The Handbook of Stress: Neuropsychological Effects on the Brain

By Cheryl D. Conrad | Go to book overview

29
Influence of Appraisal and Coping
Following Extreme Stress

Miranda Olff


Introduction

Although many people are exposed to extreme stress, only some of them develop (mental) health problems. Most people manage extremely stressful experiences with minimal to no impact on their daily functioning. In some cases, however, acute or chronic stress leads to psychiatric disorders for which help may be sought. One of the most extreme types of stressor involves that of psychological trauma which may give rise to posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) or other posttrauma psychopathology. It is yet unclear why some people show extreme psychobiological dysregulation due to stressful events whereas others do not, or why people develop different types of psychopathology following extreme stress. This chapter describes that it is not the stressor per se but individual differences in types of psychological appraisal and coping that play a crucial role in the relationships between stressors and mental and physical health.


Individual Differences in the Stress Response

There is clear evidence that not everyone copes with life stressors, including extremely stressful events, in the same way (e.g., see Aldwin and Yancura, 2004; Bonanno and Mancini, 2008). Research has indicated that most individuals exposed to extreme stressors cope very well and do not develop adjustment problems or psychiatric or physical disorders. Up to 50–80% of people experience a traumatic event during their life, of whom about 10% develop PTSD (Kessler et al., 1995; de Vries and Olff, 2009). How can we explain why only a relatively small subset of

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