Stress: Threat or Challenge?

The way we perceive a stressful event determines whether that event will be psychologically processed as a threat or challenge.

Our response to threat usually anticipates a future loss, harm or damage. We evaluate the threat in terms of its future implications.

The global financial crisis is perceived by many people as a threat to their stability, security and potential for happiness. The normal response to this threat is to plan ahead, anticipate or calculate the losses and attempt to marshal resources and formulate plans to face the future. Threat is invariably associated with negative emotions.

Even if you view the financial crisis as a challenge it still demands coping resources and effort. However the emotions associated with challenge are usually positive and quite different from the negative emotions associated with threat.

Challenge can produce emotions of anticipatory excitement, even exhilaration. The reason for this is that challenge anticipates personal gain and or growth as a result of the crisis.

It is not uncommon for a stressor to be perceived as both a threat and challenge. For example, you may be required to move to a new location, find different work or retrain in a new field. All of these possibilities imply both risk and potential for rewards.

Sound stress management involves appraising both the threat and challenge of a stressful situation.

The simplest way to do this is to take a piece of paper and to divide it into two columns. One the top left side write the word THREATS (RISKS) and on the right hand side CHALLENGES (REWARDS).

Considering both sides of the equation can make a difference in both your perceptions and responses.

Risk and reward

Mountain climbing involves both risks and rewards.

John Townsend

My name is John Townsend and I have been working as a Stress Management Consultant since 1986. My seminar, Get Tough With Stress, has been presented to thousands of people throughout the world and shows people how to toughen up to stress and to transform stressful experiences into valuable learning experiences.