Essential Guide: Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations

Discover how the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS) can help you understand your preferred coping style and manage stress more effectively.
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Stress is an unavoidable part of life. From work deadlines to financial difficulties, relationship issues to health problems, we all face stressful situations that can leave us feeling overwhelmed and anxious. While a small amount of stress can sometimes be motivating, excessive or prolonged stress takes a real toll on our mental and physical health. This makes it critical that we find effective ways to cope.

Exploring the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS)

Key Takeaways:

  • The Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS) measures three coping styles: task, emotion, and avoidance-oriented. Knowing your dominant style provides self-understanding and direction.
  • Task-oriented coping is effective for pragmatic problem-solving but can minimize emotional expression. Emotion-oriented coping helps process and validate feelings but can become unproductive rumination. Avoidance gives temporary relief but prevents addressing issues.
  • Balancing these styles flexibly is the healthiest. The CISS helps identify overused or underused tendencies so you can take steps to cope more adaptable.
  • Tips include building complementary skills, practicing self-awareness, attending to needs, re-taking the CISS periodically, having self-compassion, and seeking counseling if unhealthy patterns emerge.
  • Real-life examples show how CISS results helped people cope with work stress and caregiving by adjusting their unbalanced approach.
  • While we can’t control all stressors, we can control our responses. The CISS provides insights to cope effectively, build resilience and skills, reduce anxiety, and gain life satisfaction.

The Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS) 1 is a valuable tool developed by psychologists to help measure different styles of coping. Understanding your own preferred coping style can provide meaningful insights into how you respond to stress, and enable you to take positive steps to cope in a healthier, more effective way.

Developed in 1990 by psychologists Endler and Parker, the CISS looks at three main types of coping styles:

Coping StyleDescription
Task-oriented copingTaking action to pragmatically solve problems related to the stressor, like making plans or focusing on tasks
Emotion-oriented copingResponding with emotional reactions like blaming yourself, fantasizing, venting, or becoming preoccupied with the feelings related to the stressor
Avoidance-oriented copingAvoiding a stressful situation through distractions like socializing, substance use, or escapism into activities like watching television

The original 48-item CISS questionnaire asks you to indicate on a 5-point scale how much you engage in various activities when confronted with a difficult, upsetting, or stressful situation. Your responses generate scores in each of the three coping style categories. People generally use a blend of task, emotion, and avoidance-oriented coping, but the CISS helps identify your dominant tendency.

Shorter versions like the 21-item CISS-21 have also been developed and validated for research and clinical purposes. But the original longer CISS remains the most comprehensive instrument for assessing coping styles.

Why is the CISS So Useful for Mental Health?

Knowing your primary coping style through the CISS assessment can provide meaningful insights for managing stress more effectively. Extensive research over the past few decades has shown the three style categories each have different benefits and potential drawbacks when used exclusively:

  • Task-oriented coping is often the most effective for resolving specific issues directly related to the stressor through problem-solving. However, relying solely on this style can minimize or ignore the emotional impact of the stressful situation.
  • Emotion-oriented coping helps people fully process, express, and validate feelings evoked by the stressor. But focusing exclusively on emotions can sometimes become unproductive rumination or wallowing.
  • Avoidance-oriented coping provides a temporary escape or relief from immediate stress. Yet used too much, it prevents truly addressing underlying problems and can lead to unhealthy avoidance behaviors.

Most mental health professionals agree the healthiest way to cope utilizes a flexible, balanced approach across task, emotion, and avoidance-oriented styles. The CISS inventory and your scores help identify if you significantly overuse or underuse certain tendencies so you can become aware and take steps to respond to stress more adaptable.

For example, someone who scores very high in emotion-oriented coping on the CISS may benefit from learning more task-oriented skills like planning, reframing situations, and active problem-solving. Someone who only scores high in avoidance behaviors could improve their coping repertoire by facing problems a bit more directly while also making time to process emotions and self-reflect.

Essential guide: coping inventory for stressful situations

Practical Tips for Coping with Stress

Here are some research-backed tips for effectively utilizing your CISS results and style awareness to cope with stress:

  • Develop new coping skills that complement your dominant style. Try a stress management class, read books on emotional intelligence, or set aside dedicated weekly problem-solving time. Build your repertoire.
  • Practice self-awareness when stressed. Pause and be mindful of how your preferred coping style may be impacting your current reactions or decisions.
  • Listen to your needs. Emotion-oriented copers may need to vent their feelings or journal before practical problem-solving. Avoidant-copers may need encouragement to address issues directly. Adapt as needed.
  • Remember coping styles can evolve over time. Your scores and dominant style may change gradually as you navigate different life phases. Consider re-taking the CISS every few years.
  • Have self-compassion. Your coping tendencies develop from your innate temperament and past experiences. Don’t judge yourself or your style too harshly.
  • Seek counseling if unhealthy patterns emerge. If destructive avoidance, extreme rumination, or other maladaptive coping habits develop, seek help from a professional.

While the CISS cannot eliminate all the stressors you encounter, understanding your personal coping tendencies and style through it can help you face challenges in a more balanced, resilient manner.

CISS Success Stories – Real-Life Examples

To see the CISS inventory at work, let’s look at two real-life examples of how the assessment helped people better cope with major stressors:

Paul’s Story

Paul is a software engineer who began to struggle with intense work stress after being promoted to team lead. As deadline pressures mounted, he became irritable, withdrew socially, and constantly doubted his abilities. His CISS results showed a very high reliance on avoidance-oriented coping behaviors.

Realizing this tendency, Paul started actively setting time on his calendar to address difficult tasks directly instead of procrastinating or distracting himself. He also prioritized reconnecting with teammates. While still facing a heavy workload, Paul’s stress levels decreased significantly with this more balanced approach.

Sarah’s Story

Sarah is a dedicated nurse who relied too heavily on emotion-oriented coping skills after her elderly father fell ill. Being overwhelmed with new caregiving duties and grief over her father’s health condition, Sarah spent much of her time ruminating about worries, blaming herself, and neglecting her own basic self-care.

Seeing her high emotion-oriented CISS score helped Sarah recognize she needed to strengthen her task-oriented coping skills as well. She began scheduling daily priorities, enlisted other family members to help share caregiving duties, and joined a local caregiver support group. Though still concerned about her father, she began to feel more capable of managing these difficult emotions.


Life will inevitably continue to present all of us with difficulties ranging from minor daily hassles to more significant adversity. While we cannot always control or eliminate all the complex stressors we encounter, we can control how we respond to challenges.

Developing more awareness of when and how to employ task, emotion, and avoidance-oriented coping skills through tools like the CISS can help you navigate stress more flexibly and intentionally. With practice, compassion towards yourself, and an expanding coping skills toolbox, you can build greater resilience. The result can be reduced anxiety, heightened life satisfaction, and an increased sense of control over your stress reactions.

By understanding your own unique coping style tendencies through the CISS, you gain priceless insight into how to traverse life’s obstacles while maintaining your overall well-being. So don’t be afraid to understand yourself on a deeper level and proactively build the coping skills you need as you navigate each day. The journey of lifelong learning enables greater mastery over stress.

See our comprehensive overview of validated stress quizzes for objectively measuring your current stress levels. Once you know your stress levels it is best to determine your personality type to see which coping skills suit you best.

Take the coping inventory for stressful situations (CISS) Test here:

INSTRUCTIONS: The following are ways people react to various difficult, stressful, or upsetting situations.
Please select a number from 1 to 5 for each item. Indicate how much you engage in these types of activities
when you encounter a difficult, stressful, or upsetting situation.

Leave your email below to receive the results in your inbox together with my free eBook: Beyond Deep Breaths which contains 10 lesser-known but very effective stress coping skills to get you started.

When I encounter a difficult, stressful, or upsetting situation, I …

Schedule my time better

Focus on the problem and see how I can solve it

Think about the good times I’ve had

Try to be with other people

Blame myself for procrastinating

Do what I think is best

Become preoccupied with aches and pains

Blame myself for having gotten into this situation

Window shop

Outline my priorities

Try to go to sleep

Treat myself to a favorite food or snack

Feel anxious about not being able to cope

Become very tense

Think about how I solved similar problems

Tell myself that it is really not happening to me

Blame myself for being too emotional about the situation

Go out for a snack or meal

Become very upset

Buy myself something

Determine a course of action and follow it

Blame myself for not knowing what to do

Go to a party

Work to understand the situation

“Freeze” and not know what to do

Take corrective action immediately

Think about the event and learn from my mistakes

Wish that I could change what had happened or how I felt

Visit a friend

Worry about what I am going to do

I spend time with a special person

Go for a walk

Tell myself that it will never happen again

Focus on my general inadequacy

Talk to someone whose advice I value

Analyze the problem before reacting

Phone a friend

Get angry

Adjust my priorities

See a movie

Get control of the situation

Make efforts to get things done

Come up with several different solutions to the problem

Take some time off and get away from the situation

Take it out on other people

Use the situation to prove that I can do it

Try to be organized so I can be on top of the situation

Watch TV


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the coping inventory for stressful situations Endler and Parker 1990?

The Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS) was developed by Endler and Parker in 1990 as a psychological tool to measure different coping styles people use when faced with stressful situations. The CISS identifies three styles of coping – Task-oriented, Emotion-oriented, and Avoidance-oriented. The tools aim to help individuals understand their natural coping tendencies and cultivate more effective ways of managing stress.

What is the coping inventory?

The Coping Inventory is a self-report measure used to determine how individuals respond to stress. It examines the psychological and behavioral actions people undertake when they encounter a stressful event. The goal is to provide helpful insight for therapists and health practitioners that can guide treatment or counseling plans.

How does the Coping Inventory for Stressful Situations (CISS) work?

The CISS works through a questionnaire format, where respondents answer a series of questions about how they handle stressful events. The responses then undergo analysis to identify the dominant coping style– Emotion-oriented, Task-oriented, or Avoidance-oriented. This information enables psychologists or practitioners to understand the person’s coping mechanisms better and recommend effective techniques for stress management.

How beneficial can the CISS be for stress management?

Understanding one’s coping style is crucial for effective stress management. The CISS provides valuable insights into how a person tends to react in stressful situations. Once this is understood, a person can work with a therapist or counselor to establish more effective coping strategies or develop skills in areas where coping is less effective. This leads to better mental health and overall well-being.

Can CISS be applied in real-life situations?

Absolutely! The CISS is designed to reflect real-world coping behaviors. The questionnaire format makes it easy to administer in various settings, and the results offer practical, implementable strategies for stress management. Whether a person is dealing with workplace stress, personal conflicts, health issues, or any other kind of stressor, CISS can provide valuable insights and help guide them toward healthier coping mechanisms.


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Alex Reijnierse
Alex Reijnierse

Alex Reijnierse is a stress management expert with over a decade of experience in helping individuals effectively manage and reduce stress. He holds a Master of Science (MSc) and has a background in high-pressure environments, which has given him firsthand experience in dealing with chronic stress.