Richard S. Lazarus’s Theory Of Stress

Richard S. Lazarus's stress theory

The relationship between the reactions that our body expresses in a situation, on the one hand, and our cognitions on the other, is undeniable. Richard S. Lazarus’s Stress Theory focused on studying this relationship, and how cognitions influence our stress response. Let’s learn in detail the characteristics of this model.

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Richard S. Lazarus’s stress theory: characteristics

Richard S. Lazarus was an important American psychologist, professor, and researcher who investigated stress and its relationship with cognition. He developed a transactional model of stress.

The Richard S. Lazarus Stress Theory (1966), also developed by Cohen (1977) and Folkman (1984), focuses on the cognitive processes that appear in a stressful situation. This theory states that the coping we do in a stressful situation is actually a process that depends on the context and other variables.

This theory is part of the so-called transactional models of stress, since takes into account how the person interacts with a specific environment and situationconsidering the influence of their evaluations and cognitions.

According to Lazarus, a situation is stressful as a result of the transactions between person and environment, which depend on the impact of the environmental stressor. In turn, this impact is mediated by two variables: firstly, by the person’s evaluations of the stressorand secondly, by the personal, social or cultural resources available to the person when facing such an agent.

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Types of evaluation

Thus, according to the Stress Theory of Richard S. Lazarus, when referring to cognitive factors, there are three types of evaluation:

1. Primary evaluation

It is the first one that appears, and it occurs when the person faces a potentially stressful situation. It is a judgment about the meaning of the situation, as if to describe it as stressful, positive, controllable, changeable or simply irrelevant. That is, it is an evaluation that focuses on the environment, situation or environment.

If the person “decides” that the situation is a source of stress, the secondary evaluation is activated.

2. Secondary evaluation

This focuses on the resources available to the person to confront the situation or not. It is oriented to search for strategies to resolve the situation. The results of the secondary evaluation will modify the initial evaluation and will predispose to develop coping strategies.

The use of one strategy or another will depend on the person’s evaluation of the situation, whether it can be changed or not (as we will see later); That is, whether we are facing a controllable or uncontrollable situation.

The strategies proposed by the Richard S. Lazarus Stress Theory are of two types:

2.1. Problem-oriented strategies

These are those behaviors or cognitive acts aimed at managing or managing the source of stress. They try to change the environment-person relationshipacting on the environment or on the subject.

These strategies are effective when the situation can be changed.

2.2. Emotion-oriented strategies

They are strategies aimed at the emotional regulation of the person, that is, at changing how the situation is perceived and experienced. They focus on regulating negative emotional reactions in a more effective and functional way., arising from the stressful situation. That is, it is about changing the way in which what happens is interpreted.

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Emotion-oriented strategies, unlike the previous ones, are effective when the situation cannot be changed.

3. Tertiary evaluation or re-evaluation

This is the feedback from two previous evaluations and the corrections that can be made to improve them.

Coping Strategies Questionnaire

‘Richard S. Lazarus designed a questionnaire called WCQ, intended to evaluate 8 dimensions of stress coping strategies:

  • Confrontation: direct actions directed towards the situation.
  • Distancing: try to forget about the problem, refuse to take it seriously…
  • Self-control: keep problems to yourself, don’t rush, regulate yourself…
  • Search for social support: ask a friend for help, talk to someone…
  • Acceptance of responsibility: recognize yourself as the cause of the problem.
  • Escape-avoidance: wait for a miracle to happen, avoid contact with people, take alcohol or drugs…
  • Troubleshooting planning: establish an action plan and follow it, make some change.
  • Positive reassessment: take the positive side of the experience.

Each of these 8 dimensions is grouped into one of the two types of strategies mentioned: problem-oriented or emotion-oriented.

Bibliographic references:

  • Amigo Vázquez, I. (2012). Psychological manual of health. Madrid: Pyramid.
  • Berra, E., Muñoz, SI, Vega, CZ, Rodríguez, AS and Gómez, G. (2014). Emotions, stress and coping in adolescents from the Lazarus and Folkman model. Intercontinental Journal of Psychology and Education, 16(1), 37-57.