“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.” – William Shakespeare
What is stress, really? We often say we feel stressed or overwhelmed. The simplest way to describe stress is the upsetting of homeostasis or the upsetting of what we consider normal. Stress is an individualized experience. What stresses one person out may be considered boring to another. Why do these differences exist? Richard Lazarus and Susan Folkman (1984) suggest that way we think about stressors influence our responses.
Lazurus and Folkman (1984) created the Cognitive Appraisal Model to explain the mental processes that influence how we cope with stressors. According to this model, we initially react to a stressor with our primary appraisal. Do we see it as a harm that will do us immediate damage, a threat that will cause us future damage, or a challenge that can be overcome? We create this label based on the resources we think we have to deal with the stressor. Assessing our resources is part of the secondary appraisal. You subconsciously ask yourself, are my resources sufficient? Can I use them well/will they work? You experience distress when you perceive that your coping ability is not enough to deal with the threat.
But how do you become a better cope-r? Like Shakespeare said, thinking really does make a difference. Viewing the stressor as a challenge that can be overcome using your available resources lessens the feeling of negative stress. Your locus of control is closely tied to this. People with an internal locus of control (the belief that you have power over the outcome) tend to cope better. You can also replace stress-provoking thoughts with realistic, unthreatening thoughts. This gives you a sense of control over the appraisal of the stressor.
If you are stressed, take some time off. Reduce your cognitive load and let your chemical levels settle. Talking to someone about your stressors can also be a good way to cope. And of course, the classic, R-E-L-A-X. Focus on breathing slowly and relaxing muscles. Try meditation or guided imagery, like the video below.
Gurung, R. A. R. (2014). Health Psychology: A Cultural Approach, Third Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.