#10 Stress appraisal.Oct 12, 2021
My daughter and I went shopping for a homecoming dress last weekend. She is in ninth grade, and this is a new experience for both of us. It took us a few stores and fitting rooms, but we got “the dress.”
Now, as a mother, I can glance at the dress and “appraise” it within seconds: too short, too much cleavage, too sparkly, too skimpy, if it is good enough even to try it on. The dress she picked was none of that but was not that impressive hanging on a hanger. However, it looked super cute when she put it on.
Our brain appraises every situation momentarily. It is conditioned to protect us from harm to survive the dangers and go back to the cave after hunting or gathering. It is automatic, prewired, but as with many systems, it has a way to override it. The instinct to jump away from the long, skinny wavy object resembling a snake can be overwritten once we see it is a branch. The instinct not to eat anything new can be transformed into an adventurous palate (although some picky eaters do not grow out of it!).
When your brain faces a potentially stressful situation, it appraises it instantly. Is there a potential threat, loss, or challenge? The loss is the damage that has already occurred – death, loss of job, break up with a boyfriend. The threat is the possibility of harm or loss in the future, such as an illness or anticipation of layoffs. A challenge consists of an event that you can cope with - you can’t ignore it, but you can confront and overcome it, for example, interviewing for a job – stressful but doable.
The second question your brain automatically asks is, “Am I capable of handling this situation?” If the situation was assessed as a loss - the damage is done – now, what do you do about it? A threat is potential harm, which gives you time to orient and plan some actions. A challenge is not harmful; there is time for more analysis and action. Your brain also considers your prior experiences or exposures, so you have a frame of reference to determine the options available for dealing with the situation. If you see the same problem over and over, the brain predicts and does the same thing every time, which saves energy and is more efficient for your brain.
Depending on how we appraise the situation by categorizing it as a loss, a threat, or a challenge, we will have different thoughts that drive our emotions and actions.
So next time you are faced with a stressful situation, think of your automatic response – how did you appraise it? Did you think of it in terms of a loss, a threat, or a challenge? Did you think you were capable of coping with it, or was it beyond your control? How did you feel? What did you do? What was the outcome?
By appraising and categorizing your stressful event, you get to choose the way you think about it, empowering yourself to manage your feelings, determine the action you take next, and ultimately create the results you desire.
See last week blog post #9 - https://www.rheumcoach.com/blog/9
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