How thinking affects your stress


Last session, we learnt that the amount of stress you feel depends on whether you think the situation is a problem (primary appraisal) and whether you think you can cope with it (secondary appraisal). The way we see things and give meaning to it affects our feelings and our behaviours. If we see things in their best light, we feel cheerful; if we see the worst in things, we feel sad, anxious or stressed.

When we are feeling a certain way our brain only takes in things that “fit” with that feeling and ignores those that don’t “fit”. This means we get deeper and deeper into the feeling, creating a vicious cycle of unhelpful thoughts and feeling stressed.


The way we think does not only affect our feelings, but also our body and our behaviours. For example, when we are stressed, we tend to feel anxious, have a lot of physical signs of stress such as muscle aches, indigestion, poor health and unhelpful behaviours such as avoiding the stressful event, delaying doing the task. These unhelpful behaviours may make things better in the short run, but in the long term, makes one feel helpless and unable to cope.

As we can see, the way we think can affect our feelings, physical body and behaviour. These feed into “vicious cycles” that keep the problem going as seen on the right: