Personal Control

An individual's perception of the extent of his or her control in a stressful circumstance is a critical component of the appraisal process in coping. This includes control over the stressor or circumstances as well as control over one's responses, whether problem focused or emotion focused. How a person deals with the loss of control precipitated by stressful life events can affect health outcomes.

Personal control can be defined as the feeling that one can make decisions and take effective action to produce desirable outcomes and avoid undesirable ones (Rodin, 1986). Mobilizing a strong sense of personal control can significantly reduce the impact of stressors on the individual, particularly when the response is appropriate to the circumstance. Sara-fino (1990) classified personal control into the following five types:

1. Behavioral control involves the ability to take concrete action to reduce the impact of a stressor; for example, using a special breathing technique to reduce pain.

2. Cognitive control involves the ability to use thought processes or strategies to modify the impact of a stressor. For example, focusing on a pleasant thought during suturing of a laceration may decrease the pain sensation.

3. Decisional control involves the opportunity to choose between alternative procedures or courses of action. For example, a victim of domestic violence may benefit from considering various options when and how she will leave her abuser.

4. Informational control involves the opportunity to obtain knowledge about a stressful event, what will happen, why, and what consequences are likely. For example, a patient may decrease anxiety regarding upcoming surgery when he learns more about managing discomfort from the procedure.

5. Retrospective control involves beliefs about causation of a stressful event after it has occurred. The attribution that the person makes about the adversity can affect future perspective and behavior. For example, attributing misfortune for factors that are temporary and specific leaves an individual feeling more optimistic than when misfortune is attributed to stable and global factors (Seligman, 1990).

Life stresses affect health outcomes. These effects are moderated not only by individual differences in genetics and pathophysiology, but also by psychosocial factors. Psychosocial influences include appraisal and coping, personality traits, cognitive styles, and resources (including social support).

Stress Busters Explained

Stress Busters Explained

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