and The Role of Perception (Appraisal)
"Our perceptions not any objective reality govern our emotional response and resulting behaviour. Perceptions are based on beliefs, assumptions, values and conditioning.
We can dramatically reduce our stress by changing our distorted perceptions.
Our distorted thinking can exaggerate our perceived shortcomings. We often
paint events much worse, than they actually are by our distorted thinking, this greatly increases our stress . . . . . changing
distorted perceptions . . . . is an essential stress management tool."
O'Hara PhD, Clinical Psychologist)
One of the most important tennants of stress management is the role that perception
plays in stress. Most people believe that it is external stressful situations or people that cause their stress but
this is not 100% accurate, if it were, everybody who was exposed to a particular stressor
would be affected, but this is not the case. Stress is not a black and white
issue of "Cause and Effect". It is the result of a number of complex and interacting
factors such as the interaction between the stressors and our perception of the stressors.
How we perceive/appraise an event (stressor) plays a very large role in whether the stressor triggers our fight/flight
response. For example if our perception is influenced by a negative, pessimistic thinking style the potential event
will be perceived as more of a threat than say another person exposed to the same potential stressful event but who has a
flexible, non-rigid, optimistic thinking style.
Some stressors are universally painful and stressful to most of us such as
the death of a loved one. Fortunately, these Major Life Event stressors are relatively
rare; most of the stressors we encounter occur on a daily basis and are known as daily hassles. Our perception of these every
day, non-life event, stressors, depends very much on our individual perception of those particular stressors.
An example of a daily hassle is a traffic jam.
One person in the traffic jam may sit and fume becoming very angry at the delay, but another person in the same traffic
jam may quietly accept the situation, calmly read a book and think that getting upset or irritable wont move the car one millimetre
further. This is the same potential stressor for both drivers, yet two different
responses and this is partly due to the perceptions of the event by both individuals.
Stress researcher and Psychologist Doctor Richard Lazarus developed the Transactional model of stress which does not
view the stressor or the person as the cause of stress; he says :
neither in the situation nor in the person, it depends on a transaction between the two."
Lazarus, PhD, Clinical Psychologist )
An individual's perception is influenced by many factors such as:
We will discuss these factors in more detail throughout Session 5.
For most challenging situations stress is not an automatic reaction. We make two appraisals which influence the
Whether the event is a threat/stressful,
Whether we feel we will be able to cope with it.
So, whether the fight/flight response is triggered in response to a situation depends on our perception of how threatening
the situation is to us, often we perceive an event as being more of a threat than it really is. This is then coupled
with the belief that our ability to cope with it is less than it really is. We can often make a "flag pole out of a
match stick," or "add 2 and 2 and get 5." Research has shown that 85% of the things we worry about never happen.
How many of us have really worried about an event, yet when the event happened it was not as bad as we had thought it would
Research indicates that our personality traits can be one factor in stress and that our perception of ourselves and
the world in general is partly linked to our personality. Now, this does not mean that because it is our personality
and perception that we cannot learn alternative ways of delaing with our difficulties. It is possible to change our
perception from an unrealistic, inaccurate one, to a more realistic and accurate assessment.
here to be taken to Stress Hardiness