Background: Adults with adverse childhood experiences and exposure to adverse life events experience a diverse array of physical, mental, and social health problems across their lifespan. Adult exposure to emotional trauma, physical injury, or other adverse life events may result in the development of post-traumatic stress and post-traumatic stress disorder. Understanding individuals' response to stress and their coping strategies is as important as the stimulus or the causes of the stress for effective stress management interventions.
Methods: This is a mixed quantitative and qualitative online survey study which explores the coping strategies to stress in adults with adverse childhood experiences and exposure to adverse life events through analysis of emerging themes from survey questionnaire responses of study participants.
Results: Participants who respond to stress through adaptive coping focused either on problem-solving, 17.6% (32 out of 188), or on emotion-focused coping, 45.2% (85 out of 188). Participants engaged in problem-solving mainly through therapy such as counseling and other professional stress management, whereas those who chose emotion-focused coping used diverse strategies including practicing mindfulness, meditation, and yoga; using humor and jokes; seeking higher power or religious pursuits; engaging in physical or breathing exercises; and seeking social support. Participants who practiced maladaptive coping styles constituted 37.2% (70 out of 188) of respondents and resorted to avoidance of the stressful condition, withdrawal from a stressful environment, disengagement from stressful relationships, and use and abuse of drugs and/or alcohol.
Conclusion: An understanding of emerging themes in coping strategies calls for collaborative and multidisciplinary approaches in the design, implementation, and execution of health education and promotion programs tailored to meet the diverse needs of priority populations. Stress management educators need to take into account the vulnerabilities of individuals who resort to maladaptive coping and institute evidence-based behavioral and social service intervention strategies, including life skills training, to prevent the consequences of maladaptive coping and to enhance the self-efficacy of individuals to cope more effectively with stress and stressful life events.
Keywords: Chronic stress; adaptive coping; adverse life events; maladaptive copying; mental health/psychiatry; post-traumatic stress; stress management.