How Do You Perceive Stress? – Three Perspectives on Stress
The Role of Stressful Life Events examines the relationship of life events, the action of coping with life events, and the related effects that result from coping with these life events. Three ways to study a person’s stress response to stimulation from a perceived environment are as a response-based perspective, as a stimulus-based perspective and as a cognitive-transactional process perspective.
When you say that you feel a lot of stress, you are referring to a response (reaction) to a perceived adverse situation. Your response (reaction) comes in three stages:
- An alarm reaction stage where the situation is perceived and the body mobilizes for “fight or flight.”
- A resistance stage where you adapt to the stressful situation. The immune system may be compromised and a “disease of adaptation” may appear.
- An exhaustion stage develops when the body’s resources begin to breakdown leading to burnout, depression and illness.
Although the response-based perspective has biological and medical merits, for psychology the role of learned belief systems, perceptions and emotions are left out. What is stress? Is stress outside the perceiving human, and therefore some measurable objective phenonomen? Or is stress in the symptoms, emotions, illness and behavioral and physiological changes in the perceiving human?
When someone says, “I have a stressful job,” meaning the job, the outside event, causes the stress, they are not referring to their response (reaction) to the outside event. They are saying that events cause reactions. The stimulus-based response focuses on the characteristics of the stressing outside event and the demands the outside event places on the physical, social, emotional, psychological coping skills of the individual. Can outside events generally considered stressful be quantified and measured? Can these life events then be used to explore and predict stress-related responses in individuals? What about how people have different perceptions and different coping processes?
Cognitive-Transactional Process Perspective
The cognitive-transactional process perspective defines stress as a particular relationship between a person and the environment that is appraised by the person as being taxing and exceeding their resources and therefore disrupting their sense of well-being. Three assumptions underlie this perspective:
- Transaction – Transaction occurs when a person encounters a specific event with the environment which leads to the stress response (reaction).
- Process – Process occurs when the person perceives the specific event and incorporates the event into their learned belief systems, perceptions and emotions. Process continues to evolve and change as the person receives new inputs relating to the event.
- Context – Context occurs when a person combines the transaction and the process into an output reaction with both psychological and physical (internal and external) manifestations.
The cognitive-transactional process perspective is an active, unfolding process that contains antecedents such as learned personal beliefs, perceptions and emotions and a mediating process that includes coping and appraisals.
As a spouse and as a parent how you perceive stress shades and shapes and even determines your reactions not only to your own stress, but also to stress in your spouse and in your children. Learning to cope with stress in healthy, happy and productive ways is a life-changing lesson.
If stress is disrupting your relationships and your family, take action and seek help. Contact a professional counselor and make that appointment that may change your life. Stress does not go away. With a professional counselor you can learn healthy, happy and productive ways to cope with stress.