Explanatory styles and their role in stress

Your explanatory style affects your life in ways that you may not realize. This can minimize or exacerbate your stress response. It can help you feel safe in socially dangerous situations or unsafe in relatively safe situations. It can motivate you when you are faced with challenges or leave you feeling vulnerable.

Based on a scientific method, the explanatory style is defined by psychologists Gregory McClell Buchanan and Martin EP Seligman as “our tendency to come up with similar explanations for different events”. Psychologists today use the term “explanatory style” to describe how people explain events in their lives. When something happens, our explanatory style is part of how we treat it, make sense of it, and assess it as a threat or a challenge in our lives. It’s part of self-talk and self-perception, and it affects stress levels in a number of ways.

Aspects of the explanatory style

There are three parameters (interiority, stability and wholeness) of how people can explain a situation to themselves. Everyone can lean towards optimism or pessimism:

Stable vs unstable

It has to do with how you perceive the permanence of a situation. Does it change over time or is it immutable? Do you expect things to get better or worse, or to stay exactly as they are for a long time? It can make a difference in how stressful something seems. If you take a stressful class in school, you at least know that the class will be over in a few months (whereas a stressful job can be something to deal with for years).

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Global vs. local

Is a stressor universal throughout your life (i.e. ubiquitous)? Or is it specific to some part of your life? A good example of this is the feeling of being lucky or unlucky. If you are feeling unlucky (bad luck reigns throughout your life), a negative experience can seem like an omen that more bad things are to come. Likewise, if you attribute poor job performance to something aggregate like a perceived inability to do the job well, one failure may seem like a sign of more failures to come. Someone who sees poor performance as a sign of a bad day or a lack of sleep – something more local and less global – will have an easier time shaking off a failure.

Internal vs External

Do you see the cause of an event within you (personalization) or outside yourself? If you are having a difficult day and consider it “your fault” you will feel more stressed than if you consider it to be due to factors other than yourself. Likewise, when you are faced with conflict with others, seeing the problem as being rooted in something that is “their problem” rather than “your fault” can help you take things less personally and feel less hurt. .

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If a lot of people have the same complaints about you, it’s helpful to watch what they’re saying to assess if there’s anything you might want to change. But in general, it helps to know that many complaints from people may have more to do with them than with you.

Explanatory style and your stress levels

Explanatory styles affect the way we view the world, which can affect our experience of stress as well as our reactions to our stressors. If we have a positive explanatory style, we can feel less stressed by difficult experiences, as a positive explanatory style can minimize the perceived severity of stressors – they seem not to be that important, will be over soon, are not important. our fault, and will not necessarily happen again.

Negative explanatory styles tend to create more stress in life and can make our stressors more threatening.

As you might have guessed, optimists tend to have more positive explanatory styles, those that downplay stressful situations as unstable, local, and external, and view positive experiences as more stable, global, and internal.

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Pessimists tend to see things upside down, which can make stress seem like more than it should be, and widen feelings of stress and even, research shows, symptoms. depression. Studies also show that people with negative explanatory styles may have a harder time recovering from heart transplants and other stressful life events.

Change your explanatory style

Explanatory styles can be changed with care and practice. You will need to learn to recognize your own cognitive distortions and practice cognitive restructuring techniques to change these distortions. This can cause the explanatory styles to change from a negative explanatory style to a more positive style.


Explanatory styles and their role in stress
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