Purpose of review
This paper provides an overview of the cognitive approaches that have recently been used to study stress
. 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
process in motion.
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.
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