Stress Coping Mechanisms for Teachers

Anthony M. Wanjohi:

Coping refers to behavior that protects people from being psychologically harmed by problematic social experience (Pearlin and Schooler, 1978). Pearlin and Schooler maintain that the protective function of coping behavior can be exercised in three ways: by eliminating or modifying conditions giving rise to problems; by perceptually controlling the meaning of experience in a manner that neutralizes its problematic character; and by keeping the emotional consequences of problems within manageable bounds. This article examines   various stress coping mechanisms for teachers based on empirical evidence.


Kitenga (2009) conducted a study that examined the effectiveness of various coping mechanisms used by teachers in public primary schools in Kenya. The examined mechanisms included sharing with colleagues and friends, avoiding confrontations, practicing religion and getting to know pupils as individuals.


The most effective stress coping mechanisms according to the majority of teachers who took part in the study were the following: knowing pupils as individuals (74 per cent), practicing religion (57 per cent), avoiding direct confrontations (54 per cent) and sharing with colleagues and friends (51 per cent). Some of these mechanisms however are not universal; they are rather particular in relation to teaching profession. Folkman (1984) classifies coping mechanisms into two, namely: action-based coping and emotion-based coping mechanism. Action-based coping mechanisms involve dealing with a problem that is causing stress; this could be through planning, suppression of competing activities, confrontation, self-control, and restraint. Emotion-based coping mechanisms on the other hand reduce the symptoms of stress without addressing the source of the stress; this could be through discussing the stress with a friend, denial, repression, wishful thinking, distraction, relaxation, reappraisal, and humor.


The findings in the study revealed that teachers used both action based mechanisms like getting to know the individual pupils. However, most of the mechanisms employed appeared to have been emotion based mechanisms like discussing the problem with friends. The study also found that there were other emotional based mechanisms that teachers used. These included absenteeism from school, seeking for transfer, reading certain books. These mechanisms do not directly address the source of stress, thus may not result to lasting solution. Teachers should therefore seek more of action-based coping mechanisms.



Folkman, S. (1984). Personal control and stress and coping processes: A theoretical analysis. Journal of Personal and Social Psychology, 46: 839–85


Kitenga, B. N. (2009). Factors Contributing to Occupational Stress and Coping Mechanisms among Primary School Teachers in Ngong Division of Kajiado North District. Unpublished Thesis, Kenyatta University.


Pearling, L.I. and Schooler, C. (1978). The Structure of Coping. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, Vol. 19, No. 1 (Mar., 1978), pp. 2-21. American Sociological Association.