The perception of threat or expectation of future discomfort
that arouses, alerts, or otherwise activates a person.
(adapted from Woolfolk & Richardson, 1977)


The key term here: PERCEPTION. Not until a person perceives a situation as threatening, scary, harmful, etc., does the body respond automatically with the various forms of physiological and emotional arousal which have come to be known as the stress response (to be described in detail in our "Signs and Symptoms" section of this web site).

If pushed to its logical extreme, this definition would imply that nothing whatsoever is inherently stressful, but instead is a neutral event -- not positive, not negative, but neutral. Only if we perceive it in a certain way will we react. A pretty radical notion, yes?

We wouldn't go quite so far, however. We know what kinds of situations are inherently stress-laden for us: one example would be anything involving the safety or well-being of our loved ones. One's young child toddling toward a busy street unattended is not a neutral event. Receiving a telephone call late at night in which the first words heard are, "This is Officer Smith; there's been an accident . . ." is not a neutral event. So we are not advocates of the notion that all events are simply that -- events -- neutral, not inherently stressful.

What we do believe, though, is that one's perception about their situation is an extremely powerful force which either can:

    1. help them to face and cope with whatever is going on in their life, or
    2. make it more difficult to deal with these same life events

In other words, if you're experiencing something, the way you perceive it or label it either will help you to deal with it as best you can or will get in your way. It's that simple. Want some examples? Then click on the button below.

Review issue: For those of you who have gone through this site in numeric order, this probably sounds rather familiar. Remember the 4 generic categories of Sustainers mentioned in "chapter 3," Stressors and Sustainers? Well, the Woolfolk and Richardson definition is firmly rooted in the notion that Changing Your Mind is an extremely potent component of stress management.

Click on the button below to learn more about the power of perception.