A Count of Coping Strategies: A Longitudinal Study Investigating an Alternative Method to Understanding Coping and Adjustment
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Coping flexibility – an individual’s ability to modify and change coping strategies depending on the context – may be an important but under-examined aspect of coping. The availability of numerous coping strategies may be an important precursor to coping flexibility, given that flexibility can only be obtained if an individual is able to access and use different coping strategies. Typically, studies examining coping compute means, which assess not only what strategies are used but also how much they are used. This means-based approach fails to differentiate between infrequent use of many strategies and frequent use of one or two strategies. One way to disentangle the effects of these alternative styles of coping is to count the number of strategies that an individual uses without attention to how frequently they use them (i.e., a count-based approach). The present longitudinal study compared a count-based model and a means-based model of coping and adjustment among undergraduates (N = 1,132). An autoregressive cross-lagged path analysis revealed that for the count-based approach, using a greater number of positive coping strategies led to more positive adjustment and less suicide ideation over time than using a smaller number of positive coping strategies. Further, engagement in a greater number of negative coping strategies predicted more depressive symptoms and poorer emotion regulation over time. In comparison, the means-based model revealed similar results for negative coping strategies; however, engagement in more frequent positive coping strategies did not predict better positive adjustment over time. Thus, a count-based approach offers a novel way to examine how the number of coping strategies that individuals use can help promote adjustment among university students.