a big project at work to complete, take care of yourself with emotion-based coping techniques while you are off the clock, and use problem-based coping techniques while you are on the clock. Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is bite the bullet and take action on the problem itself—or ask someone for help!

If you're looking for some quick ways to reduce stress right now with emotion-focused coping techniques, read our article on Stress Management Tools and Techniques. This article is jam-packed with emotion-focused coping skills that provide temporary relief. These two articles together will give you some great tools to face stress and mental health struggles!

As always, consult a professional first. This article should not take the place of professional mental health support.

9 Problem-Focused Coping Techniques (With Examples)

Looking for coping skills for anxiety and depression? Here are 9 positive coping skills to keep in mind.

1. Ask for support

Finding a support system can be a struggle. Try reaching out to your religious organization and find small groups. Talk to people you trust—like friends, family, mentors, or your significant other.

It is so important to talk to others about what you are going through. Otherwise, you can end up staying in your own bubble and stewing. You don't have to give all the gory details, especially at first. Just throw out that you need some support.

Call a trusted friend and ask if it would be okay to confide in them.

2. Set boundaries

Setting healthy boundaries is one of the best problem-based coping techniques out there. There are tons of books, podcasts, and other resources on creating healthy boundaries. Talk to a therapist about it.

Boundaries are meant to protect you. For example, if a friend keeps gossiping around you and it makes you feel uncomfortable, ask your friend politely to not gossip while you are around. Frame it as "I feel uncomfortable when you talk about my friend in that way."

Boundaries are one of the keys to healthy relationships. Just because you love someone or are close to them doesn't mean you can't speak up for yourself.

3. Leave unhealthy situations

Sometimes boundaries aren't enough—you may need to leave the situation altogether. This can apply to a dating relationship, for instance, or even a job.

If your job is stressing you out so much that is it making it hard to connect with your loved ones or take care of yourself (and there is no end in sight), you may want to consider leaving the job altogether. Seek the support of others during these times as well—it can be really hard to disconnect, even from things that are causing you a lot of pain.

4. Time management and prioritization

This is a great problem-focused coping strategy for those that are struggling with work or chores. Write down what you have to do. Prioritize them. Pick 3 to tackle today. Create a schedule for the week. Don't overcommit.

Use a calendar. Block out your time. The key is to get everything written down so it isn't floating around in your head!

5. Tackle the problem

This coping technique isn't used enough! If the stressor is a tangible problem that needs to be solved—like a broken air conditioner, a project at work, or a messy house—sometimes the best thing is to just get it done!

6. Talk to a counselor

Anybody can benefit from therapy. A therapist will help you build coping skills that are best for your specific situation. Your therapist isn't there to judge you—they are there to help.

This is a great option if you don't feel comfortable talking to anyone in your circle.

7. Eliminate what you don't need

Simplify your life, à la Maria Condo. This can be reducing clutter in your home and embracing minimalism or stepping back from responsibilities you have in your life that take up too much time and stress.  

It is good to say no sometimes!

8. Challenge false beliefs

This is a classic CBT coping technique.

If you find yourself thinking things like, "I'm not good enough", "I can't do this", or "I am a failure", focus on changing the thought. Replace that thought with something that is true and choose to change your belief.

For instance, if your parents really pushed that you get straight A's in school, you may be prone to overworking and chronic overachieving as an adult. Whenever you receive criticism, you might think, "I am a failure". Change the thought by making a statement to yourself: "I am not a failure. I did a great job on this project at work recently. And I keep getting promoted. I am not a failure—I do good work and have achieved a lot."

A therapist can help you through the process of changing your thoughts.

9. Lower your expectations

This includes the expectations you have for yourself and for others.

Perfectionism is impossible to achieve—accept that. Lowering your expectations can protect you from unnecessary disappointment.

Don't go full-blown pessimist, though—have healthy expectations.

Unhealthy Coping Skills

Unhealthy coping techniques worsen mental health and stress in the long run. Here are 3 common unhealthy coping skills to avoid:

1. Venting

It may be cathartic in the moment but talking about your negative feelings and situation repeatedly can keep you stuck in a negative cycle. This doesn't mean you shouldn't talk to anyone about your struggles—getting a different perspective, empathy, and simply getting it out for a bit is healthy and can help propel you towards a solution.

2. Overdoing it

Overeating, overdrinking, oversleeping, overexerting, overspending... these are all about seeking pleasure to cope with problems. These unhealthy coping skills don't get to the root of the problem, and often only make you feel worse in the end.

Have an accountability partner to help you stay on track. And prevent yourself from being tempted. If you are prone to overspend, for instance, cut up your credit card and stick to cash or your checking account. Set limits on yourself.

You can also underdo it. The key is to find balance.

3. Avoidance and denial

This includes avoiding the problem itself or avoiding support from others. Some people do this by overworking. Others avoid their work as much as they can. Some don't talk to others about their struggles.

We all need other people. Find a good support system you can lean on. Undoubtedly, someone else out there has been in a situation similar to yours.

Now what?

Try to get to know yourself better. Figure out which coping techniques—emotional and problem-focused—help you the best and in which situations. Keep track of these things and refer to your notes whenever you need to cope.

A great start is to set an appointment with a therapist. They can walk alongside you on your mental health journey!

How Nivati Can Help You Cope

Nivati is all about giving people the tools they need to take care of themselves. Gain access to counselors from all over the world from a variety of backgrounds that will help you build healthy coping techniques. Tell your employer about Nivati today!  


By participating in/reading the service/website/blog/email series on this website, you acknowledge that this is a personal website/blog and is for informational purposes and should not be seen as mental health care advice. You should consult with a licensed professional before you rely on this website/blog’s information. All things written on this website should not be seen as therapy treatment and should not take place of therapy or any other health care or mental health advice. Always seek the advice of a mental health care professional or physician. The content on this blog is not meant to and does not substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris
Haeli Harris, LMFT is the Director of Clinical Operations at Nivati. She has been practicing as a Marriage and Family Therapist since 2014. Haeli has experience working as a therapist in private practice settings, residential facilities, outpatient treatment care, schools, and telehealth.