Recently I read an excellent article titled, There’s No Such Thing As Stress – Here’s What’s Really Bothering You by UCLA clinical psychologist Robert Maurer, PhD. He points out that as stress doesn’t really exist, it’s only a perception, we need to stop treating it as a disease. Instead, we need to start managing fear, as this is root cause of a person feeling stressed.

As stress is a perception, it only affects you if you perceive the event or interaction will harm you physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

Below is our Stress To Strength Process model which explains that the best time to handle any stress that starts to affect you, is at the primary level. This means that if for instance a major stressor in your work life is when your manager speaks to you at your work station or in your office, you need to have a tool or strategy you can easily put in place ‘in the moment’, so you do not perceive the presence of your manager anymore as a threat.

sts process

This model gives an insight into how we intervene to help you manage stress more effectively.

The potential to experience stress starts with a stressor, or the cumulative effect of many stressors. Stressors are the events, incidences, encounters, situations, transactions or interactions that have a potentially negative influence on our lives.

When faced with a new stressor, or when we simply recall or think about it, or even a past stressor, we process that event or situation in two stages, which we   term the primary appraisal and the secondary appraisal.

For most people, in most instances these appraisals occur spontaneously, immediately and without conscious thought. It is the same process that in extreme cases triggers our fight or flight responses.

In the primary appraisal we subconsciously determine if this event or situation is a threat to us.

What we consider a threat will be different for different people, but we would rapidly determine if there was a threat to our health, our wellbeing or even to our lives, or a threat to our security, to the achievement of a goal or outcome we had set for ourselves, to someone we care for, or our wealth or possessions. It may threaten our livelihood or our reputation.

If, at the primary appraisal point we decide it’s not a threat, we move on, not experiencing any real concern or angst as a consequence of what we have just experienced.

However, if we sense that what has just occurred does present a threat, we then re- appraise the situation and determine if we have the wherewithal to deal with it.

Simply put, if it is a threat we then complete the secondary appraisal and conclude if we can cope with it or not.

If we can, we do what we have to, feeling OK about it, because we know that we can deal with it or mitigate its affects.

But, if we conclude that we are unable to address what has happened, or will happen, this is where that ball in the stomach begins to form and be felt. A small event or incident leads to lesser feelings of stress, as does a few and infrequent events.

But unfortunately, just the opposite is also true. Having clarity and control of these appraisal points goes part of the way to explaining why different people experience the same situation with varying levels of stress, but it isn’t the entire picture.

What’s missing are our biopsychosocial factors. These are the things that make each of us, who we are. They are our background, our history, our upbringing, our cultural norms, our education, our economic position, our support network, all bundled up to influence how we appraise situations and what resources we have available to us, to cope with adverse situations.

This process supports us in managing the fear that translates into what we perceive as stress.

If you would like to immerse yourself in two days of creating your own unique Stress Management Toolkit then join us at the Brisbane Convention Centre on 5 & 6 March for the Stress to Strength Experience Workshop. We have a fantastic team of qualified Stress Management Practitioners who will guide and mentor you through the processes. Plus you’ll have lots of fun and go home relaxed and de-stressed.

The Special Early Bird registration fee is still available

Comments ( 2 )

  • Elizabeth Thuan

    Where would we be without academic psychologists? Stress is an ill-defined term, so it you want to treat it as referring to perceptions, then this is what it is. However, if you wish to honour the fact that humans and animals and plants respond to factors within their environment, including their inner world, and that this response clearly does not have to reach the level of consciousness to have an effect on the body, then stress is pretty darn real.

    My problem with the ivory tower mob is that they live in a world where they are able to define the countervailing arguments out of existence. I live a world where post-traumatic stress disorder affects military personnel, mothers who have had rough deliveries of their babies, victims/survivors of natural disasters, road accidents, cancer diagnoses, surgery, and so on. And stress comes from a western industrial lifestyle where we are subjected to hundred of thousands of chemicals, denatured food, contaminated water and milk and juice and fizzy drinks, and radiation from screens and phone towers and high tension power lines, as well as the problems from relationships with over-burdened spouses, disabled and/or hyper-active and/or allergic children. And so on.

    Seriously, we have evolved to be more attentive to all potential threats, with survival and subsequent genetic transmission of the tendency to perceive threats, including paper tigers. However, we are biologically equipped to deal with threats, whether warranted or unwarranted. To observe that some tigers are made of paper does not prove that there are no real tigers.

    Let us take a specific example. We have had to deal with famine a lot in our evolutionary past, and this has made us seekers of sugar and fat as source of calories which will enable us to survive. These days, the famine in our society is not so evident, with the seeking of sugar (and fat, come to that) now being implicated in the development of disorders such obesity and diabetes. These have deleterious effects on body and mind/brain (dementia is now being called diabetes III). But we do not perceive the sugary foods as threats, stressors, sources of fear. They are hidden, silent killers.

    It’s a big argument. However, if we are going to talk about the psychology of stress and the ability to talk ourselves out of acknowledging that the boss really is a raging psychopath, then let us at least call it psychology and stop pretending it covers the whole field.

    • admin

      Great thoughts, Elizabeth. Thanks for sharing. Yes, we agree it’s time to look at Stress in a more proactive rather than reactive manner.

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