Not all people respond to stressors in the same way . Two people can experience the same event, yet one is devastated and completely overwhelmed, whereas the other accepts the event as a challenge and is mobilized into positive action. Dif ferences between people in how they respond to the same event are possible because stress is not "out there" in the environment. Rather, stress is in the subjective reaction of the person to potential stressors (Lazarus & Folkman, 1984). This is worth emphasizing, because many people refer to an event as stressful, as if stress were a characteristic of the event. Instead, stress is actually the response to that event. For example, two people are taking the same or ganic chemistry course; they take the same exam, and they both fail. One person may be very stressed by this event, whereas the other may take it in stride and not feel at all stressed by the failure. How can the same event happen to two people, yet one responds with stress and the other does not?
According to psychologist Richard Lazarus (1991), in order for stress to be evoked for a person, two cognitive events must occur. The first cognitive event, whic Lazarus called primary appraisal, is for the person to perceive that the event is a threat to his or her personal goals. The second necessary cognitive event, secondary appraisal, is when the person concludes that he or she does not have the resources to cope with the demands of the threatening event. If either of these appraisals is absent—if the person does not perceive the event as threatening, or if the person feels he or she has plenty of resources for coping with the threat—then stress is not evoked. For example, if an event, such as an upcoming exam, is perceived as threatening to someone's goals, yet the person feels he or she has the resources demanded by that event (i.e., person has been studying and otherwise preparing for the exam), then the person might experience the event more as a challenge than as stress. Alternatively, the person might feel he or she does not have the resources demanded by the event (secondary appraisal) but might not think that the event is important to his or her long-term goals (primary appraisal) and, so, might not respond with stress.
What might lead some individuals to consistently avoid the stress response? What are some of the strategies that people use to overcome stress and the accompanying anxiety and feelings of being overwhelmed? Next we will consider several personality dimensions that have been associated with resistance to stress.
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