Reaction to Stressors Exercise

The following table describes five situations in which a person reacts to stress in an unhealthy manner. For each:

  1. identify the stressor(s).
  2. briefly explain why the person’s reaction is an unhealthy choice.
  3. briefly describe one healthy alternative way of reacting and why you consider this approach a healthy choice.
  4. identify two possible moderators of stress for this situation.

Situation: Every morning, as she prepares for her two-hour drive to work, Carole gets a headache.

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Source(s) of Stress: This stressor is a daily hassle, specifically an environmental hassle. Specific possible barriers could be the noise of the traffic, stop and go traffic, the fear of being late because of traffic, or maybe an irrational belief that things must go the way they are planned or life is terrible.

Unhealthy Reaction: The main reason that this person’s reaction is not a healthy one is that it does not relieve the stress. A reaction that does not relieve the stress of a situation only brings more stress. In this case, the person now has to deal with the stress of traffic and the stress associated with a headache.

Healthy Reaction: A healthy reaction to this situation would be to try carpooling or avoid traffic by leaving earlier. When carpooling you don’t even have to drive. You could read, listen to music, or talk while someone else is driving. Also, there is usually more than one way to work. Try a two-lane road rather than a highway. This is a good solution because it avoids the stressful aspects of a 2-hour drive while still accomplishing the task at hand.

Two Possible Moderators of Stress: The moderators of predictability and control would help this situation. Rather than encoding the drive to work as a bad thing it could be encoded as an opportunity and therefore within your control. The drive would then become predictable and therefore a positive event. Another moderator that could help would be a sense of humor. I have found that making fun of the feared event often times lessens the stress of the event. Joke with friends and family about the hated drive to work.

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Situation: Jim hates attending meetings at which he might be asked a question. His hands begin to shake at the thought of not having the right answer.

Source(s) of Stress: This stressor is anxiety brought on by fear of failure. This particular type of anxiety is called state anxiety because it is situational.

Unhealthy Reaction: The physical aspects of anxiety are brought about through the sympathetic nervous system in response to stress. One of the cognitive effects of anxiety is that his problem-solving ability might be impaired.

Healthy Reaction: If someone is afraid of giving wrong answers I have found that a more proactive solution, such as studying the material in question, helps resolve any feelings of anxiety. It is important to confront fears with solutions, otherwise, we legitimize the fears as reality. (self-fulfilling prophecy) This would be a good solution because it would relieve his feeling of inadequacy while at the same time making him better at his job.

Two Possible Moderators of Stress: I think that social support would help a lot with this situation. If he was to talk to co-workers that he knew well he would probably find that most people share his fear. That always seems to help. Knowing that others are going through the same thing gives everyone a sense of normality. I also think that a healthy dose of optimism would help keep everything in perspective. I mean look on the bright side, it would be very difficult to get every question wrong.

Situation: Lori’s stomach hurts constantly. Lori was married eight months ago, is expecting her first child in five months, and just started a new job after finishing her graduate degree.

Source(s) of Stress: This stressor is anxiety. She is worried about everything going on and does not know how to deal with it.

Unhealthy Reaction: The negative reaction would be to let the anxiety go on long enough that physical symptoms start appearing.

Healthy Reaction: A positive reaction would be to maybe let one of the commitments go. Of course, I am not talking about the baby or the marriage but the job. It might be good to take an extended leave of absence to address the anxiety.

Two Possible Moderators of Stress: In order to make the decision to quit a new job social support would be very important. Getting advice from friends would help moderate the stress of these transitions. In this case, I think that optimism would serve her well. She needs to believe that whatever decision she makes is the right one

Situation: Dalene feels paralyzed with two choices: (a) stay in a job where the boss is overbearing and abusive, but where she has a steady paycheck or; (b) pursue a business opportunity and risk the security of a steady paycheck.

Source(s) of Stress: This is a multiple approach-avoidance conflict. Fear is a stressor which keeps us from achieving our goals.

Unhealthy Reaction: The reaction of fear is good when responded to in the right way. It is alright to fear the decision but it is not alright for that fear to stop us from making that decision.

Healthy Reaction: A positive way to deal with the situation would be to sit down and write out the pros and cons of both choices.

Two Possible Moderators of Stress: I think that self-efficacy will go a long way in this case. She needs to believe that she can make the right decision before she actually does. Also, it would be good to optimistic that whatever decision is made it will be the best one at that time.

Situation: Harold sees his coworkers as inconsiderate, unsupportive, and lazy. He hates his job.

Source(s) of Stress: This person seems to be exhibiting too many Type A behavior patterns. He probably believes that this behavior helped him gain his position and that anyone else who does not exhibit this behavior is less than acceptable.

Unhealthy Reaction: In this case, he is reacting to his job with too many Type A behavior patterns. This pattern of behavior leads to extended stress which can run down the immune system.

Healthy Reaction: A healthy reaction to this situation would be to worry more about the job he was doing than everyone else. He hates his job because everyone else is not performing to his expectations for himself. He needs to realize that his standards for himself should not always be his standards for everyone else.

Two Possible Moderators of Stress: Socialization would definitely help the situation. If he got to know some of his co-workers I think he would better understand their behavior. Another moderator would be to lighten up on himself. It is not good to impose unrealistic standards on yourself. It will only lead to more stress.


Nevid, J.S., Rathus, S.A. (2005). Psychology and the challenges of life: Adjustment in the new millennium. Danvers, M.A.: Wiley.

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