Plain Language Summary: Stress & Coping

Everyone experiences stress. Difficult situations can bring on negative emotions and sometimes feel like too much. People do not always know how to deal with these emotions. We can all learn to improve how we handle stress. 

Stress is natural. It is a physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Stress can be triggered by everyday responsibilities from work or family. It can also be brought on by serious life events such as death, a medical diagnosis, or a new job. Everyone experiences stress from time to time, but it can become unhealthy if it affects your daily functioning.

Stress can help us to cope or respond to potentially serious situations. When we are stressed, our bodies release hormones to help, like adrenaline, a natural chemical in our body that acts as a messenger. For example, adrenaline can help our muscles be ready to quickly respond to physical threats.

However, if our stress levels are too high for too long, it can affect our health. For example, chronic stress is when a low amount of stress is present for a long time. Chronic stress can cause, or worsen, our physical and mental health, such as causing or worsening depression, anxiety, heart disease, high blood pressure, and more. It is important to manage stress in order to keep our bodies healthy.

Coping strategies are specific efforts people use to manage stressful events. These efforts can be things we do or thoughts we tell ourselves. Coping strategies can help people adjust to stressful events while maintaining their emotional well-being.

There are two kinds of approaches to coping strategies; problem-solving or are emotion focused.

Problem-solving strategies are active efforts made to reduce feelings of stress that target the source of stress. For example, making a to-do list and prioritizing tasks can help manage work or school related stress.

Problem-solving strategies can be effective because they deal with the cause of our stress and can provide a long-term solution. However, it is not always possible to use problem-solving strategies. Sometimes people do not have control over stressful situations, and they need to use a different approach.

Emotion focused coping strategies are efforts to regulate feelings that happen in response to stress. These strategies can help reduce unhelpful responses to stress like embarrassment, fear, and frustration. Emotion focused strategies do not work to change the situation itself. Some situations are out of our control, like the death of a loved one, so it is more realistic to manage our emotions. Examples of emotion focused coping strategies are exercising, meditating, praying, or journaling.

Resilience is the process of adapting to stressors in life. It is often described as “bouncing back” from difficult experiences. Being resilient does not mean a person will not experience stress or difficulty. It means that a person can adapt to whatever comes their way. Resilience helps us to grow and improve our lives along the way.

Resilience is not a personality trait that only some people are born with. Certain factors can help some individuals be more resilient than others, like a support system or spirituality, but everyone can become more resilient.

You can become more resilient by improving qualities like confidence and self-esteem. Improving coping strategies and being more consistent can also help. These skills benefit anyone who is facing challenges. Building the resilience of children with developmental disabilities can help reduce personal, social, and economic struggles that are associated with mental illness.

Promising Practices

Currently, most available research and resources focus on the resilience of parents, family, and caregivers of individuals with developmental disabilities. However, there is not much research or resources available that focus on the individual. One useful resource is the Trauma-Informed Toolkit for Providers in the Field of Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities.

For more information about coping strategies and building resiliency, visit the American Psychological Association (APA) website. This website has useful suggestions for managing stress. The American Institute of Stress (AIS) offers some online courses that are also helpful.

You can find resources and trainings to develop mental health care and supports for people with developmental disabilities on our website, Also, the MHDD blog highlights personal experiences with building resiliency that can be helpful to review.

If you are aware of more services and resources to support people with developmental disabilities building resiliency and developing coping strategies, you can contact us through social media or email us at

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