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Cognitive approaches to stress and coping

Roesch, Scott C.a; Weiner, Bernardb; Vaughn, Allison A.a

Behavioural medicine

Purpose of review This paper provides an overview of the cognitive approaches that have recently been used to study stress and coping. Our review focuses on empirical research that links an individual's initial cognitive interpretation (e.g. appraisal, attribution) of a stressor to coping methods and psychological and physical adjustment. The cognitive interpretation of an experience as ‘stressful’ is crucial in that it varies from person to person, and sets the stress and coping process in motion.

Recent findings Research has shown that appraising a stressor as a threat is associated with negative psychological and physical adjustment, whereas appraising a stressor as a challenge is associated with positive psychological and physical adjustment. There is also some evidence to suggest that the initial cognitive interpretation of a stressor indirectly influences adjustment via the elicitation of certain coping methods. Cognitive interventions that emphasize the alteration of negative interpretations or perceptions result in improved subsequent adjustment. Furthermore, the efficacy of treatment is maximized when other treatment components are also included, such as relaxation and social support.

Summary Clinical practitioners should be sensitive to individual differences in how clients appraise, explain, and cope with stressors. Moreover, it may be clinically beneficial to focus on the initial cognitive interpretations related to stress rather than directly changing coping behaviors.

aDepartment of Psychology, San Diego State University, San Diego, California, USA; and bDepartment of Psychology, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA

Correspondence to Scott C. Roesch, PhD, Department of Psychology, San Diego State University, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego, CA 92182-4611, USA Fax: +1 619 594 1332; e-mail:

© 2002 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.