Inability to cope (5 things to do)

In this article, we will be discussing, “ Inability to cope”, the meaning of stress, coping mechanisms, types of coping mechanisms and its functions, inability to cope/ ineffective coping, effects of ineffective coping, strategies for effective coping and some frequently asked questions related to the topic.

What results in an inability to cope?

Inability to cope results in the following:

  • Disruption in the sleep cycle 
  • The feeling of isolation and loneliness
  • Sense of worthlessness
  • Loss of interest in daily activities and pleasure activities
  • Obsessive thinking and overthinking
  • Apprehensive and anticipation about future threats
  • Impairment in cognitive functioning
  • Use of alcohol and substance use
  • Prone to anger and agitation
  • Increased risk of mental illnesses
  • Suicide and suicidal ideations
  • Increase in the use of antidepressant and other psychotic drugs
  • Increases the risk of diabetes

Inability to cope

Cope means to deal and face the problems, difficulties and responsibilities successfully and strongly.

It is also called Ineffective coping, where the person lacks or is unable to assess the stressors realistically and to use the prevailing and available resources to effectively cope with the stressors. 

The phrase can also be used to mean the person’s failure and inability to manage or perform the daily simple activities or routine such as bathing, feeding, eating, organizing the day etc.


Stress is defined as a situation when there is perceived discrepancy between the demand of the situation and resources an individual has. It is also a circumstance in which transactions lead a person to perceive a discrepancy between the physical or psychological demands of a situation and the inherent biological, psychological and social resources. Stress basically can be understood in terms of physical as well as psychological.

So, the physical aspect of stress is understood in terms of the toll it has on our body as well as the bodily processes while the psychological aspect of stress focuses on how we perceive the stressful circumstance.


Coping can be understood as a process through which an individual tries to manage or deal with the discrepancy that exists between demand and the resources in a stressful situation. It is a continuous process or a transaction wherein there is a dynamic series of appraisal as well as reappraisal in adjusting with the person-environment relationship.

Functions of Coping

There are two major functions performed by the coping or the coping mechanisms.

  • Altering the problem that causes stress

In this type of coping mechanism, we try to change our perspective or outlook towards a problem that induces stress.

  • Regulate our emotional reaction 

Another major purpose of coping is to guide and manage our emotion and emotional reaction to the stressful situation and the events.

These are the major functions of the coping mechanism primarily deals with altering our outlooks towards the stressful situation as well as our emotional reaction to such a situation. 

Types of Coping

The two broad classifications and types of coping are Emotion-focused coping and Problem-focused coping.

  • Emotion-focused coping strategies

It aims to control our emotional reaction to the stressors. With emotion-focused, the two sub-group are the Cognitive approach and the Behavioural Approach. 

In the cognitive approach, we deal with redefining the situation that results in stress and associated reaction while in the behavioural approach, we try to change or modify the behaviour so that we can deal with stressors effectively. 

Defence Mechanisms are cognitive approaches to dealing with stressors such as denial, repression etc. 

  • Problem-focused coping strategy

In this type of coping mechanism, we focused on the situation itself by either reducing the demand for the stressful situation or by increasing our resources to deal with the stressors effectively. It is often used for everyday life stressors. This coping mechanism is used when the stressful situation is changeable and is in the control of the individual. 

Despite the two major types of coping mechanisms, few other coping mechanisms include engaging in positive thoughts and emotions, finding or extracting positive meaning and benefits from stressors, engaging in emotional approach, etc. 

Ineffective coping and causes of ineffective coping

There are different causes of ineffective coping and some of the factors of ineffective coping are:

  • Daily stressors 
  • Life changes 
  • Injuries and physical illnesses
  • Emotional traumas and problem
  • Excessive demand from a stressful situation
  • Lack of social support
  • Poor and low self-concept
  • Lack of problem-solving skill
  • Situational factors

These are the major causes or underlying reasons for ineffective coping resulting in prolonged stress.

Ineffective coping

The symptoms of ineffective coping differ according to individual and their age. And the situation that triggers stress itself results in different types of coping and symptoms for ineffective coping. 

Common symptoms of ineffective coping are:

  • Inability to attend the daily routine
  • Difficulty in integrating and organizing information
  • Disruption in the sleep cycle and sleep disturbance 
  • Using drugs and substance abuse
  • Poor and impairment in concentration
  • Fatigue and tiredness
  • Inability and failure to meet the daily and basic needs
  • Self-harming and destructive behaviour
  • Disruption and change in usual communication
  • Risk-taking behaviours
  • Regular and severe headache and migraine
  • Weight loss and gain
  • The feeling of isolation, worthlessness and withdrawal
  • Constant irritability and anger
  • Loss of interest in pleasurable activities, Anhedonia
  • Constant worry and obsessive thinking
  • Loss of concentration

These are some of the common symptoms of ineffective coping and one should take care of it. If these remain neglected and ignored, these results in severe impairment and dysfunctioning. 

Effective coping

It is important to recognize the stressful situation and then effectively cope with the following strategies:

Taking action to overcome the stress

There is no immediate cure for the stressors and no single method for it. Thus to change the life problems and stressors, one can effectively cope up with it. 

These include relaxation techniques, talking about the issue and exercising.

Breathing and relaxation exercises

To deal with the stressor effectively, exercising such as muscle relaxation and breathing helps in alleviating the stressors. Exercise helps in relaxation, calming the mind and body.

Seeking social support

Sometimes engaging in stress management class and seeking social support helps in combating the stressful symptoms better and refresh the mind from negative thoughts and distorted thinking.

Embracing emotions

Not all stressors are negative and distressing. Thus embracing the emotions and stress can help in effective stress management. And at times, allowing oneself to undergo negative feelings and stressing out can help improve performance and enhance the motivation to work harder.

Recognizing unhealthy attempts in reducing pain

Distracting oneself from stress and pain by opting to some unhealthy means takes a toll on the mental as well as physical health of an individual such as drug and substance use in alleviating from stressful symptoms. 

Practising healthy coping mechanisms

Health coping skills like deep breathing, calling friends, catching up friends and engaging oneself in physical exercises helps in alleviating stressful symptoms. And not every coping mechanism works and results in the same effect for all individuals, it varies according to the stressful event and the person itself. 

Acknowledging irrational beliefs and thoughts

Certain beliefs and thoughts are irrational and there is a domino effect observed if the individual sticks onto such thinking. Thus, it is best to acknowledge the irrational belief and dispute it with reality testing so that these prevent you from overthinking and pessimism. 

Taking break

One can take a break when workloads and negative thoughts are running in mind. If certain events trigger stress in the person, it is best to take a break from it by distracting oneself and putting these thoughts aside. 

Recognizing when you need help and reaching out

If the problem tends to aggravate and bother you, it is best to recognize these problems and reach out to help when needed. Sharing problems and ventilating one’s emotions to those who can help you result in a much lighter mind and keep one’s thoughts safe and positive.

Eating healthy and performing the daily routines

To stay active, positive and jolly, one should feed themselves with a healthy and well nutritious meal, exercise regularly, get enough sleep and stay hydrated. The structured daily routine leaves no space for negativity and keeps the individual occupied.

Balancing work and recreation

Sometimes work overloaded and burden can result in stress which can be acute as well as chronic. Thus, to maintain an optimal balance the two results in a positive mental, psychological and physical health.

Bonding with pet

It was shown through research that spending time with pets or animal companions can alleviate stress as well as stress symptoms. Such interaction calms the mind and elevates the mood of the individual.

These are some of the ways or approaches to deal with the stressors effectively. 

FAQs: Inability to cope

What are the 5 signs of mental illness?

The five warning or alarming sign or indicators of mental illnesses are:

Long-lasting sadness and irritability
Mood Swing and Diurnal mood
Excessive fear, anxiety and worry
Social Isolation and Withdrawal
Change in eating and sleeping patterns

What are the 5 emotional signs of stress?

The major emotional and psychological signs of stress are 

Anger and Irritability
Trouble in sleeping
Racing thoughts and constant worry
Poor decision making
Impairment in cognitive functioning

Why can’t I deal with change?

It is difficult and hard to adjust with a big change and it is often impossible. If even after a prolonged time the change doesn’t happen then it is a sign of serious adjustment disorder and a condition to be taken care of.

How do you know if you’re going insane?

Some of the indicators of driving insane are:

Lose interest in things that you enjoy doing
Binge eating or not at all
Isolating oneself 
Hearing voices and seeing things
Feeling nervous, jerky and panic

What is the hardest mental illness to live with?

The hardest mental illness to be dealt with is Borderline Personality Disorder. It is believed to be most difficult to treat owing to the pattern of instability in mood, self-image and their behaviour.


In this article, we discussed “ Inability to cope”, the meaning of stress, coping mechanisms, types of coping mechanisms and its functions, inability to cope/ ineffective coping, effects of ineffective coping, strategies for effective coping and some frequently asked questions related to the topic.

Links for details and further information


CardioSmart News. (2016). Inability to Cope with Stress Linked to Increased Risk for Diabetes. CardioSmart.

Dr Wellness. (2019). Why more and more younger people have an inability to cope with life. Dr Wellness.

Mental Health America. (2020). Mental Illness And The Family: Recognizing Warning Signs And How To Cope. Mental health America.

NHS Health Scotland. (2020). Struggling with stress? NHS Health Scotland.

Vidant Health. (2020). Ineffective coping. Vidant health.

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