We need to remember that stress doesn't
result just from a negative situation -- it's the interplay of
several variables that determines what happens to a person or family
when problems come along. Variables include the hardships associated
with the situation, how it's perceived, inner resources and coping
capacities of the person or family, and external resources that can
"The family's perception of an event
is a powerful, if not the most powerful, variable in explaining
family stress," says Pauline Boss, family stress researcher with the
University of Minnesota.
When we get information from any of
our senses, we "perceive" it. That means we interpret, define, make
inferences and draw conclusions, says Ron Pitzer, family sociologist
with the University of Minnesota Extension Service. Pitzer says,
"Whether a stressor is real or not, the body's response is always
He used an example of a woman who
found an "official-looking" bank letter in the morning mail. She
said to her husband: "Ed, we're overdrawn. Could I have forgotten to
record a check? How could that have happened? Did I make a mistake
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The woman was very
upset, but her husband opened the letter and found only a notice of
a small bookkeeping error on the bank's part. The couple was
actually being credited for $8.73.
"The interpretation, although
incorrect, was real in its consequences," Pitzer said. "If you've
ever been frightened by a rubber snake that you thought was real,
you've experienced the consequences of a false perception."
An important step in solving
problems and eliminating stressors is carefully defining the
problem, Pitzer says. "Can you recognize overreactions, faulty
assumptions and taken-for-granteds growing out of your values or
experiences?" he asks. "Just talking out your worries with someone
often makes you more aware of such matters."
And there's an interpretation step
in every instance of communication. "Check out your interpretation
with the other person before responding or acting," Pitzer says. "It
takes only a few seconds to ask, 'Do you mean?' or 'Do I correctly
understand you to be saying?'"
Minnesota Extension Service]