Experiencing a Stressor
We experience stressful events or situations directly (happening to us) or indirectly (happening to someone else). Both ways can produce stress at different levels. For example, if we directly had a personal financial crisis, that could cause stress, as does the indirect effect of hearing about someone else going through an economic crisis. There is some theory that people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) may experience stressors more dramatically than other people.
Next, the person appraises the event as positive, neutral or negative. This means that the event is filtered through the way we see the world and our emotional system, and the result is some type of appraisal about whether the event was good or bad, and also the degree that it will impact us. The negative appraisal is often associated with there being potential harm, a threat, or a challenge to oneself. Additionally, people with GAD may appraise events as threats with more regularity than others.
Third, the person determines whether the stressor is within personal control or not. If the stressor is not within one’s control, the task becomes acceptance and coping with one’s lack of control over the situation. Often, people will find themselves trying to engage in some kind of displaced controlling behavioral pattern as a result, like someone who develops cancer compulsively cleaning her house in response. If the stressor is within one’s control, the task is usually to make a direct change and find a coping method for the current stress. People with GAD often have increased difficulty coping with theings out of their control than others.
A person’s response to the stress can include physiological changes, mood swings, and changes in behavior. The most common components of stress that people find difficult to cope with are the negative emotions that go along with it (fear, anxiety, anger), physical symptoms (headaches, sleep and appetite changes), and wandering or obsessive thoughts about the stressor. People with GAD often have a response that is stronger that others, particularly in their experience of anxiety.
Source: Mastering the World of Psychology by Wood, Wood, & Boyd (2006). Boston: Pearson.