Coping strategies in times of crisis

Social media is littered with hate-filled, angry and anxious posts, ranging from those blaming China for the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid 19) and ranting about the lack of government action on the pandemic to those slamming other people for not following quarantine rules. The health crisis the world is facing now is clearly not only affecting people physically, but also psychologically.

In this context, many people will experience stress and even depression, which can cloud one’s judgement. Physiologically, people can experience an increase in heart rate, excessive sweating and physical exhaustion just thinking about the pandemic. To deal with such stress, it is important to determine where it originated and note your reaction to it. This is where coping strategies take center stage.

According to Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman, who propounded the Psychological Stress and Coping Theory in 1984, coping is a set of efforts to manage demands that could exceed one’s resources. They say that when a person sees a life circumstance as taxing and exceeding the resources they have, he or she will experience stress. Thus, coping involves your efforts to manage stress. When we talk about coping, we need to consider the intensity of the stressor, the context and the person’s appraisal of coping expectations.

There’s a rich body of research on coping strategies, which are the choices a person makes in order to respond to a stressor. A strategy can be adaptive (effective) or maladaptive (ineffective or harmful). The ideal adaptive coping strategy varies, depending on the context and the personality traits of the person responding.

There are different groups of coping strategies. The first are problem-solving or active coping strategies. They involve addressing the problem by acting, planning or thinking of ways to solve it. In today’s context, we see a lot of individuals and groups working to solve problems by sourcing and donating personal protective equipment to hospitals, providing food to affected communities, and organizing information on Covid-19. Households also use this strategy by planting vegetables in their backyard to ensure food supply or following quarantine rules to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The second, emotional expression and emotional regulation strategies, involve expressing feelings or engaging in emotionally liberating activities, such as exercising or meditating. A lot of people now exercise at home, be it with friends online or alone using equipment or the stairs. Others cope by unleashing their anger and anxiety on social media, affecting those who encounter their posts.

It’s better to let emotions out by talking to your friends through a video or phone call, instead of ranting online. You can also keep your emotions under control by engaging in “appeasing” activities, such as indulging in a hobby, watching movies or reading a book.

One emotional regulation strategy is cognitive restructuring, which is reorganizing the way you look at the situation. You can do this by reframing the crisis and see opportunities for business or growth. This may be the time to build close family ties or earn an online degree.

As its name indicates, the third group — seeking-understanding strategies — involves understanding the problem and searching for meaning from it. Try to understand the crisis by reading reliable sources of information on what caused the spread of the virus, and how the medical community and governments are addressing it. You can also read about pandemics in the past, such as the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, to draw parallelisms and lessons.

The fourth, help or support-seeking coping strategies, involve seeking aid, advice, comfort or understanding from others. You can ask help from family members if you lack resources, or talk to them or with a friend or mentor for comfort and advice.

The fifth and last group, avoidance or distraction coping strategies, involves either acting like nothing happened, avoiding thinking or doing anything about the problem, or doing everything to avoid facing it by letting oneself be distracted. We see this in many of those from the lower socioeconomic classes — people flocking to wet markets or watching cockfights and community shows, as if nothing is happening. People who employ such strategies need outside intervention, be it from the government, communities or other people.

You can apply a combination of these strategies to manage your stress. But it’s important to be cognizant of the impact of what you are doing on yourself, others and the current situation, because this crisis can last for a long time.


The author is the chief executive officer of Hungry Workhorse Consulting, a digital and culture transformation consulting firm. He is the country representative of the Institute of Change and Transformation Professionals Asia (ICTPA) and fellow at the US-based Institute for Digital Transformation. He teaches strategic management in the MBA program of De La Salle University. The author may be reached at